Rich held me in his arms and whispered, “I think I love our new church.”
I immediately stiffened. I’m still thinking of it as the church I attend. I don’t know it enough to love it. Sure there are things about it that make me happy, like the inclusion of LGBTQ people at all levels, the willingness to have people in leadership who disagree about certain issues, the sermons about love and acceptance. I enjoy playing again and am quite fond of those I get to make music with on Sundays. But I’m not quite ready to say that I love that church. After all, this church is still part of The Church, and I have some serious concerns about those guys.
I look at my experiences in The Church, and I see a lot of reasons to be wary. Times when I have been let down. Times when my vulnerability has not been respected. Times when my voice has been silenced.
The Church has proven to me time and again that it isn’t a safe place. So why should I make an effort to try to love this new church? Doesn’t my safety matter in this instance?
Over the past month or so, I’ve scrolled through my Facebook feed and have seen people calling for more compassion toward the Syrian refugees who are fleeing the slaughter of ISIS. Calling for an opening of American borders to some of the millions of displaced Syrians looking for safety.
And in nearly every one of these cries for mercy, I’ve seen voices being raised pleading for safety. Governors are refusing to allow people into their states so that their citizens can feel secure. We have Donald Trump calling for a ban on the entrance into the United States of an entire religious group based on the evil deeds of a few. And Franklin Graham who echoes the sentiment, all in the name of safety.
When I read the news, I can find plenty of evidence of violence that seems to warrant caution. Recent terror attacks have reminded us that we are at risk at any time and that we may unwittingly welcome in the enemy if we accept waves of refugees. The calls for common sense and desire for security in the midst of the confusion show a high level of acuity. Of course we want our children to be safe. Of course we want ourselves to be safe.
I don’t know what the right answer is in either of these situations. What is the proper Christian ethos when we’re talking about keeping people safe?
I wish I knew. Sometimes it seems so clear. It seems to me that love must create space for those who are different, for those who may represent a threat. Forgiveness, grace, mercy – these aren’t words of safety. They carry with them risk. Risk that the person who has done wrong, who has harmed, who has demoralized – they may do it again. In that realization, I find myself sitting beside Peter asking Jesus, “How many times do we forgive? Have we hit that number yet? Please?”
Because it seems as though safety must exist for the victim as well. For the downtrodden, for the outcast, for the marginalized. There has to be some way for the person who has suffered to be granted asylum, while still extending those risky Christian values to perpetrators.
I don’t have answers. At the least, I want to acknowledge that The Church has a poor history of choosing who to protect, often electing to protect those with privilege and power over those with less to offer in terms of finances or prestige. There has been an elevation of the status quo, and an invocation of forgiveness when it suits those who have the most to promote the well-being of the institution.
Somehow we have moved from the call of The Church to offer protection to those on the outside, and have primarily used it to protect those on the inside. I believe that if we want to be a Church that is a reflection of the One we worship, we must begin to practice unsafe Christianity.
And I know that it needs to start with me.