Being the Church When It Hurts

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. — 1 Corinthians 12:14, RSV

Believe it or not… most people disagree with their church home of choice in one way or another. I know it’s hard to believe that an institution made up of humans could ever fail to spiritually deliver, but I’m afraid it’s true. Many Roman Catholics I know disagree with the Vatican’s take on sexuality and birth control. As an Episcopalian, I know many in my denomination disagree with the unstoppable “progressive” train powering through the national church at the moment. Recently, many United Methodists were crushed by the General Conference decision to maintain and “shore up” restrictions on LGBTQ+ inclusion in marriage and ordination rites.

Anyone familiar with church history knows that there have been many times when the faithful were (or should have been) at odds with the institutional church. The Christian religion has been complicit in many less-than-stellar historical events. We were silent in the face of German fascism, and we resisted the American Civil Rights Movement. We hunted and tortured “witches,” force-converted numerous groups of people, and participated in the violence of colonization. We persecuted Jews and participated in the mutual disaster of the crusades.

Thankfully, that’s not the whole story, as we also resisted and fought for righteous change in the midst of all those dark moments.

As an institution, we have failed quite a bit. But it’s also true that when the people of God are filled with and guided by His Spirit, we actually become the Church we were intended to be, even if it means resisting the establishment. God’s Church is not limited to the Pope, cardinals, bishops, deacons, priests, or pastors. It is not limited to the conferences or conventions. God’s Church is made up of all God’s people, and that includes you.

We’ve gotten in the habit of confusing institutional decisions with the extent of the Church’s reach. When the authorities decide something, that must be it, right? Wrong! You represent the Church! If God is calling you and those like you to move, then move!

Let’s say you are a lay United Methodist who was put off by the General Conference decision last week. The UMC will not bless same-sex unions or ordain members of the LGBTQ+ community, so what can you do? Well, you and those like you could make it a spiritual practice to attend and participate in same-sex weddings for those you know and love. You could also host small groups that enable LGBTQ+ members to explore their calling to preach and teach the Word of God. What if you’re a Pro-Choice/Pro-Life Roman Catholic? You could advocate for honest, accurate, and realistic sexual education resources that will help reduce unwanted pregnancies. Are you a conservative Episcopalian? Make your voice heard as you lovingly defend traditional language and practice, advocating for a more cautious approach to ecclesiastical change.

The point is this: You are not without power, especially when you are guided by the love of God and neighbor!

When we are faced with the evils of this world, we often ask where God is. We wonder why the Church doesn’t seem to be making a difference. The answer is God is where He needs to be, and the Church will make a difference when you and I decide to be where we are supposed to be. The Church is not a building, conference, or institution. It is a people. If we can remember this and put it into practice, we can shine the light of Christ in any darkness, and it will not be overcome (John 1:5).

I’m not saying you should leave your organized religion and go rogue. We’ve had enough “Jim Jones” activity in this crazy world, I think. What I am saying is that you can still follow the path God has set before you, filtered through the love of Christ, even when the “powers that be” set off in a different direction. In fact, doing so can lead to all kinds of positive, Spirit-filled change beyond anything you initially thought possible.

Now, take heart, child of God. You are not alone, and we are nowhere near the finish line. As long as the people of God actively and earnestly strive to follow in the footsteps of Christ, the best is yet to come.

Peace be with you!

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