Shame can be a good thing under the right circumstances. Shame is a means of keeping us from doing stupid things we would later regret. When you were a kid, your mother would say something like, “You should be ashamed!” after you did something she considered inappropriate. However, sometimes we can be ashamed because of what someone else has done.
Last Sunday evening, after church, I was ashamed. It was not because of something I had done (at least not on this particular occasion) but because of what the church had done to a young man. Let me explain.
I was leading the service for our small congregation. A young man and woman came in just as we started so I had no opportunity to visit with them before the service. They introduced themselves to the group and they participated in the activities for the evening. Immediately, at the conclusion of the service, I quickly introduced myself and spoke with the young man named Todd.
He mentioned that he was a Baha’i and I had no idea what that meant. So I asked for an explanation which he gladly provided. During the conversation I asked how he came to embrace this particular faith. He described how he was born and raised as a Jew. We talked about that for a few moments because it is rare to find a Jew in a Christian worship service. He described his family and spoke a little of his Jewish heritage.
Then he said something that really caught me off guard. He said when he got older he met Jesus. I must admit, my ears perked up. After he met Jesus he felt he needed to find a church. However, he had a difficult time deciding which church to attend. It seemed to him they all emphasized something different and none of them liked each other. They all seemed to be fighting one another. Consequently, he went looking for something else and that is how he found the Baha’i faith.
I was ashamed. It is the church that I have helped create that drove this young man away. It is the church that I have preached to for my entire adult life that made this new friend of Jesus go looking for something else. It is the church consisting of my friends and colleagues that felt it was more important to be “right” than to be loving.
We are doing something wrong. In our effort to look our best as we journey down the road of faith, we do not allow room for many who would like to take the trip with us. Sure, we tell them they can come along, but we are very clear on what they must do, how they must look, and what they must say. Imagine a young man who has just met Jesus but does not feel at home with Jesus’ people.
I don’t know much about Todd. Perhaps he is a difficult person (I have no reason to believe that), but I do know there is something wrong when he is driven away by our divisiveness. There has been much talk recently about young adults leaving the church. A young woman I enjoy reading, Rachel Held Evans, wrote these words about the church:
“Sometimes I need to be reminded that community is not about surrounding myself with people just like me; community is about loving my neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be. If the early church could hold together communities made up of Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women, circumcised and uncircumcised, tax collectors and zealots, prostitutes and Pharisees, kosher believers and non-kosher believers, those who ate food sacrificed to idols and those who refused, I guess this evolution-accepting, hell-questioning, liberal-leaning feminist can worship Jesus alongside a Tea Party complementarian who thinks the earth is 6,000 years old and that Ghandi and Anne Frank are in hell. I’m not saying it will be easy, or even that it will work, but I think it’s worth a try.”
Shame on us because we have found a way to disagree on nearly everything – baptism (sprinkling or immersion), communion (open for all or closed to members only), scripture (inerrant or imperfect), women (be quiet and serve or fully equal), music (contemporary or traditional), buildings (functional or meaningful), worship (casual or liturgical), purpose (preach the gospel or feed the hungry), politics (Republican or Democrat), grace (faith alone or necessity of works), alcohol (abstinence or moderation), etc. etc. ad nauseam. It is not surprising that Todd could not decide on a church.
I hope we made Todd feel welcome last Sunday evening. Hopefully we did and some day he will give Jesus another try.