A friend of mine hasn't been to church in a very long time. This has caused her Southern Baptist parents a considerable amount of angst. She often vents to me about all the ways they have tried to coax her into going to church.
"Maybe you'll meet a nice man there?" This they said after she divorced.
"Wouldn't it be nice for your son to participate in Vacation Bible School?" He did drama camp instead.
"And there would probably be a lot of nice folks there who could support you during difficult times." There were, but she never had the courage to go meet them.
Their last attempt came recently when she moved. They sent her a list of all the Southern Baptist churches in the new area where she lived. She called me about it.
"Do they really think I don't know how to find my own church? I mean, my Dad actually sent me a copy of of all the listings of the Southern Baptist churches. Do they think I don't know how to use Google?"
"Evidently," I said. "And they sent you only the Southern Baptist churches?"
"Wow. You should send them back a page of Unitarian churches in their area."
"Ha. Not funny."
She called me a few days later to say she had found a church. It was a United Methodist church just a few blocks from her house. She didn't find it in the phone book or through Google. She found it through their outreach work with the homeless. I was suprised she found it at all because I wasn't sure she was looking for a church.
"Since we moved here, I see them out there all the time trying to help the homeless and I just think that is what Christians should be doing, you know? Helping people and being kind and stuff. I just don't want to go to some church full of white people who sit around and talk about God all day."
"You mean like the ones you grew up in?"
"Yeah," she said. "I can't stand how some Christians only care about other Christians and just figure they can let the world go to hell in a hand basket because Jesus is coming back to take them out of it anyway."
"Yeah, let's hope we all get raptured before the polar ice caps finally melt."
"Exactly! So I stopped in at the United Methodist Church and saw that they have a lot of programs in the community to help people in need. It's cool. I want to do that. I mean, there mission is 'making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.'"
"That's awesome! Glad you found somewhere you like."
"Well, we'll see. I'm going to go for the first time this Sunday." I could hear the hesitation in her voice. It has been years since she sat in a church pew.
"Have you told your parents about the church?"
"Yeah, I mentioned it yesterday."
"What did they say?"
"My Dad said 'The United Methodists are very liberal.'"
"Yeah, he didn't say why, but he kind of left it at that. I could tell he was a bit disappointed I didn't pick out one of the churches he sent on the list."
"They were all Southern Baptist!"
"I know. There is just no way I would go to one of those after what I went through growing up in those churches."
"Well who cares what he thinks, you go to the church where you feel comfortable. For goodness sake, it's not like the United Methodists are from another religion!"
She goes this Sunday. I hope it goes well. I pray that she will find people at this church who will welcome, love and support her. She needs it. She has been through a lot and has some raw, open wounds that need the balm of Gilead. She also has so much to offer--she's smart, talented and has a heart big enough for two people.
Meanwhile, I did a Google search for the difference between Baptists and United Methodists. It basically boils down to babies and ladies.
Babies can be baptized in the United Methodist Church. Baptists wait until you are an adult and make a "decision for Christ" before the ceremonial dunk occurs.
And then --here's what probably made her dad use the word "Liberal"-- ladies are allowed to be pastors or serve in leadership capacities within the church. (Insert conservative gasp here!) Baptists do not allow this. Women are to be silent in church per I Corinthians 14:34. (This verse has always made me laugh because it is really possible for women to be silent anywhere?) Most people, including the liberal United Methodists evidently, read this verse and think that Paul is talking about the culture of his time and certainly things are different today. Not the Baptist's. These are God's words, not Paul's. So women, you can teach Sunday School with the K-12th graders, but don't even think about teaching men or preaching or leading the worship or asking a question out loud in church. Just sit there and listen and then go home on Sunday afternoons and if you have any questions about the sermon, ask your husband. (If you can tear him away from the NFL game.)
I hesitate even to write the above paragraph because I worry it will scare a few more people away from the Christian faith. I'm worried it will keep a few more people like my friend out of church. I mean who would want to be a part of a group who tells women they can't speak in church in 2014? Is this the same group that said the Bible says blacks are inferior to whites? There is so much of what people don't like about Christianity on display for the world to see and it just makes me cringe. I put some of it here in my blog so I can ruminate and respond, but it bugs me to even write it because I worry that of the three people who actually read my blog (ha, ha) that one might be on the fence about God and just reading this will make them fall like Humpty away from the faith. The good news is that I hope that most people can understand that Christians are human and therefore, just like other groups of people, they will make mistakes, have different views and divide over silly things. The only difference is, that we are supposed to be united in Christ. We are supposed to be Christ-like, humble, non judgemental, compassionate, good stewards of what he has given us (whether we believe in global warming or not.) When we don't act this way, when as friends, sisters, dads and moms we discourage people from connecting with God and others over doctrinal differences, it makes me sick. Literally. Our foolishness is keeping people from God! God help us!
Since my friend told me what her dad said, it has been rattling around in my head. Here's why: Her parents want her to go to church. Their intentions are good. She finally gets around to going and what do they say? "That's great honey!" and then pray for her as she goes, right?
They judge this group of Christians from a distance and call them "liberal" and make her question whether she should go or not. Their message is clear: We are more worried about our daughter going to the RIGHT church as we see it, than we are in her actually connecting with God. I want to ask them---
She's been two thousand miles from entering a church, now she is two steps and you're worried about whether the women are muted and the babies have wet heads?!
Knowing that her parents are not happy with her choice of churches has caused her some stress, but I think I helped her get over it. I hope so. I hope she can make it Sunday. It is going to be a long walk.
I grew up in Baptist churches so I can relate to how my friend feels. Wherever my family moved, the first thing we did was unpack our boxes, the second thing was find the 1st Baptist Church of Whatever Town We Lived In. With rare exceptions (we branched out once to an Evangelical Free Church) we were Baptists to the core. I never realized how much it affected my thinking until I got out of it. I started attending other churches and listening to people who were Methodist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Non-denominational (or non-committal as the Baptists would probably call them) and I figured out that there are a lot of Christians out there who don't mind if a woman speaks up in church, heck, even PASTORS a church and that every word in the Bible did not come out of the mouth of God, but is inspired by God and is the story of God, but that the people writing it wrote from and within their own cultural and geographic context, paradigms, and backgrounds.
That last sentence probably borders on heresy to Baptists. It probably screams "LIBERAL!" Sorry, this fomer Baptist woman has been un-muted.
So I told my friend that I was so happy that she had found a church and to not care what her parents said. In fact, I sent her a text that looked like this:
I found out why your dad said the United Methodists are liberal. They allow women to be pastors. HORROR!
LOL. She replied.
Yes, LOL, my sister--
Laugh Out Loud...even in church!
-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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