Wednesday, 15 April 2020
Who is welcome? A reflection for churches, during online times.
The cartoon above is one I value highly. David Hayward, the artist, makes powerful points about our faith as Christians, and how it challenges our thinking.
There are lots of good faith spaces being created. I am blessed with being in a few of them. There are lots of good faith leaders. I want to start by saying those things.
The illustration shows various people drawing boxes...and Jesus using an eraser to erase the lines they are drawing.
This is a pandemic.
People are afraid.
We may put people into 'boxes' in our minds. Especially at a time of crisis.
"This group is allowed in. That group does not belong.
If we allow people like that in, it will change the character of this group.
I am the leader. It is my decision who stays in this group, and who goes.
Some people are Too Much Trouble and we need to protect the group from them. Look, I'll demonstrate how much trouble by dragging up some things from the past, out of context, ignoring my own mistakes, to prove how we should all hate and fear Those People".
It could be anyone who ends up in the reject pile, in emergency situations, in new situations.
People from BAME groups.
People from the LGBT+ communities.
People who look 'a bit rough' or speak 'a bit funny'.
People who are too old, too young, too poor.
Neurodivergent people. Especially anyone who is autistic [We all know 'their sort' are bad, eh?*]
People with mental health conditions.
In fact, anyone who might take up too much of our time (allegedly). After all, it's not like anyone else in the church could take responsibility for settling in anyone who needs support, eh? Or set gentle guidelines and refer on to external support services if needed...
Just some of the groups who have found themselves outside of that line. Outside of that community. Outside of that circle of co-support and co-caring.
And there's Jesus, patiently, loving, faithfully, endlessly, erasing those lines.
Asking us to reach beyond those barriers of fear and uncertainty, of misunderstanding and of lack of personal responsibility for our own reactions to others who are different.
Asking us to love one another, and ourselves, and God.
Seeing in one another that which is Jesus.
Challenging us to think, "Would I whisper bad things about Jesus, to stop him getting into the group? Why am I doing this for this beloved person? Why am I gatekeeping for God? Do I think that God wants me to do this?"
There is no more powerful statement from a leader of God's churches than, "You do not belong here."
And the role of a leader is to examine their own responses, their own planning, their own resourcing. To ensure that, when the lockdown is over, and churches are back, they haven't created a hostile group, afraid of outsiders, afraid of being 'overrun by that sort'. Or created a sub-class of 'people who don't actually belong, but we might as well put them in some other place, so they know they're not part of our Real Church. The people I shake hands with on a Sunday or weekday service. Real worshippers'.
We're called to love, and to pray. To be friends to one another.
Let's do that.
God will provide the rest.
*I'm autistic. I hear this a lot. Despite the clear research showing that on average we are as kind as others, as generous, less violent, and less manipulative.