Let’s Talk, church: Identity

I think it’s time for us to take a good hard look at our identity.
Let’s talk about our identity as a church.  Not the global Church – the united global body of Christ-followers.  But let’s talk about the local church, the place where you go and the place that you name when you are talking with others.  How strongly do you identify with your church?  And are you making decisions based on your allegiance there, or based on your allegiance and identity in Christ?
Here’s why I ask.
In the past few weeks I have been aware of some harmful words coming from the church.  Words we need to reconsider.  Let’s start with the recent Supreme Court ruling.  The Court ruled that a man can legally marry a man and a woman can marry a woman.  No doubt this decision made most of you in the church very uncomfortable.  Maybe even upset.  Concerned for your country.  I understand.
But what you may not have considered is that there is a very good chance that you know someone who identifies as a homosexual.  You just don’t know it.  By and large, people who feel unaccepted are not going to expose something that could lead to rejection.  And as you well know, the church does not open its arms to openly gay individuals.  It just doesn’t.  You don’t.  I haven’t.
Well, they’re not playing by the same rules you are following, right?  The don’t-smoke, don’t-drink, don’t-cuss kind of rules.  You see, at some point, your thoughts start to blur between whether or not you are saved by grace through faith or if you are saved because you’re obedient.  Far too often we treat grace as a VIP invitation to the club of salvation, and then we want to turn around and decide who can cross the velvet rope.
I’ve seen comments about about the need to maintain “traditional values.”  To that I ask, whose tradition?  When did it start?  Or the common poster that points out that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.  Clever.  Hurtful.  I’m not arguing against God’s design; I believe that is remarkably clear.  I am simply wondering what God is asking of you at this time.
Once you stop reposting or sharing someone else’s thoughts, I encourage you to dig back into the Bible.  Take a look at how and where Jesus spent his time.  Pay careful attention to how Jesus responded to those of religious fervor.  What did he say to those who felt they were following all of the rules?  What did he say to the church of his time?  And could that be what he says to you?
Here’s why it matters.  Because, in the end, the church you are attending is not your golden ticket.  Right now it may be a safety net.  Maybe the reason you identify with your church is that it gives you a sense of belonging.  The reason your church might not be so welcoming could have something to do with the bottom line.  Because if the church is like a club, it will want to let in those who can fit within the identity.  And if the church you attend began to make concerted efforts to welcome homosexuals, would you keep attending and giving your money to the “gay church”?  Or, to protect your own sense of identity, would you find a church that fits better?  And what church is willing to take that risk?
And this is just one example.  Recently Franklin Graham, son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, stated he wants the United States to stop allowing Muslims into the country.  This was a statement made after five people were killed in Chattanooga.  What an incredibly flawed and hurtful thing for someon in his position to say.  This stance quickly forgets that people came into this country for the freedom from a national church.  It also ignores that there are Muslims who convert to Christianity and flee to this country for safety.  And it makes the horrible mistake of branding any Muslim to be the same as the person who killed those five people.  Because no one has ever killed someone in the name of Christianity, right?
Strange, because I don’t remember Franklin Graham making a broad statement about Dylan Roof.  I even gave him the courtesy of looking for one.  Roof is the white male who killed nine black parishoners at a prayer service.  Nor has Graham said anything about the string of black churches being burned in the South.  This silence tells me something very important about Franklin Graham: his identity is found in being white, American, and male.  It is not found in Christ.
This is not necessarily surprising.  I am a white American male.  And let me tell you the message that I picked up – caught, if you will – throughout my life:  being white = American, being American = Christian.  There was no distinction.  But if I only find my identity there, I’m in trouble.  To find my identity in Christ is a far different thing altogether.
I’m asking you to give it some thought, church.  And that means you, the reader.  Don’t ask those who already agree with you.  That’s easy.  Wrestle with God.  Listen to the Holy Spirit.  Find your identity in Christ.
I know the risk.  I had a nice title at a respected Christian organization.  But something was unsettling.  What was expected of me and what the Holy Spirit said were in conflict.  There were those who needed help and being bound by man-made policy served only one purpose.  It was protecting an identity I no longer wanted.  My silence was insufficient.  So I extended myself to those in need.  I told others what I was doing.  And suddenly the Christian organization no longer wanted me in the club.  I was a liability.  A risk.  A rule-breaker.  The things that were said of me made no logical sense except that others wanted a reason to distance themselves.  And to tighten up the rope around their circle.  For one of the first times in my life, I was an outcast.
I knew that.
But who do I have to answer to?
And where is my identity found?
What about you?
If your church isn’t growing, maybe it’s not a church.  Maybe it’s a club.  And maybe you’re the one holding the velvet rope by what you say and what you do.  This is not your club.  These are not your rules.  If you find yourself holding a rope telling people they can’t come in, you might want to look around and see if the person of Christ is standing there with you.
Because if not, you better drop that rope and find Him.


One comment on “Let’s Talk, church: Identity

  1. hungryvixen says:

    This is very thought provoking. I appreciate the dialogue, although I didn’t have to utter one word. Sometimes committing only to Him leaves us friend-less. But those that eventually remain are our true brothers and sisters in Christ, and not in church. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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