A Better Story of A Bigger God
A church member recently gave me a copy of a terrible letter she received in 1982 from the elders of the church she attended as a young person.
The letter, which was typed on a piece of paper, and signed by all of the elders (all men, of course), was apparently prompted by her lack of church attendance (which was due to a health issue, by the way), but it took an incredibly nasty tone.
The elders of her church quoted all kinds of Scripture, all entirely out of context and awfully misused, and then said this:
We are concerned about your soul's welfare, and fear that you cannot go to heaven in your present condition.
So to make sure that she knew they meant business about her repenting of the sin of not coming to church on the regular, these charming fellows offered the following solution:
"...we are withdrawing fellowship from you. Members of this congregation will have no social contact with you. We take this action in love..."
Yeah, you have to dig that last part, right? I'm sure she felt the love.
As I read that letter, I was saddened but not that surprised. I've heard more than my fair share of those stories, and I've seen firsthand the effects of that kind of ostracization.
When I worked at Walt Disney World many years ago, I learned that several of my employees belonged to the same church. They ate lunch, hung out after work, and were always together in a tight-knit community.
Then one of them got kicked out of the church for moving in with her boyfriend (they weren't married). Their church leaders told the rest of the group that they had to ostracize her, so they did.
I will never forget watching her eat her lunch alone and how the people who had been her fast friends studiously avoided speaking to her. Eventually, she transferred to another department.
At that time, I did not identify as a Christian, though I had spent most of my life in the Church up to that point. I chalked that moment up to scores of others I'd seen like it---all reasons I wanted nothing to do with the Church or Christianity.
But years later, I discovered that there were other ways to be Christian that were grace-filled, loving, and focused on Jesus.
I have also realized that people need to know this, especially those who have experienced the trauma of rejection because of people like these dudes in the letter sent to my church member.
Nicole Serrano is a former megachurch worship leader who wrote songs for huge Christian music artists like Chris Tomlin. When she came out as a lesbian, she lost everything--her job, a record deal, gigs, you name it.
She didn't lose her faith, though. Somehow she held on to her faith in a God who was bigger, more accepting, and unconditionally loving than she had been taught in her youth.
She recently wrote a song entitled "Time for Everything," which I love because it speaks directly to the need for a better story of a bigger God. Here's a bit of the lyrics:
I know the truth is worth fighting for
But something isn't lining up anymore
'Cause a god who'd rather die
Than not have us right by his side
Is more about love than we'll ever know
They're more about love than we'll ever know...
Come on! How powerful is that? Powerful enough to change the world, I'm thinking. God knows we need some change---in the Church, for sure, but also in our hearts and minds.
And if you have ever felt rejected by the Church, you don't have to carry that around with you any longer. Many loving, caring, open, and accepting communities of faith believe in a bigger God. I'm proud to be a pastor in one of them.
You can let those feelings of rejection go---they are not from God, not by a long shot. You can live in hope and joy of a God big enough to love without conditions.
May it be so. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.