I am here today to speak for a group of people who don’t have a voice. They get blasted, blamed, criticized and dismissed more than any group I know. They are the problem. They are stuck in their ways, unwilling to consider change. They disregard the Bible, ignore the culture around them, and are generally stuck in the mud. If they would change, would move, would even just get out-of-the-way, the kingdom of God might have a chance.
Who are these people? Are they raving fundamentalists? Bible-ignoring progressives? Rich evangelicals? Out of touch mainliners? No. They are the straw church. And today, I speak for them.
Over and over and over we are inundated with blogs and books decrying the state of “the church.” Critics lament the exodus in droves of millennials, the unwillingness to line up with changing social mores, the lack of love for the poor. According to just a few articles I have read in the past week, all written by Christians, the church is racist, greedy, unconcerned, homophobic, and unwilling to actually follow Jesus. If I have read these correctly the only hope the church has is every church member immediately dying. (I may have stretched it, but not much)
And yet, I have been a part of church for all 41 years of my life. And for the life of me, I think the church that is being attacked DOES NOT ACTUALLY EXIST.
Now, that does not mean that there aren’t people in church who are racist, greedy, unconcerned, homophobic, etc… However, the argument often made is that those words can pretty much describe “the church.” But what if “the church” as so often decried is actually just a straw man for our positions?
You see, life is easier with a straw church. It gives us something to rage against, something to blame. “The Church” becomes the evil empire against whatever noble position I wish to proclaim. Because, if I find that often Christians are kind and generous, then how can I be prophetic? Whatever my position, it in some way behooves me to claim that I am standing up to the masses, whether or not I actually am.
Let me make my point in a rather simplistic way. I will read a blog or Facebook post decrying how “the church” doesn’t get it on some particular issue. The author will come out guns blazing. It is a serious critique. And then…well there are a bunch of likes, and lots of supporting comments from other Christians. If “the church” is the problem, then where did all these people come from? If your post gets all sorts of likes, your critique may not be as edgy as you think.
So what would happen if we just left the straw church out of all this? What if instead of making broad sweeping claims about what “the church” is doing, we instead grounded ourselves in the reality of real church.
What we find is the church is a mixture of all sorts of people, in various stages of Christian growth, with all sorts of different ideas of what the church should be all about. Some of those people can be offensive, while many of them are kind and generous. Most are hypocritical at various times. Some are more conservative and others more liberal. Some voted Republican, others Democrat, many are independents, and some have no interest in politics at all. Lots of them love Jesus and want to follow Him.
You see, the church is filled with messed up people, that’s kinda why it exists.
I once had a young woman complain to me about the way “the church” treated her. She was put down, not listened to, and generally pushed aside. I took it very seriously. But the longer the conversation went, the more it became obvious that “the church” had not done this. Rather, she had a confrontation with a particular person. Now, I know that each of us may be the face of the church to any particular person, but this person had lots of encounters with church people. But her assumption that she could make the leap from not seeing eye to eye with an individual to “the church” hates me was baffling. I could not figure out where it came from. But now I know. She got it from us, the church. It is how we talk about each other.
In no way am I saying the church is perfect or it is wrong to give some criticism. Just read the apostle Paul to know that is not true. But rather, what if instead of slandering whole groups of people or painting with such broad brushes, we got a little more succinct? What if instead of blasting “the church” we went to individuals and confronted them with what we think is wrong? (whoa, is that what Jesus calls us to?) How often do we actually know what people think and believe, or are we just assuming?
I know many “conservative” Christians who love all people. I know many “liberal” Christians with a deep regard for scripture. I know lots of hard-core Bible thumpers who desperately seek to help the poor. And I know some racists and wealth-mongers. How do I know all these people? They are all part of the church. The real church.