Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Who is Welcome?

A Facebook colleague shared the following blog post:

When my abuser is welcome at the table and, I am not.

Pertinent quotes:

It’s the cool thing in more progressive branches of Christianity now to talk about how EVERYONE is welcome at the communion table. I should be glad about that, I guess...

But this trend in Christianity where EVERYONE is welcome scares me.
Maybe it’s because of the time when a former friend of Abe’s, who knew my back story, told Abe and I that we had to be grateful that Jesus forgives rapists. Who told us that because we could not see rapists as sinners just like us, we must not know Jesus like he does.
Or maybe it’s because of the people who cut off all ties to me because I’m not all that cheery and positive in my critiques of abusive systems and ideologies. Those same people who talk about how they long to sit down at the communion table with popular spiritually abusive leaders in a show of grace and forgiveness.

Or maybe it’s because of the way I see so-called progressive Christians in powerful positions react when my friends who are gay or trans* or disabled or people of color say, “Hey, this person/ideology is oppressing us.”
EVERYONE is welcome. But more and more it seems the “EVERYONE” that Christians are really going after is abusers.
And why not? How radical and Jesus-like does that sound? Abusers and survivors, sitting at the same table. Sharing the same bread and wine. The lion lying down next to the lamb.
Sure. That sounds great. Excuse me while I go have a panic attack or two.

I apologize for the length of that quote, but I do not want to diminish what Sarah Moon is saying.  She's been abused.  She's been raped.  She's terrified of coming to a place where her abuser is welcomed, and she senses that she is not--not that she isn't welcome, she knows that, but where it seems like there is little compassion, comfort, or even safety for her.

Everyone is welcome.  That is the mantra.  No boundaries.  Anything goes.

This is one of those responses to pluralism that has infected the church--yes, I used infected purposely.

The idea that everyone is welcome has never been embraced by orthodox Christianity.  It wasn't embraced by Jesus.  It wasn't embraced by Paul.  So where did this idea come from?  Where did people start buying into the idea EVERYONE is welcome at the table of the Lord?

It's About Grace

Progressive Protestantism is enamored with the concept of grace.  I don't blame them in the least.  I am too.  When I hear the words of Romans 3

21 But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

 and Ephesians 2

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 

my heart quickens.  This central doctrine of Christianity is something I cling to and refuse to let go of.

But there is a dark side to the concept of grace.  A dark side which reared its head in the early church and still rears its head even to this day.  It's called antinomianism.   That's the fancy word for it.  The less fancy word is lawlessness or anti-law.

You see, Christianity is both law and gospel.  The laws are the commands of God, the commands of Christ, the admonishments to live our lives according to God's will and do the works He commands.  The gospel is the acclamation that since we are unable to accomplish living the commands of Christ to perfection, we are forgiven and set free to live our lives striving to achieve perfection (follow the law) without worrying about being punished when we fail.

There is a bit of tightrope walking that I am doing in that last paragraph.  I hope you can see it.  In no way, shape or form does grace git rid of the law.  In no way, shape or form does grace nullify the commands of God or the commands of Jesus.  They are still in effect.  What is gone is that we are no longer under the discipline of that law should we fail. (Galatians 3:25).  But that certainly does not mean we are allowed to simply break the law.  Far be it.  For the same person (St. Paul) who wrote that we are no longer under the DISCIPLINE of the law also wrote:  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

So, as Christians, we are free from the discipline of the law, but we still strive to uphold it.  This is important for without the Law, there are no boundaries; and in Christianity, there are definitely boundaries.

Who is Out?

The idea that Jesus showed this radical love and accepted everyone regardless of who they were and what they did is simply asinine.  It is a misreading of Jesus.  The very fact that Jesus died for the world does not mean that He accepted everyone and believed everyone was welcome.  There is a very important teaching to illustrate this point, and it applies to Sarah Moon's situation as well as to the understanding of boundaries in the church.  From Matthew chapter 18:

Jesus teaches: 15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

 Would that the church follow these instructions!!  But alas, I can hope, can't I?

First off, we must recognize immediately Jesus saying, "If another member of the church sins against you..."  There is definitely right and definitely wrong going on here.  And how do we know what sin is?  How do we know what is right and what is wrong?  The Law.  We cannot abolish the Law!!!  It is necessary for clarity and boundaries and helping us know what is sin!!!

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.

That's the first step.  Now, if I were counseling Sarah or any other woman or man who had been abused by another, I would never counsel them to go alone.  There are exceptions to things, and this is one of them.  I would counsel them to bypass this step and move to step two--for protection's sake and for courage's sake.

I know intimately people who have been abused.  I know the pain inflicted upon them.  I know their desire and want to avoid those whom have harmed them, but I also know that if one tries to avoid everyone and every situation that one might encounter an abuser, then the one who was abused becomes trapped.  This is not good.  The church, in whatever form that might take, should provide a safe place for someone who has been abused to find courage, strength, healing, support, a place to break down without judgement and other means of emotional, physical, and spiritual healing.  We cannot diminish these things.

And one of those things is the courage to stand up to those who committed the abuse with the knowledge that person will not be allowed to harm him or her again--the courage to announce, "You sinned against me!"

Now, here is a very important piece.  Jesus says, "If the person repents, you have gained a brother."

This might cause some consternation because forgiveness comes with difficulty.  The healing is not necessarily done at that moment, but it none-the-less must take place.  Reconciliation is hard--very hard.  If you don't think so, just listen to some of the voices in minority communities these days when dealing with the effects of the Jim Crow laws.  There are still demands for retribution--even given to generations born well after these laws were in effect.  Forgiveness does not come easy.  Forgetting never happens.  Which is why support from those abused should never, ever be withdrawn until the abused say, "I am healed."

But that is just one scenario.  "If he repents..."

What if he doesn't?

Well, there are a series of steps to continue on with including exposing the sinner to the entire church.  Yeah, I know all about privacy laws and such things, but in order for infection to be dealt with, it must be exposed.  In this case, if an unrepentant sinner refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing--refuses to come to grips with what he did to damage another, then the church must act.

"Treat that one as a Gentile or tax collector."

These were outsiders in the Jewish society.  They were not allowed certain privileges when it came to worship and the holding of positions in Jewish society.  It doesn't mean that Jesus didn't come in contact with such folks.  It doesn't mean that Jesus didn't care about or love them.  They were now restricted though.  There were certain things they were not allowed to participate in.

In the early church and as the church grew, this meant excommunication--a refusal of the Lord's Supper.  Until repentance was shown, the means of grace would not be allowed to this person.

Boundaries.  They were important then.  They are still important now.

St. Paul knew this--knew it well.  He had to deal with a situation in Corinth which was not healthy, and once again, we see him drawing the lines in the sand with a particular church member:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— 10not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.’  --1 Corinthians 5:9-13

How quickly we forget such admonitions from both Jesus and Paul.  How quickly we forget that they drew boundaries, lines in the sand, which should not be crossed.  How quickly we forget that radical grace meant radically new ways of living and transformation of the heart and soul. 

Who is welcome?  Well, all sinners are welcome.  There is no doubt about that.  But sinners who are accused of sinning against another and refusing to repent according to Matthew 18 are not.  The church has had means of dealing with such things since its inception.  Somehow, there are those who have forgotten. 

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