I have heard this quote with more frequency in the last few years. I like it, but is it really true.
Here are a few vignettes and then my thoughts.
1980’s-Televangelist Jim Bakker accused of misappropriating money given to his ministry and to his Christian amusement park. He is denounced by those that were formally his friends and colleagues. Jerry Falwell steps into “help” and then assumes control of his ministry and rejects Rev. Bakker.
Around the same time Jimmy Swaggart, another televangelist is caught with his pants down (literally), in a hotel room with a sex worker. Through tearful sobbing on television and backroom strong arm tactics remains in ministry, but rejected by many other evangelicals as an embarrassment.
1990’s (?)- Mel White, a ghost writer for many leaders in the evangelical movement comes out as gay and is rejected by those that were is friends and clients.
Wildly popular Christian songstress Sandi Patti reveals that she had an affair, she becomes wildly unpopular overnight.
2000’s- Ted Haggard, a rising star in the Evangelical movement and a staunch anti-gay advocate is outed as gay by a male masseuse. He enters reparative therapy and is healed from his “gayness”, yet loses the church he founded and many of the friendships he had within Evangelical circles.
Ray Boltz, well known for his musical ballads that inspired and encouraged many believers, comes out of the closet and his music is “raptured” (disappeared) from Christian stores, and Christian radio stations.
Jennifer Knapp another Christian singer reveals that she is a lesbian, her music suffers the similar fate as Mr. Boltz.
Jonathan Merritt, Christian star of the new 20 something trendy, relevant evangelicalism is outed by another young man, who himself used to be involved in Christian television. Azariah Southworth, struggled for almost a year in whether or not to reveal this secret. But because Jonathan was outspoken in his stand against the LGBT community, Azariah told his story. Jonathan has now gone on record to say that he doesn’t embrace the gay label, and “struggles”. His ministry will undoubtedly suffer.
Some of these people, because of their “sin” have either been forced out of the church, or have seen their influence greatly diminished among evangelicals. Some have walked away from the church because they knew that they would NEVER be accepted, even if their ministries, in the past, had great impact on many lives. Some have had to lie and cover up who they really are in order remain within Evangelicalism.
So, is the church a hospital for “sinners?” With an aching heart I would have to say only for little sinners.
I have had seen people who have drug or alcohol addictions rejected if they didn’t “get healed” in a reasonable amount of time. I have seen a pastor rejected and dismissed in a most unloving way because of an affair. I have experienced the wrath of a body of believers because I did not agree with their narrow views on some social issues.
We say that we are deeply concerned about people, we say that we love others unconditionally, we say the love “covers” a multitude of sins, we say that grace and mercy and forgiveness and restoration are things we truly embrace. But as you can see from the above list, our words are hollow. There is little action behind the platitudes.
There are so many people sitting in the pews of Churches across this country that are dying inwardly. They struggle with addictions, weaknesses, and failures. But they hid behind masks of spirituality and speak the language of the church. They fear exposure and live lives of fear and self loathing.
Suppose we surrounded the drug addicted individual with love and committed to stand with him regardless of whether or not he relapsed. Suppose when a pastor or other church leader had an affair, or embezzled money, or had a porn addiction, we ask them step down for a time while we got them the help that they needed to work through the issues in their lives and then restored them to their leadership positions. Suppose, when someone comes out as gay or lesbian, we didn’t burn their books, CD’s, tell them to pray the gay away and pretend that they did not have a positive influence in our lives. And what if we told them that they are deeply loved by God and us and we want them to stay involved in ministry just as they are.
I believe that all of this would have a huge impact on the Body of Christ. People would be more willing to admit and seek help for the things that they struggle with. There would be honesty in and out of the pulpit. No one would look down on another because there is now freedom to drop the masks, and pretense and just be real. God’s love and grace would be so tangible from person to person that it would draw others who are sinners from the outside into the fold and they too would find healing, and restoration, and acceptance , and Jesus.
Suppose we are being called to this. It is time for the church to truly become a reflection of the Savior we claim to follow.