Last night a young couple came and essentially tried to convince Nora she’s going to Hell. I’m not going to name-and-shame what church they came from, but it was very close to home. It made me furious that the version of the gospel that was being sold in my neighborhood, and because I was busy feeding the sheep I lead.
I am still furious, but I’ve decided to bite my tongue a bit on it, trying to figure out how best to respond. I don’t know if a public response is best, or a conversation with their pastor asking why this is an acceptable mission practice, but what I’ve written is 95% of what I will say on the matter.
I am very happy I started writing my response last night and waited until today to post it. It was poorly written, crafted out of anger and exhaustion, not helpful but rather condemning and accusatory. My thoughts weren’t wrong – again, I’m still angry about it – but I couldn’t write it in a pastoral way. As I sit in the office this afternoon, not able to focus on real work, I am having a hard time being pastoral again.
So instead of talking about that, I decided I was going to do something else: talk about how to be a mature adult. Last night I was ready to send all sorts of e-mails and a “Letter to the Editor” and try to get a meeting with the other church in town and create a united front against the teachings of this church. Today, my vision has cleared a little bit and I can see the folly of that.
Often times sleeping on it is the best option. Responding out of blind anger would do two things: get my supporters in an unhealthy frenzy and break and line of communication or compromise between this church and my own. That accomplishes nothing but making me feel good and righteous, which, in its own way, is what caused that brand of theology.
Feeling righteous feels really damn good. Having people in a fury affirming your righteousness feels amazing. Judging and condemning the other feels really good. It all would have made me feel great.
And accomplishes nothing more than divide an already divided and spiritually struggling community further.
I wasn’t home last night because I was preparing for Bible study at the church. We are studying 1st Timothy. Last night was chapter 1, including a difficult conversation on verses 9-10. This verse that includes a word whose translation we can’t guarantee and whose interpretation partially caused to the ELCA and the PC(USA) to both have a major splits and vocal proponents on each side of the debate risking their careers for what they believe God is directing them to do, including a professor I never got the chance to study under because firing him meant money was continuing to come in.
Last night I wanted to add my voice to the larger argument of scripture and sin in a way that furthered the frenzy and anger. Today I want to share the message of the gospel that is love and salvation, not condemnation and growth based upon fear and guilt. I want to provide community today, not provide a place to fulfill an obligation so someone can get into Heaven.
I slept on it, and now my anger has calmed so I can actually be light instead of darkness, as dim as my light is today. I approached it with calm, understanding and love, and now I can respond with calm, understanding, and love.
I will close with this. If anyone who is local to Cascade, Iowa reads this, know that the message in the church I am leading is not that message. We believe that we are broken and need Christ, but we will not drag you in with the threat of Hell if you act differently than us or have sins that we don’t struggle with. I am not ignorant of what has happened with this congregation, and I am not ignorant of why someone might not feel comfortable or welcome in the walls of that church – and that saddens me greatly – but the message from my pulpit is love, compassion, and hope, not judgement nor condemnation. If you are seeking that, the doors are open to you (and everyone from every walk of life).
You are loved, and that is the message of the gospels.
And don’t respond to stuff out of anger. It doesn’t help; it only feeds your ego and self-righteousness.