Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Full Coffer

We're starting to see headlines about churches defying the stay-at-home orders, about pastors who are not only keeping their doors open but are encouraging attendance at Sunday services packed shoulder-to-shoulder with the "faithful." We're hearing these pastors proclaim that you can't shut the church down, and we're hearing their flocks mimic their talking points that God will protect them from this terrible plague because of their great faithfulness and their unwillingness to be shaken by the things of this world. 

We are also hearing of widespread infection in many of these churches, of dozens of parishioners coming down with the virus after fellowship with one another. If we hold them to their own standard, then they have condemned their own faith. 

Most certainly, they have condemned ours. 

It's a good practice, in general, to not get drawn into comment sections on social media. But I believe it's also good practice, in general, to read them. You can really get a sense of how others are thinking about something by seeing what they are willing to comment about. And when you look at the comment sections on the stories of these churches, what you see is alarming. 

Our culture is not talking about faith. They're not talking about whether or not God will protect His faithful from this virus. They aren't talking about what it looks like to believe in His goodness right now. Overwhelmingly, the comments on these stories take aim at one simple idea: that these pastors refuse to close their doors because doing so leaves their collection plates empty. That's it. Right now, the world is talking about the money-hungry church that doesn't even care for its own people, let alone anyone else. 


It doesn't matter that we're literally talking about a handful of congregations in a country that boasts hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them. It doesn't matter that we're talking about a couple of pastors in a profession of thousands. It doesn't matter that most of America's pastors are vocal on social media about keeping the church connected when it's dispersed, about keeping their doors closed out of love for neighbor, about being responsible citizens and doing our part. It doesn't matter that the overwhelming message of the church right now is one of care and compassion and passionate praise. 

All that the world is talking about is a church, universal, that only cares about money. That's willing to put its people and its community at risk for the sake of its own doors (and the pastor's great big mansion with private yacht and monkey butlers). All that the world is talking about is a church who doesn't love her neighbors, but only lines her pockets.

And to the world, this is enough to confirm its stereotype. This is enough for it to continue to paint all churches with a broad brush, thinking all of us Christians are just the same. That all pastors are just the same. That this is who we as a body are. 

The cries in the comment sections are striking. Shut 'em down! Arrest 'em! Put 'em all in jail! So selfish...they say. So self-seeking. Some even say that if these Christians love the church that much, just barricade the doors and leave them all there for two weeks. 

This is not the reaction we want. This is not the impression that we want the world to have of us. You can talk until you're blue in the face about what faith looks like, but as long as the impression is that it's not about faith at all...then it's not about faith at all. You are not only condemning your own faith; you're condemning ours. You are not a beacon in a storm; you are a millstone tied around the neck. 

Maybe you're thinking, wait a minute: aren't you the same person who just a few weeks ago was talking about the church as an essential gathering and advocating for ways to continue meeting together? Absolutely. And I still believe this. And I still believe there are ways for us to fellowship while still being safe. But the way these churches are doing it is not it. 

And for me, the essential nature of the church gathering is the fellowship. It's the being together. It's not the money or the service or some staunch declaration that God will protect us because we are so faithful (will He? I'll be looking at this tomorrow). It's a recognition that we are a social people, a species dependent upon relationship. Our faith echoes that and affirms it. This is the way God made us, and you can't just unplug us from needing one another. That's still true, of all of us (inside and outside the church), and it doesn't take much to see how we are longing for one another in the world right now. There is something vital for our souls about our being together. I will never not believe that. 

But if our meeting together doesn't demonstrate that, if that is not the message that the world gets - pandemic or no pandemic - then my voice is with theirs: shut us down. Close our doors. We're done. 

So at the point when the headlines are talking about outbreaks at local congregations and the comment sections are talking about a money-loving people of so-called faith, it's time to say something. Shut it down. This just not who we are. 

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