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The Christian Community: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Yesterday was Memorial Day here in the United States. It's the official kick-off for summer, and a day to remember those who died in service to the country. It is the day we honor those who died in the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, US Civil War, Spanish-American War, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else our country sent people to defend and die.

My grandparents; both served in WW2, Army
I am one of the fortunate: no members of my family have died as a result of war. I've had ancestors in most of the major wars in US history. For three of those wars, I probably had ancestors fighting on both sides of the conflict. My grandpa came home from Europe. My sister came home from both Iraq and Afghanistan. Other family members were never sent overseas.

I have been blessed.

The Good

It's all about community, really. Recognizing that God has gifted certain individuals to defend the rest of the community. Some of us are unsuited to go into battle. If we have to defend our homes, yes, we'd put up a good fight, but the day-in and day-out? No; not really what we are meant to do.

In my experience, it's one of the things the church is getting right: honoring those who have served in the military. Memorial Day ranks up there with Mother's Day and Father's Day which are only second to Christmas and Easter in many churches of my association. Entire sermons are preached about 'being godly Christian soldiers' or 'fighting the good fight'.

That isn't to say it's the only thing the church is getting right. Community plays a huge role in a church's life. From the normal weekly worship services bringing the church community together to the larger liturgical celebrations of Christmas and Easter bringing the rest of a community together. The church does community well.

It shows up in the cycles of life: baby showers, graduations, weddings, anniversaries and death.

It gathers around those who hurt as well as those who rejoice. The church celebrates with a teen getting his driver's license, and mourns with the parent who sees her baby growing up. While the church does weddings well, it struggles on occasion when those weddings dissolve in divorce.

All in all, however, looking at the church gathering weekly at one location, it does well with community. Unfortunately, it isn't the entire story.

The Bad

We're supposed to reach the local communities for Christ, not turn them away from him. I've always lived close to my church (fifteen minute drive, tops), but I haven't always lived in the same community as my church.

Like my first church, my current church is located in the community where I basically live. It is, at any rate, where I shop, conduct business and the location of my library. When the church does something to reach its community, it's reaching my community as well.

The church I left was in another community unconnected to me save through church. When that church worked with its community, I had no connection to the purpose. My first and recent churches sat outside the primary community; my middle church was on Main Street. It was, and remains, in many ways like the traditional churches I read about in books, and as such it tries to connect to the surrounding community.

Unfortunately, for me at any rate, it didn't connect to the greater community. The bad part of the church is it's seeming inability to connect with other believers. It's as though the brick and mortar building is a bastion against the heretics (i.e. everyone else).

This frustrated me to no end, and to put it mildly is part of the reason I left my previous church. I was fed up with the church only focusing on churches that it agreed with 100% in doctrine. It is, predominately, a Baptist issue. I know other churches can be that way, but I see it most with Baptists. My current church is a Free Methodist church, and works with other churches both in their association as well as in the local community.

If we are a body of believers, why doesn't the right hand and the left hand work together? We're attached to the same head (Christ).

The Ugly

The church has some issues to address, and the issues are ugly. Abuse, divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancies and adultery are just some of the problems the church needs to acknowledge.

Abuse by church leadership isn't just a Catholic or Protestant thing. Both sides are equally abusive, and both sides are equally corrupt in covering it up. The same is true for abuse within homes, not just with church leaders.

The church, as a whole, needs to acknowledge the pain and hurt done to weaker individuals and strive to make amends. Both my previous church and my current church have training for teachers and leaders on signs of abuse. My current church conducts background checks on any working with the children.

I'm going to be honest - many of the ugly aspects of a church community I see directed at women. While abuse can happen across the board, the ones who face the brunt of ostracism are women. The pregnant teen girl, the woman who flees her abusive husband or the woman whose husband is serially unfaithful are often the ones who are blamed.

It boils back to Adam's excuse in the Garden of Eden, "The woman made me do it."

Our Responsibility

What are we, fellow believers, to do about this? The good, we do well, but the bad and the ugly are harsher critics. In all honesty, the first thing to do is admit there is a problem. I see five things that individuals within the church can do to start changing the culture:

  1. Examine your heart. How do you respond to those who aren't like you? Race, gender, marital status, age or economic level? There's a large movement within the church to be racially diverse, but diversity in other matters is equally important. Diversity begins with how individuals relate to other individuals. 
  2. Honestly evaluate how your church views individuals within the church. As I stated before, much of the abuse is directed at women, and this boils down to how the church sees women. We portray a cultural system as Biblical that, I believe, was never meant to be Biblical. 
  3. Dig into what the Bible says. This is a hard one because so much of what we believe the Bible says is actually tradition (not knocking it down, just pointing it out). We need to evaluate the Bible, traditions and present scholarship. 
  4. Start a conversation. Talk with people and learn about them. Use your position and talents to learn and teach. I use my arts (literary and fiber) to reach out to others both to learn and to teach. While you may not see yourself as an artist, you have a network you can reach that I cannot. 
  5. Reach out to other churches in your community. Out of the list, this is the one that the church body needs to do, but it begins with individuals. Find the common ground and start building a larger community. Let the community know Christianity isn't just Baptists or Methodists; Catholic or Protestant; European or everyone else. It's one body under one head living for God's glory. 

All in all, the church is doing well, but can do better. Community matters because it is through communities that culture, values and tradition are passed from one generation to the next. Do you want your church community's traditions and values to be self-righteous seclusion or do you want it to be a humble open spirit?

The choice remains with the current members of a church body for good or for bad.


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