Time for the church to get over itself

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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Ed Olfert

In the Image

A couple of columns ago, my topic was the radical love of God, and how one might experience that in the world. That prompted the following response from a friend I’ll call “Ada.”

“Just read your (“God’s radical love” column.) It occurred to me that something you have not said there, but that you are likely implying, is that your central premise applies to the love in gay and lesbian relationships as well. In my work, the opposition to such relationships by some in the church and elsewhere seems more and more preposterous, as I encounter fine folk (colleagues as well as clients) in same sex relationships whose love for each other can be as deep as any, or conversely, it can be fraught with difficulty and come apart like any other relationship. It saddens me to see the hurt that can be caused by 'Christian' people who take the thinly-veiled 'tolerance' approach toward gay and lesbian folk by essentially saying 'you are wrong, and sinful, but I am a fine Christian so I love you anyway...' For those on the receiving end, I doubt that it matters much whether the disdain comes from the gay-bashing/name-calling crowd or from the 'I'm Christian so I love you anyway' crowd. Either way, it is disdainful, and it is judgmental, condescending and hurtful.”

My response to Ada was concise. “Yes.”

Ada’s background, as I understand it, is fascinating. She grew up in a Christian home. In her teen years, difficult and painful issues presented themselves, and the church, as it was held out to her, seemed unable to bless the hard questions with which she struggled. She has done that hard work well, but almost entirely separate from the church. She emerges a sensitive, thoughtful person with passion, skills and energy to offer those who struggle, all manner of struggle. I hold her opinions close.

Going in another direction, this past week, media was filled, as were coffee room conversations, with shock surrounding the death of comic and actor Robin Williams. It seems we assumed that someone who could make us laugh that much must be a happy guy. One aspect that struck me most was the observation offered by many, including media personalities and plain folks, such as one of my eloquent children, that Robin could now find the serenity that eluded him in this life. The inference is that God will hold him close, will offer him peace in eternity.

That is, I suggest, a radical thought. Many years ago, in our youthful days, my sense was that suicide was a dark and sinful reality in the eyes of the church, Holly remembers the story of a young girl who ended her life, and was then buried just outside the confines of the cemetery. I don’t recall such stories, but even in my healthy experience of congregational life, there were few tools offered to think about and respond to this painful reality. The church was not equipped, nor prepared, to deal with depression and all its manifestations, manifestations which were, and are, all around us.

This isn’t a blame thing. As I suggested, my church experience was good, positive, the church did the best it could.  But it has become obvious to me over the years that it behooves the church to pay heed to our culture, to our society, to lay off the condemning and bashing, and to simply learn.

Where the church has been able to do that, good things happen. Important questions appear, inviting us into the spirituality of depression. Important images are offered, such as Robin Williams being blessed, loved, hugged in whatever entity to which you prescribe, no matter whether a suicide victim, or an “unsaved” soul.

Such is also the case in sexual orientation matters, referred to by Ada.  Where the church has acknowledged that our culture, reflecting raw reality, has things to teach us about the nature and love of God, we are healed, brought together. When otherwise, we cling to our narrow view of a measuring God, and create more pain, more division.

Ada, as someone mostly outside the institutional church, probably can’t say this. As someone from the inside, who has a long history of investment in, and love for, the formal search for the face of God, I challenge the church to get over itself. Healing and holiness is found in the limitless arms of God.

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