The Church has come under fire in the last couple of decades for a lot of reasons, but I think most of the criticisms have been based on self-inflicted behavior. Priests raping children, TV evangelists ripping off gullible people, the fight over equal rights for LGBT people, attempts to keep women from serving as clergy – all of these (and there are more) – are examples of how the church has not proclaimed love. By classifying certain groups as inferior, the Church has been a vehicle for hate. It isn’t that this is a new thing. The Church has often been on the wrong side of history and morality, picking on those with less power while pandering to the culture around it. We are supposed to be a transforming force for good, but too often, it seems to me, we end up conforming to the whims of the majority. We are guilty as charged.
I serve a congregation that has struggled with this kind of thing. When we began the process to publicly welcome the LGBTQ community 7 years ago, we knew we were in for a tough fight. After all, we were the first United Church of Christ congregation for 40 miles in every direction to attempt this change, and we were in the midst of a culture that fights change at every opportunity. We had members – good and caring people in every other way – leave because we were even considering this move. And yet, we had the courage to do it. We were convinced that we could not allow faith based hate to control our ministry.
So let’s be honest – that is what it needs to be called. We are seeing this kind of hate growing around us, and we, as churches and as a nation, are in a dark time. You can make all the excuses you want, but if you believe women are inferior to men, you are basing that idea on ignorance and hate. If you think African Americans are inferior to Anglo Americans – if you think Spanish speakers are inferior to English speakers – if you think LGBTQ people are inferior to heterosexual people – you are basing your belief on ignorance and hate. And while the term faith based hate should be an oxymoron, it is more the norm than the exception. Unless you are restricting someone’s participation based on legal protections (like child-abusers), you are basing your actions on ignorance and hate.
Our church is not perfect – in fact, the moment the doors open and the people come in, the church becomes an imperfect place. We still sometimes say and do the wrong thing. We still miss opportunities to do the right thing. We are, however, doing many things right, and the question at the center of everything we do is this – Would Jesus approve? That is the bar we have set – not perfection – just doing the right thing.
If you are part of a faith community that practices faith based hate, or are a person who yearns to be part of a community that doesn’t, I would encourage you to search for a congregation that has taken this seriously. If you are looking for perfection, you will have to wait for heaven. But if you are looking to make a difference, seek others who are doing the same. Alone, we can do some things well, but together, we can change the world. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD from Alvernia University (PA).