When I was 18, a friend of mine invited me to their church. I was warmly welcomed and looked forward to experiencing their worship. The service was very similar to what I knew until the minister got up to preach his sermon. I truly cannot recall what scriptures he used or the main point he was trying to make. What I remember is the feeling of disgust I had. Everything the minister said was about what we should not do if we wanted to be a part of God's Kingdom.
He transitioned into proclaiming any churches or religions organizations that believe in other prophets or books were actually from the devil. This point alone made me feel unwelcome and aghast that this was being preached instead of the gospel message. The man went onto condemn homosexuality; how it was not from God and those who were homosexual were living in sin and going to hell.
I remember looking around the church thinking I would see others with disturbed facial expressions or concern but instead I found head nods and heard people shout "Amen." I was in disbelief with the inability of the people to see how this created division rather than unity. It ostracized rather than included. I thought about walking out but instead I sat in the pew and began praying that the minister and people there would experience the love of God.
Though I disliked the experience it was a good learning opportunity. First l discovered how religion can be used inappropriately to hurt and demean others. Secondly, I learned firsthand how if felt to be institutionally judged; to be unwelcomed unless you are step in step with the beliefs set by a church.
I am sure some of you have had similar experiences of feeling judged in a church. It may not have been from the pulpit but maybe from the looks of others or just the feeling of not being welcomed. Judgement is real and I know I have been both on the giving and receiving end of it. It abruptly halts those who are spiritually searching for God because they were unwelcome or undervalued for who they are or what they believe. So how do we balance our beliefs while still respecting others? In what ways can we welcome and include instead of divide and isolate? It is in our ability to be open and respect others decisions where Christ meets us with open arms.
I like to think being a part of God's kingdom is more about what we do than what we don't do. Community of Christ has a concept of Zion. It's about creating God's kingdom on earth; pursuing Christ centered communities throughout the world focused on joy, hope, love and peace. I love this because if focuses me on what I can do today to bring about God's Kingdom to another. It's not about believing and waiting but present action.
We all see the world differently, which means we have different thoughts and beliefs. This is beautiful because it makes the world interesting. By no means should our purpose be to change other people. I do think it is imperative we have personal reflection and active dialogue with others because we usually fear what we do not know. Talking about topics like sin, politics, homosexuality, etc. with others gives us opportunities to learn. It doesn't mean there is an expectation to change beliefs, but it helps us truly know the other person.
Creeds/ Statements of Faith
Many churches have creeds or statements people must say or believe to be a part of their church. I question if these statements breed sameness instead of embracing diversity and allowing personal identity. When others have to be just like us with speech, dress, actions, or beliefs than we miss the opportunity to love unconditionally. It's easy to like and love people who are like us but much harder for those that beat by a different drum. This is one reason why I am a member of Community of Christ. Community of Christ has a basic beliefs document however they are not universally required and must not be believed or said to be welcomed into this community. The Book of Mormon is a good example of this in CofChrist because it is considered one of our scriptural books however people hold a wide variety of beliefs about it. Some have had spiritual experiences believing wholeheartedly in its truth, while others question the origins and authenticity of it. The point is the myriad of beliefs doesn't exile you from worshiping or even being a leader. Though our differences in beliefs we are still able to find commonality and respect for one another. It is in our differences where we become stronger as a community.
Let me leave you with some questions to reflect on:
When was a time you felt judged?
When was a time you judged someone else?
What beliefs do you hold closely to?
Who is someone with different beliefs you would risk talking openly with?
What can you do to share God's love and bring about God's Kingdom?
Next week we will focus on Interpretation of Scripture and how it has hurt others when not used responsibly! This week please talk openly with someone that has a different belief than you. Learn about the person and love them for who they are.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.