Friday, November 14, 2008

A church that did it right

When I look at the current mess we're in, I take comfort in knowing at least one church did it right this election season, and I'm happy to report that it's the one I attend.

Our church is a conservative congregation in a Reformed denomination. We are Calvinists. In our worship services we sing mainly traditional hymns with a few modern tunes thrown in here and there. I would guess that most members are Republican. But then, I wouldn't know exactly because politics is not an obsessive topic of conversation at our gatherings. We are much more concerned about caring for one another and keeping up with each other's lives: someone battling cancer, an infant undergoing surgery, a difficult pregnancy, a death in someone's family.

My pastor has never preached a sermon on Proposition 8 or even once mentioned it from the pulpit. I have no idea how he voted on Prop. 8 and I don't care to know. I have no doubt that his silence was a conscious decision to honor the church as a spiritual institution and to respect the consciences of his congregants.

Likewise, I never took it upon myself to bring up Prop. 8 with anyone in church, never sent out a group email to my church friends pushing my views, never asked anyone how they planned to vote. Many people at my church don't even know about this blog, and those who do have no obligation to read it as far as I'm concerned. I suppose I can't take full credit for my restraint. It just never occurred to me to do otherwise. I think it is because I have been unconsciously following the leadership of my pastor and elders who have diligently kept all political talk out of our worship services. When I'm at church I become focused on spiritual things. I become aware that I have left the things of the world behind to unite with my spiritual family in Jesus Christ.

That doesn't mean I have shied away from giving my political opinions when church friends have approached me with questions. I remember one Sunday in particular, it was three weeks before election day when the pro-Prop. 8 campaign sent out a slew of amazingly nasty mailers. Out of the blue and all at once, I had numerous people seek me out during our fellowship/refreshments break for my take on Prop. 8.

That's when I learned how diverse our congregation was on this issue. A surprising number of people told me they were voting no. Others said they were genuinely torn. Even for the ones who ended up voting yes, this was no light matter, no small struggle of conscience. Just the struggle encouraged me. It is again a credit to my pastor. His silence from the pulpit gave people room to struggle and soul search. He did not obliterate the complexities of this issue and attempt to bind people's consciences with authoritative calls for obedience to God and loyalty to church. None of us felt like our relationship to him or to any of our brothers and sisters in Christ would be imperiled by making an unpopular voting decision.

If only more church leaders took care to treat their congregation members as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and left them alone to figure out how to vote as citizens of this passing earthly society. Our witness to the world would be immensely brighter.

Believe it or not, there is nothing that most gay and lesbian people want more than to see the church acting like the church should. They know the world to be a hostile, lonely, and oppressive place and that the church is supposed to be a beacon of hope and light. I am leery of the anger that is fueling the current protests and I fear it will lead to increasingly worse behavior. But I also know the anger wouldn't be so bitter if it weren't an expression of people's disillusionment with the church and its leaders. It is a disillusionment that once hoped, that expected better, and now vows to never hope in us again.