There was this hashtag going around on Twitter last week called #EmptyThePews, and normally I don’t like to get into this sort of thing, but I think we just need to talk about it.
The hashtag was trying, among other things, to get people to boycott church. People were using it to explain why they left the church or left their faith entirely.
Reading some of the thoughts expressed through #EmptyThePews breaks my heart. This is partially because people have left their faith, I guess.
But most of all, it’s because I fully understand their reasons why. None of it confuses me at all.
I think Christians have done a great job of following rules, regulations and doctrine and a terrible job of loving. One of the most important instructions Jesus gave is to love others as much as we love ourselves. And I think we just get it wrong.
Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that ‘love your neighbor’ means ‘love your neighbor if…’
We collectively added a silent ‘if.’
If they’re not gay, or or if they’re not addicted to drugs, or if they’re not a democrat, or if they’re not an immigrant, or if they haven’t had an abortion, or if they’re not a single mom, or if they’re not gay one more time because we tend to get hung up on that one, etc. etc. etc.
All of those little ifs after ‘love your neighbor’ seemed to replace the ‘with no agenda and with reckless abandon because we’re all human and deserve to be known and loved’ part.
If someone can commit themselves to loving that way instead, I have a hard time believing the gates of heaven won’t swing open wide for them regardless of gender identity, race, political beliefs or even struggles and shortcomings.
When I first started going to church and was still figuring out my faith, if someone told me, “I just can’t get on board with Christianity,” my response would have been: “No! That’s so sad! Why not? How can you not love Christianity? It’s just the best!”
Today, my response would simply be, “I totally get it.”
I do. And that’s what breaks my heart more than anything.
I’ve seen Christians insert ‘if’ after ‘if’ into the commandment ‘love your neighbor’ until it doesn’t look much like loving your neighbor at all.
I think we need to stop focusing on our own agenda and start following Jesus’ lead.
If our goal is to show those around us what God thinks of them, we should love our neighbors regardless of where they’ve been or where they currently are because that is exactly how God feels about them.
If our goal is to obey God’s most important instructions, we should realize that He has already given us everything we need to start loving fully: a whole bunch of other people who are made in His image just like us.
Quiet love, in my experience, has always been a lot more effective than loud hate.
In fact, one of my all-time favorite moments in the Bible is in Luke chapter 23. It’s when Jesus is hanging on the Cross between two other criminals who are also being crucified.
One of the criminals is loudly yelling obscenities, hating and spitting on Jesus and those around him.
The other criminal, believing Jesus is who He says He is, turns to Him and quietly says,
“We are being punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But You have done nothing wrong. Lord, please remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”
Jesus turns to him and smiling says,
“I will tell you the truth – today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Jesus, asking no questions, promises to bring him straight to heaven. Why?
Because in that moment, that man chose to turn from hate and quietly love his neighbor – who just so happened to be Jesus.
That simple act got him a one-way ticket to heaven from his death bed, so imagine what other good it can do.
I think we can all do a better job of recognizing that no church is perfect and neither are any of us.
So I think Christians have a new challenge on our hands:
Show up. But as different people with changed hearts and one mission: to love and be loved.