It had been an interesting year. What members of the High School youth group hadn’t graduated were moving away – save for me. I stuck with it a little longer than the rest. At first I didn’t even know why the older ones had quit church altogether. I always seemed to be out of the loop on these things. So while I was a youth group of one, it was decided that my Sunday School lessons were to take place in the Pastor’s office. Perhaps this was to see whether or not the rebellion of the others would prove contagious. The rest of my family had already begun to attend a non-denominational seeker-sensitive church and I wasn’t ready to leave the church I had known for about five years. It would take a little convincing for me to switch. That’s the last time I knew everyone who was a part of my church family in my home church. After that, I sort of made it a point to not really get to know anyone. It seemed to make things easier when we inevitably moved away or decided that it was time to find a new church. Then again, it’s been a long time since a church has felt like home or a family.
A church that feels like home or family isn’t something that you notice until it’s gone. Sometimes the subtle change in the atmosphere is easy to miss. I really wish I remembered what it was like back then, whether or not people were still warm and friendly, or polite and distant given the falling-out of the church and it’s youth group. Whether or not people remembered to invite me to events or made it a point to forget to extend an invitation. Churches tend to be forgiving if the reason for leaving them is “I’m moving to another city / state.” They tend to be awkward if that is not the case.
In every instance, so long as our theological beliefs were the same as the church, everyone got along famously. But as soon as there was a difference, it was as if we had fallen off of the straight and narrow and the church could not possibly be wrong. I’m just glad that no one really made an attempt to ‘turn’ us back to their way of thinking. Come to think of it, a family that polices the thoughts and beliefs of it’s members is an unhealthy one. When I look at my extended family, we all manage to share the same table whether we’re republicans and democrats or Colts and Bronco fans. Our difference doesn’t drive us further apart from one another, but brings us together. For centuries, Christians have been separating themselves out and that does nothing to resolve the original conflict (admittedly, it’s quite possible we don’t even know what it was), it just makes room for dozens of potential smaller conflicts. It’s played out with division within doctrines of denominations, and is played out within individual churches when a member deviates from the established norms.
Why can’t we just accept that there multiple possible interpretations that are all equally valid? Why must we choose one to be correct and all the others to be incorrect? Why can’t we all sit at the same table even if we’re in opposite theological camps? Are you afraid that my rebellion and disagreement is contagious and will ruin the unity of your church? Look around – Christianity is divided into denominations, sub-denominations, cults, and positions of every kind. There’s likely some difference in what you and every member of your church believes – it’s just that all of you know better than to speak of it out loud, because once it was spoken then the welcome mat gets pulled up and the doors locked. Once you don’t agree that’s reason enough to be less friendly, less welcoming, less accepting of the heretic in your midst for however long it takes for them to get the message that they don’t belong in your church.