The news from Christendom these days isn’t good. The seemingly endless parade of revelations from the Roman Catholic Church is heartbreaking and disturbing. The recent signs of serious rifts in the United Methodist Church are also distressing. The Southern Baptists, too, have been in the news after reports of widespread sexual misconduct among church leaders and volunteers.
It’s a tough time to be a Christian.
Most, if not all, of the recent scandals shaking the Church have something to do with sexuality—questions surrounding whether or not homosexuality is acceptable in the eyes of God, and the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by those who claim to have heard the call of God to ordained ministry and ought to know better.
While the United Church of Christ is not quite so riven by such scandals, we are certainly not immune from them. The denomination is generally welcoming of a diversity of sexual and gender identities and orientations, but we still experience problems with sexual misconduct.
It’s hard to know how to respond to the all-too-frequent unsettling revelations in the Church. As we begin the holy season of Lent, we have an opportunity to take stock and reflect on our place in the Christian landscape and to do what we can to lift up and live out an honest, transformative, thoughtful and responsible faith.
Just how should we do that? Here are a few suggestions:
- Embrace and maintain a sensitivity to the reality that many people have been hurt in devastating ways by the Church—and continue to be.
- Lift up and live out a different expression of the Church, and Christianity, openly practicing a faith that welcomes rather than judges, that loves rather than hates—while also recognizing that the notion “loving the sinner but not the sin” just isn’t good enough.
- Learn about appropriate clergy (and lay leader) boundaries and ask whether or not the clergy people in your life have been trained in understanding, recognizing and maintaining appropriate boundaries.
- Appreciate the lines of denominational affiliation like that in the United Church of Christ, that are set up to reduce the possibility of clergy abuse—especially recurrent clergy abuse. The system isn’t foolproof, but it’s a lot better than not having one.
Given the terrible things that have happened, and continue to happen, it may be tempting to ignore the headlines and the news stories—especially if it’s not directly a part of our own church experience. But, as part of the wider Church, we ought not look the other way or stick our heads in the sand. The entire Church, of which we are part, has been damaged.
Churches like the one that I serve in the United Church of Christ, an Open and Affirming congregation, ought to show a greater willingness to be our Christian selves in all of the ways through which we live our lives. We don’t need to be obnoxious about it (we know full well that we aren’t perfect either), but the world could use more of a different Christian witness than what we’ve been seeing in the news.
In this season of Lent, this season of reflection, following our Savior into places where we would prefer not to go, let us accept the grace and courage that Christ offers—and be the people we are called to be, offering love and hope to all and daring to do as Jesus did in reaching out and welcoming in.