jesus at gunpoint

I had a day yesterday of not liking people very much. Among other things, I was told about an exciting new ministry (not in Flint) with which I surely should find a way to partner. They do such good stuff, you know. Feeding people, sharing hot drinks on cold days, playing basketball with children, making people feel at home. All of which is great, and all of which is done by thousands of organizations across the country. But this organization is different, and I’ll forego the partnership, thanks.

First, I read the ministry’s mission statement, which, by the way, isn’t really a mission statement. It says something like “we exist to do things consistent with our mission.” So does Wells Fargo. So does the US Army. Neither of which is a community-based ministry, despite what they may say on the commercials and recruiting posters.

Next, I watched a short video of the leader, and learned how God had led him to this ministry and given him a building. In a neighborhood not unlike much of Flint, the community center was cheap and the seller threw in the house next door for free. Which surely must be God, and not the ravages of a rigged economy. I’m sure God won’t mind taking the credit/blame yet again.

Then, I read the sparse info on the still under-development website, and learned that the minister’s goal was to inject all the people with the love of Jesus. Which sounds violent and painful. And made me think of all the other missions and ministries which inject people with various things, like English and western clothing and iPhones and capitalism and revisionist history, often in the name of Jesus. All the ways that we’ve colonized so many peoples over the history of Christianity. Yes, we say, we’ll bring grain and bibles, and make sure you’re nourished on our food and our religion. Yes, we’ll provide powdered baby formula in a country where there is a dearth of clean water. Just sign this irrevocable loan agreement and hand over the keys to your future. Yes, we’ll provide whatever you need, in exchange for you becoming more like us, more open to our co-opting of your resources and commodities for our global trade needs, and more attentive to an eventual heaven rather than the desirability of a temporal revolution.

Then I found out they are “partnering” with the local public elementary school, doing God knows what, while taking  pictures of the children for their social media use. Because parents living in poverty don’t have enough to worry about, don’t have to face down enough threats to their children’s security. But who has money for an attorney, and why would anyone expect to afford the same consideration – that is, legal right – to those parents as to their more economically resourced white, suburban counterparts? They are merely fodder for our feel-good; they should appreciate all that we’re doing for them. Hundreds of Christmas presents, after all. Plus the hot chocolate and basketball.

Next I learned they are bankrolled by a giant congregation that seems to delight in establishing a similar presence in vulnerable neighborhoods across the region. All the while gathering CEOs of far-too-wealthy corporations and thousands of members who reliably vote for purveyors of the conservative social policies that got us into this mess to start with. A sort of whacked out economic Munchausen’s syndrome by spiritual proxy. It’s all pretty screwed up. Pretty exploitative. Like colonialism but without the need for vaccinations or a passport.

Then, God provided me with a real-life metaphor. Apparently, according to a Christian news outlet, the leader of this ministry encountered a burglar in his kitchen, and while he waited for the police, he talked to the burglar about the love of Jesus. While holding him at gunpoint.

Jesus at gunpoint. When ministries use human need as an opportunity to force religious dogma.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, except to say this: some people may think Woodside Church isn’t really Christian, doesn’t talk enough about Jesus, is too accepting of other faiths, isn’t really religious enough. But I think the way we do faith here is more consistent with Jesus himself than so many things that get done in his name. We have questions here, about everything. We try to meet human need where we can, and we work to make connections among the political, societal and spiritual parts of our lives. We live a public faith that is continually under construction, continually seeking ways to strengthen the common good and repair a world shredded by insatiable self-dealing, including our own.

Maybe we could do more. And maybe we will, as our mission continues to evolve in response to our changing city. But I think Flint needs us, a challenging voice clear about the emperor’s lack of clothing, a welcoming place for people to be themselves.

Always welcome, and never at gunpoint.


(This appears today in Woodside World, the newsletter of Woodside Church, Flint, MI)

About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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