your church should close

Last month, I attended the last of my three national church gatherings for the year, this time the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), gathering in Des Moines. I gotta tell you, I’ve been a little too hopped up on church. And I’ve been reminded that, as much life as I find in church, I also find a whole lot of, well, death. 

This time, I was mostly in the exhibit hall, staffing a booth for UrbanSpirit

A woman approached my booth and asked me about our work, and I talked about poverty and the related  issues — housing, race, gender, childcare, transportation, food deserts, plus immigration and education. You know the list. 

She mentioned that, recently, in her town, in response to President Trump’s “send her back” moment (when he suggested that four Congressional Representatives who are women of color should quit criticizing America and “go back where they came from,” and “Send her back” became a battle cry among his followers), someone in her town wrote “send them back” in the white stripes of an American flag and posted it for all to see.

She was quite bothered. 

I asked what her church had done in response. Nothing, she said. They were a small church, just 8 of them. (I said Jesus just had 12.) But the pastor was sick. No one had time. And 15 other excuses. I challenged each excuse best I could, but she was adamant that there was nothing her church could do to make a public witness that such a racist act was not okay, that there was at least one church in town that rejected it. 

Finally, I just told her that her church should close and quit taking up space in the community. 

Then, on the way home from Des Moines, a song came on that I hadn’t heard in a long time: Scarecrow, by Melissa Etheridge, about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming who was abducted and tied to a fence, tortured and left to die.  

Melissa recounts the horror: 

We all gasp this can’t happen here!
We’re all much too civilized; 
where can these monsters hide?

But then she answers her own question: 

But they are knocking on our front door, 
They’re rocking in our cradles,
They’re preaching in our churches, 
And eating at our tables.

They’re preaching in our churches. 

Preaching in our churches.  

And I was reminded of the very substantial support that Trump’s racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia get from churches that claim to follow Jesus. Some otherwise-admiring national “faith leaders” actually complained recently, though not about Trump’s racism. They were bothered that he had said “goddamn” twice in a speech. That is, frankly, the least of our worries. 

They’re preaching in our churches. 

Or sitting in the pews doing nothing whilst the racist murderers rage. 

Then, this weekend, barely a week after that Des Moines church event, we all read the horrifying but no longer surprising news that two more white racist gunmen had killed scads of people going about their lives. Shopping. Socializing. 

Part of the church’s problem is that we are paid for in part by community money and we don’t want our underwriting to go away. 

We are subsidized. Not unlike farmers that grow what they’re told in exchange for federal payments. The tax exemptions that we receive allow us to own property more cheaply and take advantage of community services (fire, police, roads, schools, etc) paid for by our neighbors; plus receive donations that are  tax deductible; and offer our pastors housing allowances that are income-tax-exempt. 

So I have two questions. 

First, are we worth it? 

While we take up space, keeping prime property off the tax rolls, and robbing our communities of much needed revenue, are we adding anything of value? 

Second, what would we say if we weren’t afraid? Afraid of losing our tax breaks, but also afraid of annoying our donors, afraid of losing members, afraid of alienating the Lions, Kiwanians, or Chamber of Commerce, afraid of being uncomfortable at church potlucks or family dinners? 

Fear doesn’t become the body of Christ; and we don’t become the body of Christ by being afraid. 

Our love affair with guns has always been about white supremacy (all the way back to bounties on runaway slaves and land-grabs from indigenous peoples). But there is no room in the church for white supremacy. 

Some, I know, are fed up and have no idea what to do. 

So, I have three ideas (and you may have more): 

1. Flood the offices of your elected leaders with notes, cards, emails and phone calls, demanding a change in the way we revere guns, even calling for repeal of the second amendment.

2. Make whatever donations you can to progressive candidates. Especially contribute to the defeat of Mitch McConnell. He has a challenger, Amy McGrath, not a strong or good candidate, and holding many of the same opinions Mitch holds, but at least if she wins, he won’t be the Majority Leader anymore, unilaterally and single-handedly blocking the people’s business. 

3.Raise the conversation in arenas where you expect not to be well-received. Say it and live with the fall-out. Don’t buy the line that churches can’t be political. Preach it, bring it to Thanksgiving dinner, say it in the grocery check-out line. Don’t worry about saying it well. Just don’t let the moment go by. 

Otherwise, we’re just taking up space, worth nothing to our communities — but a heck of a bargain to empire, which pays us for our silence.  

Racism and race-based violence are part of the fabric of America, and will continue to be until we insist on something else. It seems clear to me that people who claim Jesus’ way, the way of the ancient prophets, ought to be in the front of the pack of those clamoring for a new way. 

So, start talking. Or go ahead and close your church.

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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