I grew up in the evangelical church.
I was taught that people would come to Jesus through friendship evangelism...which meant that they would see my clean living and want what I have. I can count on no hands the number of times someone approached me and asked about Jesus after observing my non-alcoholic, G-rated lifestyle.
I was taught that loving people meant, basically, that you got along with the loud-mouth in the next cubicle or you refrained from flipping off the guy who swerved into your lane without signaling.
I was taught to stand up for righteousness. In other words, to vote Republican, call out sin, wage war against immorality in the world around me. Strangely, I've never known any attempt to keep people from sinning that resulted in someone actually being set free from sin.
I was taught that there is blessing in obedience. I was not taught, or at least not taught effectively, that often there is suffering, deep anguish, loss, and even death before the blessing, but that the blessing is far better because of it.
In my opinion, the church is ripe with disillusionment because of its focus on morality, to the detriment of everything else. We have become almost convinced that morality will save us, our families, and our country. Clearly, it will not.
We are a people who shoot our wounded and blame the victim. There is little room to wrestle with matters of faith, to voice a dissenting view, to meld real life with dogma.
People who are hurt or confused don't need platitudes and certainly do not need blame. They need a safe place to struggle. They need to know that they are loved, above all, and that they don't even need to agree to belong. They matter and their fears, their doubts, their confusion, their sin do not make them inferior or weaker. They simply make them human.
In my own church, I often feel that all my questioning (and sometimes dissenting) is looked on as a sign of weakness or immaturity. It is tempting to pretend that I have it all together so that I can be seen as the 43 year-old woman that's been a Christian for 39 years, the former Bible college student, the Baptist middle school graduate, the pastor's daughter, the ardent seeker of Jesus that I am, instead of the weaker sister or thorn in the side that I am perceived to be.
But, I want to be a bridge. I want to put my struggles out there in hopes that my authenticity will resonate with someone and they will find a safe place to be human, themselves.
I think the American church is missing the point.
It's time to stop focusing on ourselves and how "good" we can be. It's time we got off our moral high horse and got our hands dirty. It's time we started loving people because that's just who we are, and not because we want to change them or score another notch on our salvation belt.
It's time to live like Jesus.
He is worthy of so much more than our watered down version of His gospel. He is Emmanuel. God with us...with us in our suffering, with us in our doubts, with us in our need, with us in our struggling. He is not watching from afar, waiting for us to screw up or needing us to please Him with our own efforts at holiness.
He is here.
He is with us now...wanting to show hope through our hearts, wanting to shine light through our eyes, wanting to meet needs through our hands, wanting to share love through our lives.
He is a friend of sinners. Let's start there.