Who Gets Written Off?

I’ve got a different angle on the whole transgendered bathroom discussion. There are schools and institutions that are trying to dictate where people who were born a certain way need to go to a specific bathroom. This flummoxes me. I get it that I would feel awkward if a woman and I were in the same restroom, and I imagine a woman would feel the same way if I went into a women’s restroom.

But, my mind is going in all kinds of directions about civil rights; dads or moms with their opposite gender children needing a unisex option everywhere, including the church; and my European experience of it not mattering. What about campouts, cabins at church camps, single-gender activities, or even single-gender colleges? However, my thoughts today are more practical than thinking about something that I haven’t faced yet as a pastor. My mind is not wondering about being anatomically correct in our protection of people. What do we do with folks who are just odd?

They are a tad beyond socially awkward and cause more people to leave the church than come to it. They’re not just annoying. They are just plain difficult. You want to be Christian and accepting, but you might not want to sit by them. If you give them attention, they want more. Peeling back the onion layers you often find there’s a legitimate source of their personality quirks, but they don’t get help, won’t take advice, and leave you wondering whether or not you need to look out for the majority and send them packing. This is the parable of the ninety-nine and the one in Luke 15:1-7.

Jesus said to go after the one. However, as a District Superintendent, pastor, parent, friend, or whatever, it has been my experience that it is poor stewardship to give too much time and attention to the minority of malcontented well or ill-intentioned dragons that suck the life out of a church. Doesn’t it make better sense to work with the fruitful and prune the wastrels?

It might make better sense, but it seems unloving and discriminatory. I’m conflicted because everybody is both sinner and potential saint. Aren’t we all both sinner and saint at the same time? Romans 7:14-25 certainly makes it clear that the Apostle Paul experienced the tug of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. I daresay that his spirituality and Christian commitment was far better than mine.

Like the one lost sheep, we have all been the one left out, isolated from the majority, and culled or lost from the flock. If I use the UMC’s Par. 244.3’s Book of Discipline standard for a church leader then a lot of church council seats would be empty. It says that church leaders SHALL be: “persons of genuine Christian character who love the church, are morally disciplined, are committed to the mandate of inclusiveness… are loyal to the ethical standards… set forth in the Social Principles, and are competent to administer its affairs.” This weeds out a lot of people.

This is the perennial church conundrum: how do we get along with people who have a difficult time fitting in with the norm of our context? How do we protect the ninety-nine without making the one feel like they’re unwanted? To take it up a notch, what do we do with the emotionally unstable who thankfully are under the ministry of the church, but make life tough for those who are a smidge less neurotic? Par. 4 of the UMC constitution is helpful to ponder: “… All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its [the UMC’s] worship services…” What’s left out of this list of attendees? Gender is one thing, but the thing that is primarily on my mind is “mental or emotional condition.” Was this intentionally left out of Par. 4 so that we can exclude those who are wild cards in terms of behavior? That just doesn’t sound like Jesus to me, so what do you think?

Perhaps this is unanswerable, but Jesus is daring me to think outside of regular parameters and I’m feeling a little stuck. What do we do? I would love to write-off a few people, but that means I have to write myself off, too. No thanks. Are we willing to leave the ninety-nine and rejoice over the one who was lost and now is found? A good hard question.

Jesus with Sheep

2 thoughts on “Who Gets Written Off?

  1. All good questions, Tim. I think every one of us pastors, have dealt with all of the above since the first day we started in our first parish. I think the bigger problem, of course, is all of those people (they ARE in the majority) who never even think about the questions. They don’t need to, because they already have the answers that satisfy them. It’s very much like MLK Jr.’s contrasts about evil. It’s not the ONE that’s doing evil that is so damaging, but the crowd who watches that one and does absolutely nothing about it. It was that way in Germany when Hitler was in charge. Surely, there were many, many people who felt uncomfortable about his initial harsh words about the immigrants, I mean Jews, and radical plans about how Germany was to rise above its “problems,” but they kept quiet, politically correct, ‘non-trouble making,’ and went along and got along.

    But that’s politics talk and nation talk. You’re talking about the Church. It’s just that too often, it’s hard to tell the difference. I think the biggest problem in the Church, is that its members and leaders cannot even agree on the problems, much less, the solutions. I’m not certain that this is true for other SC UMC pastors, but it seems to me that around 90% of my membership during the 35 years of my active pastoral ministry was Republican, while I, if I must endure a political label, am a Democrat. When I was bold enough to express my political leanings around SC Church members, not a few times I heard one version or the other of this response: “How can you be a Christian pastor and be a Democrat or for THAT candidate?” And all I could think of in the privacy of my mind was, to wonder how those Church members could miss the teaching of Jesus that goes “in as much as you did it for the LEAST of my siblings, you did it for me,” especially when, in one way or the other I preached and taught that attitude of Jesus a majority of the times I stood to preach and teach.

    The Church is full of decent people, and many times, many of them rise to at least reach for the bar set by the New Testament. However, so many Americans, inside and outside of the Church, don’t even try to reach for that bar. They have learned a few labels for the people and organizations that attempt to solve our social problems, and the victims of those social problems. They don’t have to engage their grey matter or their souls once they learn labels such as liberal, welfare, free loaders, lazy, stupid, unnatural, sick, sinners (meaning, doers of those sins which the one using the label is not tempted to do), and so on.

    When I look at Christendom today, I believe the biggest problem of all, is that so many self described Christians, truly believe that all of our COMPLEX social issues (moral, religious, legal, constitutional, class, gender, political, poverty, identity . . . all of them) have SIMPLE answers that require no thought whatsoever. For instance, such people seem to believe that “freedom of religion” is something that only applies to Christians, freedom of speech is something that should be available only to the people who agree with ‘me,’ freedom to bear arms means “if you LOOK threatening to me, I have the right to shoot you with any one of my 3 concealed weapons, or with the arsenal of assault weapons I keep in my house, and
    ‘Constitutional’ means what “my” president does/did right, and yours does/did wrong.”

    While it may sound like it, I am not cynical or pessimistic about the Church or America. What I am is frustrated by an abundance today of simplistic thinking regarding the kinds of complex and difficult questions you asked in your blog. You are asking the questions. If you want to know the answers of people who at least claim they are devoted Christians in their self-described Christian (only) nation just read the abundance of such voices of FaceBook and other social media. I’m sure you are already familiar with such voices. My point is that they already KNOW the only ANSWERS they are interested in entertaining.

    Another voice crying in the wilderness,

    1. Bob, I have unfortunately found similar levels of discrimination among so called progressive liberals and unreconstructed so called conservatives. I know this isn’t much of a reply but I have experienced equal close-mindedness from prideful self righteous liberals as well as those on the right who are similarly bigoted. tim

      Sent from my iPhone

      On Mar 3, 2016, at 6:59 PM, A Potter's View wrote:


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