As Christians, and more particularly, as Evangelicals, we want to provide a place where all people belong no matter what.
What we have to realize is that this is a promise/marketing message most Evangelical congregations can’t deliver because it contradicts its very identity. And once again, we unwittingly participate in hypocrisy, or what Brene Brown calls the Disengagement Gap.
When a group bases its identity on a common set of beliefs, the group itself is threatened by anyone that does not hold that common set of beliefs. By definition. If we are defined by our beliefs, then the more people we have in our midst who do not hold to those beliefs, the more our identity is diluted and unclear.
Our desire to be a place where “everyone is welcome” might be enough to let someone in the door without having that set of beliefs but the expectation will always be that you soon adopt those beliefs. After all if the majority of people were like “you,” that is didn’t hold to these core beliefs about God, salvation, the Bible, etc, then in what sense are we even a church?
As such, there is always the chance that if you no longer share those beliefs, or take too long in “confessing” you hold to those beliefs, you are either restricted to a “lesser” form of “belonging” (for instance, not getting to be a member, forever stuck in “attender” status) or you risk being asked to leave altogether, for the health of the whole.
My point is that this isn’t the fault of the congregation for not being “accepting enough” or “loving the outsider enough.” If we did what we promised, based on how most congregations think of “Church,” then the very essence of that church would be compromised.
And if that is true, then congregations are doomed to this hypocrisy unless they (1) change their marketing, (2) change their views on the church, or (3) admit this inconsistency but do it for the sake of the movement. I am not sure I see another way (perhaps someone can help me). My point at this point is not to say that one of these options is more “right” than the other, only that when we don’t choose, we can’t be surprised when the culture finds Christians hypocritical.
If you want to see this in action, talk to someone who has accidentally questioned one of the assumed-but-often-unspoken beliefs in a church, things like:
1. The Bible is inerrant.
2. Gay sex is
the worst sin
3. You should give a tithe (10% of your income)
4. The leadership of this church is God-ordained & therefore cannot be questioned
Of course, if you have ever accidentally questioned one of these things, you know what I’m talking about. You might be allowed to stray from these beliefs for a little while, but it puts strain on everyone around you, leading to awkward small groups, uncomfortable conversations with your pastor who found out about your disbelief through your small group leader, absolutely condescending “I’ll pray for you’s” from a family member. Why? Because in your very questions you are threatening the identity of the group. And the strain on the group can only be sustained for so long before it must be removed, either by requiring repentance or removal.
I am, ironically, often criticized for being too critical, for tearing down without building up. So I will vaguely show my hand to conclude: Perhaps Christians need to stop finding so much of their identity in mentally-checked-off beliefs rather than the person of Jesus.
Sure, to identify core beliefs other than the centrality of Christ in life & practice creates movement, alignment, focus, and growth. But it excludes, oppresses, and marginalizes the seekers among us, narrows the mission of God in the world, and creates idols out of doctrine. May we stop trying to control the family of God and allow Christ to do his work of grace in all of us, especially those who already belong.