some muddled, hopeful thoughts on church

As a theologian, I have to resist the temptation of subjecting God's imagination of what the church could be to my own imagination of what the church could be. In other words, I have to accept that my idea of the church isn't necessarily what the church actually is. For example, if I were to prefer the church to be a community of people who are not to give a rip about the people outside their community (which would be easier sometimes), despite my preference and despite my idea, that just wouldn't be what the church actually is according to God's imagination. It's complicated of course, because even my example is subject to the fact that I really only have my own ideas to work with, even if those ideas are informed by the ideas of other sources (including scripture). So theology itself is the constant struggle to discover God's imagination using the only tools we have—our own ideas, our own imagination.

So now that I've sufficiently muddled the conversation, let me do so further by getting on to my intended point. While I want to resist imposing my own image of the church onto God's image of the church, I have no other way of thinking about the church than to put my own imagination in conversation with the sources which I have come to trust as sources of revelation, namely the Biblical witness and specifically the person of Jesus Christ, and to do my best to give new life to my imagination by discovering its origin in those sources.

I am captivated by the idea that the church might be a place, a community, in which those who have no home might find their home, where those who are rejected by everyone else might be accepted, where those whose voices are silenced can speak and be empowered to discover their voice and make it heard. I have this image in my head, an image of a church which says, "you are loved and accepted" to those who may never have heard such absurdity. In my imagination, the church is where sin has no power, not even power to keep people out.

However beautiful this image might be to me, and however I might like to think that this image is informed by God's own self-revelation in scripture, I have to ask, is this actually God's imagination for the church?

Historically, the church has certainly not lived up to this image. In fact, the church is often the first place that people hear that they are not good enough, not righteous enough, not enough to be accepted. The church is often anything but a home. In fact, people who might feel accepted just about anywhere else, still might not feel accepted in the church. The church is anything but a home, anything but a haven, and it's often the place where sin seems to have the most power to divide and keep people out. Obedience seems to be a prerequisite for acceptance in the church when I really, really, really want it to be a response to it.

But what does God really, really, really want?

Now, how child rapists and militant racists should feel in the church is another subject. But I can only imagine that the God revealed in Jesus Christ—the same Jesus who went through the pain of the cross to open himself to everyone, even those in Hell—would really, really, really want the church to be a place of hope for the hopeless, a place where sin (though not a thing to be taken lightly) is abolished as that force which disqualifies people from acceptance. I can only imagine that the God revealed in the Jesus who seemed to disregard the rules of systemic "religion" would see the church in every place where people felt that they were understood and loved before he saw it in those places where people did and believed the right things. It seems to me that the church would only be a community which confronted sin after it was first a place which welcomed the sinner... and more than in just a "love the sinner, hate the sin" kind of way.

The church should be the place where the LGBT community feels most accepted. The church should be the place where unwed mothers feel most loved and supported. The church should be the place where people who aren't sure if there's a God or not feel most free to ask their questions.

This all might just be my idea of the church. ... but I really, really, really hope it's God's too.