A few years ago I was at a church retreat with some of our board members, looking ahead to develop a vision and plan for our church. Over lunch, one of the members was telling us about her visit to a local mega-church, one pretty well known in our neck of the woods.
"What kind of a church is it?" someone asked her.
"It's a Republican church," she replied.
Interesting. She didn't say Baptist, or Methodist, or Episcopalian, or Presbyterian. She said Republican. In doing so, she touched on a trend developing in many churches lately, and, in my book, a troubling one.
As a young adult, nothing insulted my intelligence more than for a pastor or a church to tell me how to vote. I remember being very clear that I knew that was NOT their job; I could figure out very well on my own, thank you, where my faith values were leading me politically. And the denomination I grew up in, and eventually came back to, has conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. The idea was that it was our faith that united us, our common trust in Jesus, not our politics.
Now, in some ways, it feels that has been turned around. More than Lutheran or Methodist, it matters whether we are Conservative or Liberal. Never mind that those words can have many meanings. And it's not just what we believe in our hearts, but who we choose to associate with, how we organize ourselves, and the pre-conceptions that we bring to the scriptures.
I am always surprised, for example, when I am reading the Passion Narrative for a Bible study, and we read the story of the woman with the alabaster jar, the woman who anointed Jesus. This is one of my favorite stories, especially Mark's version, where Jesus praises the woman and says of her, "What she has done will be told in memory of her." Of course, nobody remembers her name, so the comment is somewhat bittersweet. But I love her wasteful gesture, her pouring out of expensive perfume, because to me it is a sign and a foretaste of what Jesus will do when he pours out his life for the world. And it is a woman who serves as the type of Christ's sacrifice.
Invariably, one of the Bible study participants will say something like this about this story. "Those who are on the left wouldn't like it."
And why would that be?
Because of Jesus' retort to the disciples, who critiqued the woman, "The poor you have with you always, but you will not always have me."
Obviously, Jesus' statement was meant to be a tacit endorsement of conservative Republican values, and a repudiation of liberal Democratic ones.
The problem with going through scripture looking for the statements you agree with is that you miss the larger picture: the picture of the wasteful God who breaks open the jar of his own life for all of sinful humanity.
The problem with going to churches of the like-minded (whether conservative or liberal) is that they might miss the larger picture: a scandalous God whose mission is larger than any political agenda, and who will call any willing sinner to follow.