Last week I wrote “All People” and the day after, my dad sent me a few encouraging texts and then asked a question: Why are gays still the focal point for O & A?
An important question, I think.
For those who may not know O & A is Open and Affirming (Welcoming and Affirming is used as well) what it means seems obvious by the verbiage, but a church professing either phrase encourages inclusivity regardless of one’s past or present lifestyle, beliefs and so on. Does anyone else feel like something is wrong when individual churches must adopt specific lingo in order to be what the Church ought to be?
Unfortunately, many churches operate under: You must scrub up and look a whole lot more like something I am comfortable with before I will accept you. (I don’t think Jesus said that. Ever.)
So, I get the need for churches to differentiate.
However, while gays are often the centerpiece for churches under the O & A parasol, what other groups are being overlooked?
There are the homeless and with them the smells, which make most of us recoil at the thought of shaking hands, or dear God, embracing them…and the discomfort of having to decide if the money we may feel obligated to give will be used wisely. Then, there are the druggies, the ones whose addictions have progressed to an obvious state. We try to imagine all their teeth are still there, the things they say are lucid, and we try to pretend we don’t give serious thought to ducking under a pew when we see them coming.
But what about sex-before-marriage-ers, the sexually promiscuous, mothers of aborted babies, who come to church, have hardly told a soul because the guilt they already feel infiltrates who they are in the world? Or maybe they don’t feel guilty at all, but know they’ll receive nothing but judgment if they are honest about who they are and where they’ve been.
What about the non-believers? The abusers. The cheaters. The doubters. The liars.
The assholes. The heretics.
Could it be these lists look so much like what’s underneath our whitewashed church-y selves we’d rather not talk about it? Yes.
It is easier to point to something, the gay community for instance, when we talk about being open and affirming because it is further removed from who we feel we are. It is easier to recognize the ostracized when it drinks copiously, shoots up in the bathroom at work, or smells like weeks of unwashed skin.
To accept that I am the one needing a piece of the parasol and could be denied it, just as I have denied it for others… that’s nasty medicine. When this realization is embraced, rather than squashed, it changes your world-view; your perception of Jesus; it changes your theology.
What do we do with our squeamishness, our reluctance to abandon the parasol and adopt a canopy that will allow coverage for the multitudes?
You’re not going to like my answer.
I think you have to feel it and you have to live in the mess of how it makes you feel. Radical acceptance is behaving beyond our natural abilities. There can be no radical acceptance without stepping outside of what we know we can do, because only then is there room enough for God to step in and fill the space between.