Two weeks ago, in this space, I wrote to you about a concert that we will be hosting this Sunday evening, March 5, at 5 PM. We are welcoming singer-songwriter and fellow Christian, Kimayo to our church. I, for one, look forward to hearing her sing and tell her story – a story of transformation from exclusion to embrace. Kimayo was excluded from the church in which she was raised because she identifies as LGBTQ but has found God’s own loving embrace to be far more welcoming and affirming than some Christians are willing to admit.
I am proud that the Session of our church has voted to hold the concert and look forward to seeing you there on Sunday at 5 PM.
When it comes to our own loving embrace as a congregation seeking to be welcoming, our identity as an open and affirming congregation has never been something we have worn on our sleeves or proclaimed from the mountaintops. We have never flown a rainbow flag on our front porch, instead deciding – through several votes of the Session, conversations within the congregation, and a Statement of Welcome on our church website – to make our welcome public but more subtle than some churches. I, for one, do not necessarily have a problem with the subtleties of our welcoming status – as long as it is genuine – but I do know that it has frustrated some of our members on both sides of the inclusion issue. While some have left our congregation over the acceptance of LGBTQ leadership and marriage in the PC(USA), others have asked, “Why can’t our congregation do more or be more public?”
Well, with this Sunday’s concert, we are definitely being “more public” than we have been in the past. To promote the event, we paid a little money for a Facebook ad that has been seen as far away as Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Why do I know that our ad was seen in Tewksbury? Well, someone from Tewksbury commented on our Facebook event page, and their comment was not necessarily kind. Yes. . . even though we have lots of “Likes” and “Loves” about the event, we have also had just a few negative online comments about it.
Now, thankfully, my own life has been blissfully bereft of so-called “internet trolls” and their comments, but I did get a little angry that people had trolled our church. I got angry when I first read the comments: “Nobody trolls my church! Nobody trolls BPC!” And then I did a little research and confirmed that when it comes to negative comments, the consensus is in: “Do not feed the trolls.” In other words, do not give semi-anonymous negative commenters energy or enough online “air” to make more negative comments to raise the temperature and give the commenter an even more prominent platform. Yes, there are stories of people who have successfully engaged their trolls and brought about some healing, forgiveness, and redemption. Still, the overall message I have read and heard is “do not feed the trolls.”
As the pastor of a church who is very interested in feeding anyone and everyone who is physically and spiritually hungry, though, I’m not sure how to feel about this “do not feed the trolls” advice. Clearly, I am interested in welcoming all people to encounter the grace of God, but what happens when some of the “all people” do not appreciate our church’s particular message of what the grace of God is like? In the Bible, Jesus was very interested in feeding all people. Still, the scriptures are clear that not everyone was willing to receive what Jesus offered.
The ultimate power of Jesus’ love is the way that he is always offering God’s grace to everyone – even those who would rather not receive it. Jesus never stops offering, though. As a congregation, my hope is that we can follow his example. In overtly welcoming LGBTQ people, we can be a vessel of grace to those who have been robbed of that grace in other religious traditions. And, in overtly opening our doors to all of the doubters, the spiritual-but-not-religious, the liberal, the conservative, and, yes, even the trolls, it is my hope that the grace of God will be seen and known in the new kingdom of heaven community that God is building where all are welcome, and all are fed.
See you in church!
Grace and Peace,
Prepare for Worship
This Sunday: How do we begin again? (Courage, Curiosity, and the Holy “Yes”)
- Read Genesis 12:1-4
- Read John 3:1-17
- Read or sing Hymn # 53 – “O God, Who Gives us Life“