The following events, I experienced myself:
*I was asked whether it is ok to baptize someone that is living in the USA without working documents.
*I overheard a conversation where a family was sharing that they will not vote for an African American candidate for president, based solely on his skin color.
*Someone tells one of the Hispanic pastors that he should tell all his undocumented members to go back to their country. Immediately.
*A 1st generation Hispanic church member tells a 2ndgeneration youth to please attend an English speaking church, making fun of his Spanish pronunciation and sending the clear message that his kind are not welcome there.
These all happened in the last 10 years.
11 o’clock on Sabbath morning is still the most segregated hour in Adventism in America. On order for our churches to become what God intended them to be, we must take the lead in reconciliation. Being reconciled with God means being reconciled with my brother. God intends his church to become a house of prayer for all people.
As we seek to become a house of prayer for all people, we must intentionally seek to develop relationships and make our churches a welcome place for the following types of people.
1. People that don’t look like me. One of my good friends, Pr. Harold is planting a congregation in Oregon. Originally, the church started as a 2ndGeneration Hispanic Church. What he soon discovered, is that 2nd Generation Hispanics marry and have friends of different cultures. One time, a person that was attending asked why they called the church a “church for 2ndGeneration Hispanics”. In his attempts to become more inclusive and to reach out to a neglected segment, he was in fact being the opposite of inclusive. The church is now called Mosaic, a Multicultural church in the west side of Portland. His church includes African Americans, Koreans, as well as people from Hawaii, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, among others.
The fact is that the younger the person, the more tolerant he is of different races. The browning of America is happening, whether we like it or not.
2. People that don’t think like me. In the church that I grew up with, questions were not often welcomed. You did what you were told, and that was final. With this generation, such methods hardly work. In order to reach them, we must allow them to express their opinions, value their input and respond with solid evidence, not just a “because I say so”. I still remember the answer our youth leaders gave us when we asked why we could not go to the movies. First of all, your guardian angel stays outside when you go into a movie theater. Secondly, Ellen White condemned movie theaters. Thirdly, because we told you not to. Not a word was mentioned about content of the movies, being able to select better entertainment or allowing us to question why the same people that condemned the theater watched the same movie in their home. When we pointed out that there were no movie theaters in EGW days, we were met with accusations of rebellion and not conforming to the truth. It’s incongruences like this that helped some of my friends to reject orders completely when they went to the movies and saw that the place was no different than the local mall.
What I see happening all too often in our churches, is the labeling and demonizing of people that hold other viewpoints. Liberal, extremist, contemporary, conservative. These are just some of the labels thrown out there. It has been said, that when fishermen don’t fish, they fight. I wonder if the millions of people down the street that are on their way to an eternity really care whether we sing two more praise songs or if the prayer comes before the welcome. (actual fights in church boards I have been present in). What if we used those energies and the time we spend in countless committees, to minister to the community that surrounds us? What if we helped people to realize God is madly in love with them?
I don’t have to compromise my values to connect with you. I don’t have to change my mind about doctrine to open my arms and love you. I don’t have to leave my brain at the door, just my prejudice.