I Still Love Her 

Someone said: “Church history is a beautiful melody poorly performed.”

If you’ve read much of the stuff I’ve written in the past decade or so, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that I’m pretty hard on the Church. It’s true. I have been. I can’t help but notice how far from the mark many of us are, let alone big swaths of those of us who identify as Christ followers who don’t seem to be actually following, but leading apart from our Leader. And then there are whole churches that in their dogged loyalty to political party or conspiracy theories seem to have lost their way, if not their minds. Nevertheless…

With all her flaws and frailty, I still love her. She may have members who appear nearly as fundamentalistic and as her Muslim counterparts. (Have you heard how you can tell a fundamentalist? He only has two colors in his box of crayons: black and white!) She may be nationalistic and proud of it. (Remember 01/06/22?) I often become discouraged, if not depressed about her racist and materialist tendencies, but I still love her, and doing my best to love the individuals who display these.

How am I doing, you say? Haltingly and, most of the time, kicking and screaming.  

She’s pocked and pathetic by her own doing, but she’s family, my tribe, and I love still her.

Moreover, the Lord of his Church loves her. Of all persons, he knows well her blemishes and hypocrisies yet still adores her. And because he does, I do. She’s his bride, his lover. And if he can love her, so can I.

I still love the Church for all she’s done for me. It began when I first turned myself in to God. I was a drug-taking seventeen-year-old that found my way into a church, limped down the aisle, knelt at the altar and wept till I emptied my tear ducts. That very conservative body of people, predominantly composed of my grandparents’ generation, loved on me like I was their very own. In spite of our dissimilarities, they became family.

Skipping over a few years, the churches I attended were ones I planted and pastored. Though tempted to playing hooky, attendance was compulsory! (I used to say, “They pay me to be good, you guys are good for nothing!”) As chief cook and bottle washer I was privy to all their defects, and unfortunately, I always felt compelled (by my own sick inclination) to fix them myself. It made pastoring more difficult for me than it had to be. But the friends I made over the years in those churches made it all worth it. Many of them showed me an insightful love for God that I would come to emulate, at least in part. Their generosity, sincerity, and love for the least, last, and lost inspired me to continue.

After my pastoring days came to an abrupt end, I went to serve the unhoused in San Francisco for eight years. I took it upon myself to sample churches, not just ones whose traditions or theology mirrored my own, but houses of worship of all shapes, colors, and size. It was a learning curve to be sure, one that expanded my thinking about God and his Church. I was often in tears experiencing God’s presence in places I never thought I would go.

These days, I love my local church here in Santa Cruz. Is it blemished? Are all the pastors and people perfect? Of course not! But I see Jesus there. And I have friends there. I feel the Spirit when I go there to worship. I learn about God from pastors much younger and less experienced than me. As a mere attender, I’m not privy to all its flaws. Thank God! Some of the defects are obvious, but so much the more, the strengths and commendable traits. I still love the Church.

I love her enough to stay close to her, to be part of her. And I love her enough to correct her, to exhort her to be better. I love her too much to let her languish in her lukewarmness without telling her so. I know I often sound like a contrarian, a curmudgeon (defn: a bad-tempered old fart). But I just want us to be better, not for our own sake. Not so we can boast about how great we are in comparison to other churches. But so we can live for the mother of all goals: the glory of God and the good of people!

In the meantime, I’ll do my best to overlook some of her blemishes and soiled wedding dress. And love her for what she does for me and whatever good she does in the world. We may disagree about theology, culture, and how to go about mission. But we are family. We belong to one another like body parts, where one part would be unwise to say to another, “I don’t need you!” Where the weaker parts are “indispensable.” Where when one suffers, the rest suffer with it and gives honor to the parts that lack it.

“The Church is not the hope of the world; its purpose is to be a witness to the hope of the world, even if that witness is often imperfect. But those of us of the Christian faith do seem to be overdoing the imperfect part. (Peter Wehner)

In spite of all her imperfections, I still love the Church. Do you?

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