Monday, January 25, 2010

Mega-church #3 (Church #14): The Church of Justifications

If, But, & Except

Tiny words, powerful meaning. They can completely change the meaning of a sentence or a thought. They help justify wrongdoing, ease bad news, and avoid complete responsibility. Sometimes, they are harmless: “I ate everything in my lunch today, EXCEPT the lima beans.” But if a 6-year-old is trying to mask her guilt for not eating her vegetables, she doesn’t want to say, “I didn’t eat my lima beans.” Or, “I only ate my sandwich, juice box and cookie.” The “EXCEPT the lima beans” allows a trailing afterthought, where her voice can lose emphasis so that the focus is on the word “everything”.

How many times have I felt hurt after a particular argument and apologies are followed with Ifs & Buts? “I’m sorry IF I called you fat, BUT I only did it because I wasn’t feeling well.” “I’m sorry If I offended you, BUT what I was trying to say was…” “I’m sorry IF you are feeling hurt, BUT I didn’t say/do that. Someone else did.” Though not always successful, I try to make my apologies heartfelt and meaningful, which also makes them difficult, and yes, uncomfortable. “I’m sorry THAT I did that. It was not the right thing to do.”

Westside Family Church, of the Southern Baptist denomination, is a church filled with Ifs, in both positive and negative contexts. They utilize Ifs in order to cloak any pushy agenda and to appear more welcoming. I imagine they realized that Southern Baptists don’t always have a reputation of open doors and open minds, so Ifs provide a certain comfort level for guests. In the letter I received from them following the service, it stated:

IF you are checking out the claims of Christianity, weekend services will help you sort through your questions. All right, so I’m welcome to come back and given the chance to sort through my personal issues.
IF you are a Christian who is new to the area and looking for a church, our membership class will fill you in on Westside so you can decide if this is the right place for you. Everything is my decision, and the If makes it okay that I may not be a Christian.
IF you have been away from church for a while and want to rediscover your faith, you are in good company. Westside is full of people who have reconnected with God here. IF I am like that, there may also be others who are like that.
IF you are a committed Christian interested in spiritual growth, Westside has an array of Bible studies and classes that will help you deepen your walk with the Lord. Now, this sentence brings up a little guilt…what if I’m not a committed Christian but I’m still interested in spiritual growth? Maybe I should become one (push), I want to be part of this, too (push), I should just skip right on down to the last If (push, push, push).

I’m being a little hard on Westside, when the truth is, I enjoyed the service. The first half was “guitar driven” (as it states on their website) with the excitement and special effects of a rock concert. Everyone was wearing jeans; there were laser lights and easy-to-follow big screens. The pastor preached a great sermon on Jesus being 100% God and 100% man. He even suggested that we have the mind and eyes of Christ and can see the need in the world just as Christ did. The service was short, routine-driven and there were many mentions of mission.

EXCEPT for the very end. There are many organizations giving money and aide to Haiti, BUT, they are not prioritizing the ultimate objection, to bring people to Jesus. So, IF, you are considering donating to Haiti, please donate to the Christian organization on our website because “Christ followers point people to God.”

I didn’t particularly like the guitar driven worship, BUT I liked that everyone seemed comfortable. I wasn’t too fond of the technological enhancements, BUT I did like the scripture and bullet points of the sermon projected on the screens. I felt connected to the pastor’s sermon, EXCEPT for that last part.

At the end of every service I always ask myself, “Would I go back?” I’m not referring to regular attendance or further exploration, just, IF I happened to be in the area and wanted to go to church on a Sunday, would I return to this church?

IF it weren’t part of a denomination that terrorizes LGBT people;
IF it were smaller and less entertainment-focused;
IF they just admitted what they believe, stated their agenda, explained their denomination’s stance on certain issues;

IF I were a committed Christian.

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