Friday, November 27, 2009

The Role of the Church in Community

I have been chewing on thoughts about the church's role in the neighborhoods and communities of our city since this post and the subsequent comments by blogger Midtown Miscreant. The post centers around the actions of Black clergy in Kansas City and the news events that got them on the streets and or/in the press over the past two weeks or so. In a nutshell, members of a group of Black clergy marched in protest over the dress code issue in the Power and Light district. They then followed this action with statements to the press concerning the suspension(firing) of City Manager Wayne Cauthen, a Black man. MM is not the only one to take on this question of the motives of the Black ministers; Alonzo Washington has also blogged about it.

You can see some of my very baby thoughts on the matter in my comments on the entry from MM. I really started thinking about it after the comment that accused all the commenters of being racist and having expectations about what Black leaders were supposed to do about all the murders, and asked how White people would feel if someone went up to them and asked them what they would do about all the White child molesters. It got my dander up a little.

You see, not once in my comment did I mention race. Not once. I talked about the church. Here's part of what I said: " use..[a] biblical metaphor, the church has gotten lukewarm. And afraid of offending. And dependent on victimhood. And charmed by numbers, money, influence and "success." The church is the healing place. And the victory place. And the proclaiming place. And the offending place. The not-of-this-world place. I pray that these church leaders are doing everything they can in their community to help the needy, model the right way to live, show what good values and ethics are and what it means to live with good values and ethics, and speak the truth in love to their flock. Of course all of the proceeding done in the name and power of Jesus Christ."

You see, the Church's mission is the same whether it is at 137th Street and Roe in Leawood, KS or 55th Street and the Paseo in Kansas City, two very racially and economically different addresses. (These are the locations of two United Methodist churches, but I could have picked on any denomination.) The church's mission is to preach the gospel of Christ. The saving, life changing, powerful story of God sending his Son to earth, to be a man, to die a gruesome death He did not deserve, and to be resurrected showing God's power over sin and death. There are a lot of secondary missions that grow out of the Church's first mission: being an example of Christ for others, being a community and a family, being a place of love where people can heal and grow, being a place of mercy helping people with material needs, being a voice for what is right. This mission is the mission across the board for the church, regardless of race, culture or geographic location.

The Church certainly has not always carried out its mission at all times. It has compromised the Gospel, been fearful of what others say, quarreled with itself, and wished for earthly power and significance. Both White churches and Black churches have failed in any or all these ways. Sometimes I think God was a little nuts here. He left the spreading of His Gospel and the living out of the Godly life to finite, fallible, temptable and sinful humans. The result is that the Church often does not look or act the way it ought. The Church frequently has had to repent, be revived, remember its first love, and do its first works over.

So, here's the bottom line--and it should send a serious Christian to the prayer bench: The church has a responsibility for the murders of Black people on the East Side of Kansas City, and for the White rapists and child molesters of Johnson County, Kansas and rural Missouri. The Church must speak out about the hate and injustice in these crimes. The Church must model how relationships are to be done--with love and respect for each other. The Church must without ceasing pray for its community. And finally, but certainly not least, the Church must preach without compromise the life-changing love-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that we have all these murders, rapes and crimes against children should tell us that we are falling down on the job. Our saltiness has left us. Our light is under a bushel. Our city is down in the valley.

That means the first thing the Church should do is fall down before God and confess that we have compromised with the world and we have not done as we have been commanded. Both Black churches and White churches need to do this. In fact, let's start by repenting of the sin of the extensive segregation of our churches. Then, together, we can repent of being lukewarm, compromised and unloving. Then we will make an impact in and on the world.

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