We are studying the Reformation in church history at the moment. A period in time when the church was trying to define itself by new standards and doctrines – the call to a new authenticity and a ‘refining’ as one colleague put it. A time which is interesting and upsetting in equal measure by the way in which the church handled its dissenters …
If you were an Ana-Baptist, we learnt today, you were drowned for your ‘mis’belief. If someone decided that they wanted to be baptised as an adult or wanted to give their infant the choice to be baptised later in life, they were drowned for their perceived heretical position. Likewise other dissenters or heretic’s were burned at the stake or tortured on racks. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.
But as we were talking this morning it came to mind that although as Christians or as a church today we do not put people to ‘physical’ death, for disagreeing with us, we do still sometimes ‘cut people out’ or hurt them in ways which although not physical are just as damaging and painful. In some instances we may even ‘kill’ their spirit for God. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.
I had the privilege yesterday of being in the company of some truly wonderful people – people who are Christ followers, but who do not conform to a certain ‘church doctrine’. People who are beautiful in their love and yet broken for their choices and it made me just a little sad and a little ashamed of the church. BUT, hear this… of the 10 or so of us who were there, only one has turned their back on the church and after hearing his story – I am not surprised, I would probably have run far away from Christians too – but the rest of these people have not turned their backs on God or the church – why? – because it’s not God who hurt them, it’s people who have hurt them – the people of God – or at least, the people who profess to be the ‘people of God’.
So I shouldn’t say I am ashamed of the church – because I am not, I am proud of how powerfully God still uses the church and I am touched by the courage and the tenacity of serious Christ like followers who in the face of fierce persecution, still stand up for what they believe in, not because they want to be heroes or trailblazers or trouble causers, but because they believe in a message of truth and love. A message which says God loves us all.
It made me think … are there times when I cause people pain because what they believe is not exactly the same as me (Christian and non-Christian alike)? Are there times when in my quest for truth and authenticity I dismiss someone else’s quest for truth and authenticity?
I follow God because God gave me the choice to do so. I follow God because Gods way shows me love and mercy and peace and reconciliation. I have friends that don’t believe what I believe and I love them still, as they do me, so how come in the body of Christ we can get so nasty when it comes to matters of difference within our common faith based tradition? We may not put each other to death, but if we do not speak kindly and lovingly to one another we bring a different kind of death – a spiritual death.
And so today I want to honour the people who I met yesterday who have been so hurt and so marginalised for who they are and yet who can still be so kind and gracious and determined and loving. I hope one day to be as brave, as beautiful, as authentic and as joyful in the midst of trial as each one of you.