A few weeks ago while at the Theology Beer Camp, otherwise known as vacation Bible school for adults I was part of a conversation focused on the current political. There was a lot of what you could call “Trump-bashing” leading up to and during this conversation. This conversation was the day of the inauguration. President Trump had not been in office for 4 hours and already his presidency was being critiqued. You could say he had given us enough to critique leading up to his inauguration.
During our conversation Jason made the observation that the majority gathered group had made a huge assumption: that everyone in the room had in fact voted for Donald Trump. While I struggled to pass statistics at West Virginia Wesleyan I can tell you for certain that statistically speaking there was at least 1 person in the room that rainy Friday afternoon who voted for the Donald. You could even argue that at the Women’s March on Washington, along with the local marches, there were women and men present who voted for Trump as well.
This was a huge assumption for us to make. While it is easy for us to critique Trump for his terrible foreign policy decision so far it was unfair for us to assume that no one in the room disagreed with us, especially when we did not provide them with the space to voice their difference of opinion.
The same is true of our local congregations. Is it not?
There was a time when I made this assumption in youth ministry. Why would a kid show up to church for youth group if they didn’t believe in God?
Oh I don’t know, maybe the opposite sex?
Once I realized not every student in the room agreed with or believed the same time, the assumptions I was made changed dramatically. My teaching changed and I changed. I was able to minister to the atheist or the student whose faith was rocky. I was more approachable by students who had questions and I was able to better respond to their questions. I was able to invite conversation to our group rather than a monologue from myself or the over-zealous student.
The same is true of those of you preaching every Sunday. Not everyone in the pews believes what you’re preaching.
There are times in preaching and teaching when what we say matters. Whether it is firm Christian doctrine of positions of the local church, I am fine with those being strongly held. But to have the overarching assumption that everyone in your church on Sunday mornings, every baptized person in the building, or every Sunday school teacher believes is just dangerous.
It is dangerous because of the reasons I outlined from my youth ministry experience: we fail to make space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation.
Our lack of space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation is what has lead to the political divide we have in our country. If we fail to make space for doubt, push back, disagreement, and conversation we only threaten to aid the divide to grow further.
In the UMC we laud our “open hearts, open minds, open doors” slogan. If this were truly realized the assumption that everyone in the room believe what we are preaching would not exist. We would make the assumption then, if we believe our own catch phrase, that in fact there are many in the room who do not believe. And that is what the body of Christ is supposed to do, be a place where all are welcome.
Maybe our slogan and catch phrase should sound more like this:
Come, “you who have much faith and you who would like to have more; you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed; come.” – Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals