I’ve been looking for a church community.
I grew up in a Lutheran church, and it was a great upbringing. I still love the Scandinavian A-frame wooden sanctuary, the liturgy, the mix of modern music and centuries-old hymns, and the plethora of surrogate grandparents.
When I moved back home after a year abroad, however, I felt called to a church with more people my age, with lots of ministries to plug into. And so for the last couple of years — albeit not religiously (ha) — I’ve been searching for a new church home.
Today I went to a particular church for the first time. Admittedly, the worship and the sermon were more charismatic than I was accustomed to as a born-and-bred Lutheran, but I’ve gotten accustomed to that in the various churches I’ve attended.
The sermon was all about offense — namely, how we live in a society that takes offense to everything. The pastor touched upon forgiveness, but the lion’s share of the message was about how people today are easily offended, while passing it off as simply being touchy, moody, sensitive, bad-tempered, and so forth. Even if you accidentally offend someone, he said, they’ll be offended by the way in which you apologize. I thought about this tweet:
Still, I was willing to listen. Unlike this tweet, he hadn’t actually said anything about young people in particular taking offense to everything, and perhaps I was reading too much into the message.
Then things took a turn for the political.
The pastor narrowed in on the “fact” that Americans are offended by everything — namely by things the president has said and done. He proclaimed America to be the greatest country in the world — and, granted, no one wants to think of their country as inferior to another, but what an ethnocentric statement: “Our way is the best way; everyone else is ‘lesser than.'”
“Sanctuary states,” the pastor continued. “I don’t even know what that means. I know what a country is. I know that we’re the United States of America, not the divided states.”
Sanctuary, Pastor, means refuge. Offering the tired, the weary, the poor, the displaced, the huddled masses yearning to be free, the country-less a place to rest their bones and to be welcomed. As Jesus would have done.
The divided states of America, he explained, were divided by offense. So we’re not allowed to engage in thoughtful disagreement? We should just all accept what our government says blindly? Oh, right, we are. After all, Trump said, “Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic.” So let’s not think for ourselves.
And then came the straw that broke this particular camel’s back:
“‘Not my country,’ ‘Not my POTUS.’ Really, joker? Then get out.”
And people applauded.
I took a sip of my coffee to fight the urge to get up and leave, because if I did the latter, I would be proving the pastor’s point: I would be seen as the entitled millennial who takes offense to everything.
Instead, I grit my teeth and bore it, because I’m not the kind of person who refuses to listen to a differing viewpoint.
I believe church should be a place where you can sit next to people who run the gamut of political beliefs and still share a beautiful, spiritual experience despite your differences. Spiritual well-being often requires fellowship. I can do politics all by myself.
I don’t care if you and I differ on every single political hot topic — if we are engaging in Christian fellowship together, I’m not going to make you feel uncomfortable because you disagree with me. Applause is for pep rallies, not to make sure we’re all conforming to the same political bandwagon — not in church, anyway. Save that for your protests outside the capitol building.
By now you’ve no doubt discerned, dear reader, than I am no fan of the current U.S. president. And when it seemed as though everyone around me applauded in his support, I can’t tell you how uncomfortable that made me feel. And here’s the thing about feelings, Pastor — be it discomfort or offense — they are my own. I didn’t choose discomfort, the way you say people choose to take offense. It was my natural, instantaneous response to feeling completely like an outsider in your congregation.
And another thing about offense: If nothing offends you, then what are your convictions? Should we simply kowtow to everyone with whom we disagree, simply to avoid the egregious sin of taking offense?
Jesus didn’t walk around in offense, you said. Rather, he walked around in love and forgiveness. The Jesus in Matthew 21 didn’t sit by idly when people turned the temple into a marketplace. He overturned the tables. He disagreed, he was angry, and he took a stance that aligned with his beliefs.
I’ll give you my own example. A customer once told me my breasts put Smith Brothers to shame. But I guess I shouldn’t be offended. It’s a free country. It’s his right to say that. I’m just being a sensitive femi-Nazi if it bothers me.
Can people hang on to grudges for too long? Absolutely. Can forgiveness be difficult? 100%. But sometimes being offended means your principles have been violated. And I’d rather have principles than follow the crowd blindly.