Today I direct your attention to a piece by Charles Featherstone entitled “Church, Flagellate Thyself“.
One of the recurring themes in Featherstone’s writing is community and belonging. In this piece he focuses on progressive Christianity (because that is the universe in which he lives) and the implicit assumption of many liberal churches, specifically Episcopal and Lutheran, that anyone with an ounce of sense would want to be part of their churches and if people don’t it is only because they have excluded them or failed to welcome them. He cites the example of an Episcopal church where a conversation about adding a wheelchair ramp morphed into an outpouring of self-reproach for all the sins of white Christendom down through the ages.
Reality check: Not everyone is called to be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran. These churches can be as welcoming as they possibly can, and it still won’t alter the fact that not everyone has it in them to be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran.
Reality check, on a more fundamental level: Not everyone has it in them to live the respectable bourgeois dream. Believe it or not, some people live out on the margins of society because they actually want to be there. It is where they feel safe. It is where they feel like they actually belong.
The truth is, there are many reasons people do not want to be ELCA Lutherans that have absolutely nothing to do Lutherans failing to be welcoming or inclusive. It’s not necessarily about us. Even if we say we get the gospel right, in the end, people make choices for reasons that honestly have nothing to do with us.
Maybe some folks live on a margin because that’s where they feel comfortable, safe, and welcome. Because that’s where they know they belong. Margins should be safe, and not abolished.
Liberalism and progressivism, however, in its many forms, cannot abide marginality. And it cannot abide separateness either. All must belong to the one true community. Eventually, the progressive reaches for the cudgel. To force others if it can.
And if it can’t, to scourge itself.