“Why do you think churches led by people of color are thriving while a lot of White liberal churches are dying?” asked a student at a class where I was on a panel of people of color representing the racial/ethnic ministries of our denomination. The person who asked is a friend of mine whom I value, who is going into the ministry, and whose church full of kind people was preparing to close.
The other panelists talked about the depth of faith of those leaders and their courage in talking about faith as opposed to White people. I was intentional not to contradict them, so I paused before adding my own comment:
“There is a sense of urgency in our communities,” I said heavily. “When we experience oppression daily, the hope that can be found in church is necessary. The challenge of the liberal White church is that it has forgotten the urgency of what it has to offer. The values of inclusiveness, of fighting for justice, of worshipping a God of the oppressed, those things are literally life-saving, but because of White privilege, the church has been lulled into a false complacency that is literally costing lives as well as souls.”
I’m thinking about that more in the wake of the tragic death of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen in Ohio this past week, whose parents’ conservative religion stopped them from being able to love her in the way she needed to be loved. And the family has had to move the funeral due to threats and harassment. The liberal church is necessary because of its understanding of the need to love children like Leelah fully, but also because of its understanding of the need to extend compassion and pity towards the parents of Leelah.
One of my favorite Christmas stories is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. (You can find the whole tv-movie with Loretta Swit on youtube, btw.) The Herdman kids are delinquents who roll into what should have been a perfect nativity play and snatch up the important roles because the other kids don’t want to be a part of the Herdman train wreck they see coming.
I don’t want to spoil it, but the Herdman girl who plays Mary clearly understands what it means to care for a fragile infant savior, and the Herdman kid cast as the angel who visits the shepherds hollers “HEY! UNTO YOU A CHILD IS BORN!” with so much enthusiasm I am brought to tears.
GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST! AND ON EARTH PEACE TO ALL!
GLORIA! IN EXCELSIS DEO! There is something so exciting about the proclamation that we forget because it is a formula, it is a line in a couple of Christmas carols. I visited the church of my friend on its final day. Members shared fond memories from its many years. The church was open and affirming of LGBTQ people, but the memories were of church meals and sleeping through sermons. It broke my heart that such good people had lost a sense of urgency of mission over the years both about their values and about God’s powerful and transformative saving grace, about the joy of knowing God is coming and is here and is to be.
But when I was three, I knew the urgency and the delight and the joy. My mother pushed me in my stroller through Summit Mall in Akron as I sang, “Glo-o-o-o-o-o-ria!”, except I never quite got to “ria,” because I hadn’t quite got the hang of meter and measures yet. I was having the time of my life, and I was singing about baby Jesus, and my mother knew then I would grow up to be either a nun or a Jesus Freak (so she says now).
There is still joy in that proclamation, because there is still urgency in our community. For unto Leelah Alcorn a son is given. For unto her parents, who still refer to her in death as “he,” to their own further heartbreak and soul devastation, a son is given.
Gloria in excelsis deo. Et in terra pax hominibus.
Amen (may it be so) and Ashe (and so it is.)
This is part of Sandhya’s twelve-part series on the values of Christmas, which actually spans the twelve days of 12/25 to 1/6 each year (although commercialism usually has us so burned out on Christmas by 12/25 that we pack it up in boxes on 12/26). If you would like to become a patron of the arts by supporting Sandhya’s writing, you can do so by visitinghttp://www.patreon.com/sandhya. She would be honored by your support.