Saturday, October 18, 2014

Let the Church Out of the Closet

Chicago: Expectant
Roger Brown
If Christ Came to Chicago (detail)
It seems to me that one of the most revolutionary things that could happen in our society would be if the Church started being the Church.

That would require it to stop protecting the "Church as institution" and start putting itself out there as "Church as rebel."

It should be obvious that, implicit in this, is the idea of "Church as people" rather than "Church as tradition" or "Church as elders" or "Church as buildings" or "Church as rules."

If Christ Came to Chicago

Around the same time that I moved to Chicago, I was intrigued to learn that a powerfully influential book in the U.S. progressive movement at the end of the 19th century was If Christ Came to Chicago by William T. Stead.

And I thought, "What a marvelous idea! What would that look like?"

Whenever I hear a New Testament story, I now ask myself, "What would this sound like in the Chicago context, today?"

More than anything else, these words have stayed with me:

"He was speaking about this matter quite openly. " (Mark 8:32)

I believe we are called to speak openly about important matters.

"Speaking quite openly" about about sexuality and gender

I became re-involved in the Church several years ago because of a conversation with a friend about his concerns that the Church -- and particularly the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) -- was struggling to be inclusive of people of all sexual identities and gender orientations.

Members of St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square join
other Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches in Springfield
for the October, 2013, Marriage Equality rally. Pastor Kim
Beckmann's sign says "Illinois: For the love of God (and I
mean that sincerely) PASS Marriage Equality NOW!"
The ELCA has now "come out of the closet" as an open and affirming denomination, and the work continues to make all ELCA congregations fully welcoming. (You can find welcoming congregations in the Lutheran and other denominations via the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches.)

One of the big challenges today is for the Church to speak quite openly about the necessity of inclusion and affirmation of people of all sexual identities and gender orientations everywhere, including in places like Africa where this is a subject of great conflict today.

On the solidarity with LGBTI people in Africa, the Metropolitan Chicago synod of the ELCA came out of the closet in May, 2014, when it passed a resolution: "Solidarity With Those Experiencing and Resisting Harsh Anti-LBTI Legislation Across Africa."

There is much more to be done . . . .

"Speaking quite openly" about about justice in the Holy Land

In recent days, the censorship of critics of Israel's treatment of Palestinians has become a major social issue in Illinois.

Members of the Metro Chicago Synod, ELCA, Working
Group on the Middle East depicting weeping women
of Palestine during the 2014 8th Day Center
Good Friday Justice Walk.
As I have reflected on the firing of Prof. Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois, I have asked myself, "Is this just a narrow issue that has to do with university governance?" I reached the conclusion that it was something much broader -- it is a spiritual issue that slams right up against our call to "speak openly" on issues of justice.

If I had any doubts about this, the fact that Palestine solidarity activist Rabbi Brant Rosen felt the necessity to resign from the leadership of his Evanston congregation reassured me that this is about more than just UIUC.

The ELCA has a substantial effort devoted to working for peace in the Holy Land, and the Chicago arm of that effort is especially strong. And yet people in Christian denominations -- and especially Lutherans -- are extremely careful about appearing to criticize Israel, so as not to offend Jewish people.

If the Salaita affair has taught us anything, it is that we have got to get clear on the fact that criticizing Israel is not the same as offending Jewish people.  The Church needs to come out of the closet and speak quite openly about issues of justice in the Holy Land.

"Speaking quite openly" about about immigration

Jesus Loves Immigrants
Occupy Palm Sunday, Logan Square, Chicago, 2012
I've heard two very radical statements in recent years.

One of them was by the lead singer of the band Outernational. At a concert taking place at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Logan Square several days before the protests against NATO in Chicago in 2012, Leo Mintek introduced the song "Todos Somos Ilegales (We are all illegals)" by saying, "Someday we will look back and say that the idea that a person could be considered 'illegal' is as incomprehensible as the idea that one person could own another person."

The second was a statement by an ELCA leader who said, "The only papers that we should concern ourselves with are a person's baptism certificate."

A lot of people may not understand the second statement, and it's probably not quite properly expressed.  I think what it means is that being Christian means seeing the person, not what the State says about the person. (And that this is what baptism -- both baptism as physical rite and baptism as abstraction -- means, too.) In other words, what I think he was driving at was, "Papers? We don't need no stinkin' papers!"

One small way the Church is speaking out is by opening its doors to immigrants and standing shoulder to shoulder with them as they deal with the challenges presented by the State. For instance, see the Justice for Our Neighbors program -- one branch of which is active in Logan Square, Chicago.

"Speaking quite openly" about about money

A couple of years ago, Occupy Chicago was in full swing here. Some of us started to ask, "What would Jesus do?"

The result was the beginning of a new tradition: "Occupy Palm Sunday!"

"Is there room at the inn at the CHA’s Lathrop Homes?"
Logan Square churches' 2013 posada for affordable housing
Occupy Palm Sunday has become an important reminder to us to get out of our church sanctuaries and into the public square.  And doing that has encouraged us to do more and more and more thinking about what are the big topics we really want to speak openly about.

Some of those topics have included food insecurity, the lack of affordable housing, the need for security and justice for immigrants, the unavailability of quality health care for all, and the way in which certain people in our community are subjected to various forms of violence.

Ultimately, this has forced us to speak quite openly about what's wrong with the way money is thought about and talked about in our society.

Roger Brown, If Christ Came to Chicago
(Click to view large format image)

William T. Stead concluded If Christ Came to Chicago with a description of the Church that he envisioned in Chicago a hundred years hence.  Notably, his vision was of a unified Church that had put aside minor differences to focus on the main thing:

"The Church of God in Chicago has only one belief, and that is to do what Christ would have done if He were confronted with the problems with which they have to deal."

(You can read the full text of If Christ Came to Chicago online.)

And I believe that once the Church comes out of the closet -- that is, once we start speaking quite openly about the difference between the world as we find it and the world as we believe God wishes it to be -- there is no way this old world will be able to stay the same.

9 More Ideas You Won't Hear

at Chicago Ideas Week . . .

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(See WWJD? Occupy! )

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(See The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Apostles )

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(See Easter Victory: The Guantanamo Lawyers )

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