Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Church Notice

Last week my wife and I went to a nearby town to shop at a store known for its tourist merchandise. It carries T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, mugs and other memorabilia that visitors to our state bring home to remind them of their vacation in the Granite State. I was looking for a New Hampshire T-shirt to wear when I am in Florida. I am tired of people thinking I am from Maine or Pennsylvania. My wife was looking for a birthday gift for a ten year-old friend and some greeting cards.

I quickly realized that the shop did not carry what I was looking for (any T-shirt without a moose on it). So I exited the store to wait on a bench until her shopping was done. After a few minutes of sitting I went for a walk. The only other businesses in the plaza was a Post Office and a church. Of course I visited the church.

The name of the church included the words “Open Door,” but the church door was locked. I was to discover just how ironic that name was. Posted on the locked glass door was a notice that made it clear just how closed the church was. I have included a photo of the notice with this post, so I will not repeat it ad nauseam (with the emphasis on the nausea). If you click on the photo, you ought to be able to view a larger version.

In brief it warns any visitors to the church of two important facts. It reads “This church IS NOT a Gun Free Zone” and “This church IS a Drug Free Zone.” It went on to explain that visitors can expect parishioners to be carrying concealed weapons, but anyone carrying concealed drugs will be turned over to the police. How they would discover concealed drugs was not mentioned. There was another sign on the door, which I neglected to photograph. It read: “Everyone Welcome.” That was the humorous one.

Why make these two topics – guns and drugs – the first things that people see as they approach the church?  Are these the most important things about this church? I hope not. The church identifies itself as a “Bible Church,” yet they have chosen to focus on two subjects that are never mentioned in the Bible. Why post this notice at all? What is the purpose of it, except to exclude people – specifically those who believe in gun control and those who are addicted to drugs?

The notice is a barely veiled threat of violence and legal action. Why make threats at all? Is that really the first impression of the church that this congregation wants people to have? Once I got beyond the threats, I surmised that this church was more interested in taking a stand in the culture wars than making people feel welcome at the church.

On a deeper level the sign reeked of fear, not faith. It was written from a place of fear and is meant to elicit fear. This sign is proclaiming that this church space is so dangerous that the members arm themselves to protect themselves from visitors. They also have the local police department on speed dial. This church is obviously not a safe place to bring your family.  They might as well have posted a sign: Visitors Beware!

Perhaps the members of this church have good reasons to be fearful of outsiders. I do not know what has happened at this church in the past. A shooting or drug–dealing on the premises? I suspect that this notice is more rhetoric than reality. I think this notice has more to do with political posturing, because of the mention of the second amendment. It is likely that the spiritual gospel has become so intertwined with a political gospel in this church that the members cannot distinguish one from the other.

There are many churches like this one across our nation. Many of them are much bigger and more influential than this tiny storefront church. Such churches have surrendered to the “spirit of the age” rather than the Holy Spirit. Because of them, Christianity is getting a bad reputation. As the apostle Paul wrote, “The name of God is maligned and blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you!” It is no wonder that people are walking away from churches in droves.

After my wife finished her shopping, we started home. She was happy with her treasure trove of cards that she purchased. I was sad about the church notice that I had seen, and what it says about the state of the American Christianity. When any Christian church feels the need to post such a notice on its front door, it means something is seriously wrong in our country and our religion. God help us.


ernest boyer said...

Thank you again for another thoughtful reflection. Yes, the name of God is being maligned and blasphemed because of twisted theology and political posturing such as you pointed out from this so-called "open" church. I see the effects especially here in my home in Silicon Valley where the word "Christian" seems to be almost universally regarded as synonymous with words like "judgmental," "hypocritical," "backward," and "narrow-minded." Trying to convince anyone that genuine Christianity is actually just the opposite of that -- that it is really loving, open to all (truly ALL), forward-looking, and respectful of all true seeking -- is an uphill slog, let me tell you. People have only to point to churches such as the one you describe for all my pleas to begin to sound pretty delusional. Sometimes I even wonder myself if true Christianity will actually survive. That's why I find your posts so encouraging. They show me that there are still places where the gospel as Jesus taught it is alive and well. Yes, it's true that there is something very wrong with our country and our religion, but the truth is still out there. And I do believe that God will keep it alive. -- Rev. Dr. Ernest Boyer, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Gilroy, CA

Andrew Coulthard said...

Fear and trauma drive many of our responses. We externalise them in these ways as though a notice on a wall has some magical vicarious power to disassociate us from their threat. The reason we carry guns is fear and the reason we take drugs is (often) trauma.

Church, in the way we church, isn't church. Christianity isn't an adjective, verb, noun or collective. God in us and in everything is how He is...we use adjectives, verbs and nouns through our lack of submission.

I love what you write and you've added so much clarity to my own biases as I try to shed them. A Coulthard, New Zealand, Italy, Sierra Leone and UK.