"I’m not allowed to go to church.”
Let that sentence sink in for just a moment.
Not allowed to go to church.
Does it sound ridiculous? Who would possibly say such a thing? What church wouldn’t welcome everyone? Afterall, isn’t that at the heart of what Jesus taught?
It does sound ridiculous, ludicrous even. Yet it’s something I have heard and not just once or twice.
“I’m not allowed to to go to church.”
Who could feel so rejected by the Christian family they have known and loved? Who could hunger so desperately to go Sunday morning and be fed? That’s the kind of hunger we should all feel, the level of desire we should all possess - to want to come and be renewed by the love of God.
This is a sentence I wish I could tell you is never uttered. I wish I could tell you I have never heard it.
I’ll give you a clue. The people who have shared their lament with me are almost always under the age of 35.
Do you find that shocking? You should. Churches spend hours discussing ways to bring more young adults into the church. Clergy and congregational leaders debate at length the reason young people are leaving the church and seem to hopelessly grasp at gimmicks that might make the church “more relevant” for today’s young adults.
The thing is, there are a lot of amazing young adults out there who want to be in church. They are looking for a place to belong, to continue in their faith journey, to be fed by a church family and by the love of Christ. But they have been told or made to feel that they “are not allowed”.
Still think I’m crazy? That I’m making this up?
The language of this statement is not to be overlooked. It is not that these individuals are “not welcome” at church, that they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable. It is that these young people have been told, in no uncertain terms, that they are “not allowed” in the very halls they walked as children to attend Sunday School, to baptism classes, to Vacation Bible School. The church has said to them “You do not belong here anymore. We raised you up and found you lacking, we found you unworthy, and you may no longer be here.”
I hope your heart is breaking. I hope you are reading this and wondering who these young people are so that you may find them and share with them the kiss of peace that passes all understanding; find them that you may show them what a true church family looks like, how a church family committed to the love of Christ behaves.
You can. Think of the young adults who just stopped coming to church, who seemed to fade away. Now think about the rumors you may have heard about them, about how they are “not normal”...that they are gay, a lesbian, transexual, wrong, unholy, sinful.
“I’m not allowed to go to church.” Oh. That.
Too many times I have heard this from our young LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Too often they have come to me or come to members of my church family, tiptoeing out of fear that this may be one more place that they are rejected at worst or tolerated at best. They certainly don’t expect to find a Christian community that welcomes them, affirms them, and acknowledges their full worth as living, breathing members of the Body of Christ.
“I’m not allowed to go to church.”
Can we please stop inflicting these near mortal wounds? Can we please stop telling these young people that they are unholy when the truth is that the problem lies in our fear and not their created beautiful selves? At the very least I beg that the wider “Christian” community stop rejecting God’s own beloved children and pretending that is something God ordains. That is not the God I know. That is not the God I preach. That is not the God who has loved and continues to love me unconditionally. And you.
Christ’s table is big enough for everyone. Around it he welcomes everyone. At it Jesus feeds everyone. Side by side we are all not only “allowed” but invited and welcomed. To it we are beckoned.
No one is “allowed”. Instead everyone is beckoned, called, named, and loved.