The Church Is a Whore, But…

The late commentator Charles Krauthammer once said that in the newsroom there are always some favorite stories of historical figures that people love to tell, and everyone knows the origins of these tales may be somewhat apocryphal, but we dare not check! They’re that good.

The same is probably true of this famous quote often attributed to St. Augustine:

“The church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

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It may be a misquote of something else Augustine said, or it could be totally apocryphal, but I dare not check. It’s that good… and timely, especially in this moment. (By the way, if you are more scholarly than I am and are tempted to dispel the myth, please don’t spoil it. At least not right now!)

It’s a timely reminder for me and for many fellow United Methodists as we watch the proceedings of a special General Conference Session that is focusing on THE major issue that threatens the future of our church’s unity: homosexuality. I’ve written about this elsewhere, just in case you’re not familiar with what the hubbub is all about.

For me, this season of the church’s life is gut-wrenching, heart-breaking and demoralizing. Many of us, who make up almost half of the United Methodist Church, want to see a church in which all perspectives on homosexuality can be honored. Just as importantly, we want a church in which those who are LGBTQ could finally have a full seat at the Lord’s Table, especially in terms of marriage and ordination. At the same time, those of us who cannot accept that kind of inclusiveness would also have a full seat at the table. We want one United Methodist Church with enough room for all of us.

Well, the chances of this happening are not looking very good right now. From what I can surmise, we’re either looking at 1) a far more conservative-leaning church; 2) an ideological split, leading to separate denominations; or 3) no major decision of consequence leading to more angst, uncertainty, and a nasty splintering apart of the church.

Our problems are manifold and maddeningly cyclical:

  • People of different views are talking past each other, don’t really understand the other, and fundamentally don’t want to be associated with the other.
  • Ideological factions are fighting for the power to “own” the namesake, spirit, direction, and resources of the church. It’s truly a struggle over power.
  • We’re insane. We keep using the same means and tactics to solve our problems, each time expecting a different, elusive result.

I have to confess, I have given serious thought to throwing in the towel and giving up on the United Methodist Church for good. I’ve even had fleeting thoughts of giving up on church altogether, at least this manifestation of it. My reasoning: after spending all this time and money for nearly 47 years, all the while doing great harm to people who are LGBTQ, why bother anymore? Surely, I could offer my gifts and graces as a pastor to something that is more functional and less harmful to people I love.

Yet… yet… just tonight, I had three conversations with non-Christian friends and family members of mine. Amazingly, they all said the same thing:

Keep on keeping on.
Be the shepherd and mentor God has called you to be. Don’t give up.
Shine the greater light. Keep yourself open to truth and growth. It will serve you well.

Keep in mind, none of that came from the church. All of it was said by non-Christians, my wider “church family.”

So, I’ve consigned myself to that wonderful, perhaps apocalyptic reflection of St. Augustine: the church is a whore, but she is my mother.

The United Methodist Church, with all her ugly warts, terrible inefficiencies, and gross inadequacies is far removed from the kind of faithful church I want her to be. Yet she is my mother. Admittedly, if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I’m far removed from the kind of faithful son of God I should be, too. Perhaps she’s a reflection of me, and I of her.

Still, the United Methodist Church is my mother. She is the church who birthed me through the waters of baptism when I was 18-years-old. God used her to call me into ministry. She’s nurtured that call and has had a huge hand in shaping me into the person I am today.

There have been times when being a disciple of Jesus has meant rejecting the aspects of this mother I can’t stand. On a few occasions, I’ve even had to shout a clear  “Hell no!” (literally) to some of her tendencies, attitudes, and values.

But this mother of a church still loves me. (Now I really, really wish she loved some of my other siblings in Christ as much as much as she loves and makes room for me! However…) She’s still here. There’s lots of good in her. I can keep doing some real good with her. Even when she’s got her priorities and focus out of whack, she still does great things. Somehow, the world is a better place because of her.

Oh my Lord, she’s a whore! And yet the Lord knows that and still insists on calling her his bride. There’s no doubt about that. So yes, the United Methodist Church is my mother, and I’ll always be her child, even if that means the possibility of one day striking out in a different direction. But for now, I will continue to struggle with her, for her sake, mine, and for the sake of the world that Christ died to save.

At this moment we stand in what Parker Palmer calls “the tragic gap.” It’s that long expanse between cold reality and the desired future we know exists. In the end, when all is said and done, the struggle will have been well worth it. That’s God’s promise. And as hard as it is to say right now, she, this sordid church mother of mine, is worth it, too.

5 Comments

Filed under Church Culture and Leadership

5 Responses to The Church Is a Whore, But…

  1. Travis Knoll

    Ever since 1972 the church’s majority has spoken consistently and persistently. Yet ever since then, a loud and uncompromising minority centered entirely within the dwindling portion of the church in America have insisted that they know better than the world, better than the church throughout history, than 90% or more of Christians alive today – they have demanded that their Biblical interpretation is better, that their sense of justice is keener, that they are better people than everyone and everywhen else.
    The rest of the world does not agree, nor do all Christians (and decidedly all Methodists) within the USA. The consistent message of this global majority is best summed up in this, quoted from the UMNews: “It is better to be divided by truth than united in error,” said Rudolph Merab, the lead lay delegate from the Liberia Conference. Yet still, the local majority claims that they know better than the delegates of Africa, elsewhere throughout the world, and the church historically.
    It is time for reflection from this local majority in the US to consider whether or not they can listen to the world, or whether they are so certain of their way that they must divide from the majority of their brothers and sisters worldwide in order to have their way. Splinter groups almost always feel that they are the only ones to understand the truth, and that everyone else is apostate (technically “hated by God” but most often used to imply “opposed by God”). Some feel that white people from America have been telling the rest of the world this for decades, so why should this time be different?

  2. Carol H A Serb

    Really well said, Chris!

  3. Again, you have summed up what I have been grappling with all day as I stream GC. And again, I hope its OK that I share your thoughts with friends and family outside the UMC who are trying to understand what the heck is going on, as I am too. Its going to take a while to see what flies with the Judicial Council and what this all looks like as life and Church goes on. And as I once heard sung long ago by a gospel group, “Let the Church Roll On!”

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