“Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 NRSV)
As much as I enjoy interaction, discourse and debate, there are times when I have to admit it’s not good for my health, or my soul for that matter. I entered into a discussion with many clergy, and laity recently on social media. What began as an interesting discussion soon began to unravel. Reading many of the responses had me banging my head against the wall so much I was afraid if I read anymore I would be in need of a concussion protocol.
The issue at hand isn’t important here as much as one of the themes that keep reoccurring. It surrounded the need for the church to be a safe place. Over and over again, it was stated “I don’t think I can attend the event at that church, I just wouldn’t feel safe.”
Let’s be clear when they spoke of the church being a safe place they didn’t mean physical safety. All of us want our places of worship and gathering to be safe places where people aren’t afraid of physical danger. We need to make churches places where no one is harassed or demeaned as well.
But in this particular case, many articulated they wouldn’t feel safe not because they would be physically threatened or demeaned. But because the host clergy had been vocal on issues in which there was disagreement. Let’s note that the event wasn’t about that particular issue and no one from the church would be keynote speakers. it was merely being in a venue where people disagreed with them over a theological issue made them feel unsafe.
I have no desire to make light of anyone not feeling safe. I have no idea what they are going through, their history or where their spiritual struggles may be. But it made me wonder is the church supposed to be a safe place? Would I want to be a part of the safe church.
For many the idea of safety meant acceptance. I see a great difference between being welcoming and accepting. Jesus calls us to be welcoming to everyone. We are all sinners saved by grace, going on to perfection. But when many speak of acceptance they mean accepting everything about me. Not tolerate it, but call good what I see as good. Should you look at anything in my life and not see it as good then you are not a safe place. Is the role of the church to be a safe place where everything is accepted and called good? Is it ever a good thing for the church to be unsafe?
As I contemplated this a line from the “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” came back to me. Mr. Tumnus is telling young Lucy all about Aslan, the lion, the True King of Narnia. Lucy asks, “Is he safe?” Tumnus replies, “Oh no, he isn’t a safe lion. But he is good.” CS Lewis helps us see that being safe and being good are not necessarily the same thing. In fact, there are instances where one cannot be both safe and good.
Jesus himself in our scripture reminds people that He hasn’t come to be safe. “I’ve not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus meant, “Don’t think I have come to leave everything as it is. I’ve come to redeem the world to bring danger to that which is evil. I’ve come to bring my people into a new life, the one for which they have been created and that at times will feel very unsafe. But it will be good.”
I don’t want to be a part of a church that is safe. I know me all too well and I don’t need a church that will accept everything about me. I need a church that will confront me in holiness. Who will challenge my very concepts of what is good. I need one that makes my sin feel threatened. I need a church where the God is big enough that he pulls me out from my safe places and calls me to walk by faith where he is my only safety net. I want a church that will challenge my preconceived notions, destroy my selfishness so that I can be like Jesus. A safe chruch worships a God so small, I doubt he can do me any good.
Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah in the temple. Paul on the Road to Damascus, over and over again throughout the Bible we find people having a life changing encounter with God. And they never feel safe. But they always bask in the goodness of God.
I pray that’s what people experience when they come to church. Not safe for one cannot encounter the Lion of Judah and feel safe. But I pray they see His goodness. I pray that they experience that Goodness and have their lives changed. Would that we all might be a little more unsafe.
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><