Inclusive Church?

May 22, 2018 | by: Bob McDonough | 0 Comments

Posted in: Our Vision

Our vision is to be an authentic, inclusive and sending community where the grace of Jesus Christ deeply impacts every area of our ordinary lives.

Inclusive - This means we accept and include people who are different from us and who have struggles that we don’t have. It means we open up our homes to people who may annoy us, who we may even have prejudices toward…

I have always hated it when a group, or member of a group I’m associated with takes a public fall. A popular pastor runs off with the church secretary, my uncle gets arrested, a guy on a Harley cuts you off, the Mets lose 8 out of 10…

I hate it because I as a member of that group often feel implicated in the offense. All Christians are phony, bikers are reckless, the McDonough’s should all be locked up, the Mets and their fans are losers…

I grew up Irish Catholic on the Jersey Shore. For years my mom went to mass every week. She brought us of course (when we were willing), but continued to go even after we were old enough to say thanks, but no thanks. She taught us that God existed, that He was powerful, all knowing and that He required a certain type of behavior. She modeled what bearing one another’s burdens looked like. And encouraged (sometimes demanded) us to perform “acts of Christian charity” for those in need around us. She taught us to pray, particularly for patience and strength, when life got tough.

She knew that life could be tough, she was born in 1921 and was raised through the depression. Her father Lyle was an often out of work house painter, his side of the family were Protestant. Her mother Martha was a 4’11”, 90 pound saint and her side of the family were Catholic. Martha and Lyle had four children, my mother was their first.

Excerpts from “The Orange and the Green”:

Oh my father was an Ulsterman, proud Protestant was he
My mother was a Catholic girl, from County Cork was she
They were married in two churches, lived happily enough
Until the day that I was born and things got rather tough

Baptised by father Reilly, I was rushed away by car
To be made a little orangeman, my father's shining star
I was christened David Anthony, but still in spite of that
To my father I was William while my mother called me Pat

Oh it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen
My father he was orange and my mother she was green

My mother was fiercely loyal to her mom and didn’t feel the Protestant “in laws” were very inclusive of her Catholic mom. In fact, she felt they had a prejudice based simply on the building she walked into on Sunday mornings. Eventually her loyalty led to her own prejudice and the “Damn Protestants” were in the crosshairs.

So, in addition to many of the other things my mother taught me about God and service, I learned to view people outside of “The Church” as not only different, but less than. Not overtly, but subtly. My Grandmother’s in-laws were prejudice, which led to a reaction in the heart of my mother, and that reaction led to more prejudice in me.

Fast forward to 1992. I was 31 years old, a husband, father, home owner and had 13 years of seniority in a job that I thought I would one day retire from. In October I received notice that the plant was closing. In November my dad died after a short battle with cancer and in December my wife asked me for a divorce.

1992 was a tough year...

During this difficult stretch, I worked with a guy who I had some things in common and would often talk. But he would always end up crossing the line and turn the conversation towards God. Yup, he was a Protestant! Initially I would disagree with his beliefs, sometimes I would be offended by them. I often walked away frustrated and even angry, but I kept going back for more. There was something about this guy’s relationship with God that seemed so personal. To him God wasn’t just this big, wise, all knowing being far off in heaven, but He was close, seemingly touchable. He not only believed in God, but trusted and rested in His presence. I believe that was what kept me going back.

Eventually, after about 6 months of these on again off again conversations, I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sin and to be as real to me as He was to my friend. I also made two additional requests. First, that my wife wouldn’t think I’ve gone off the deep end (I couldn’t afford for things to get worse on that front), and second that my mom wouldn’t disown me as I was feeling God was leading me out of the Catholic church. He answered one of those prayers fairly quickly, the other (my mom) took a little more time.

So now the one who thought the Protestants were less than, suddenly found himself of all things a Protestant! And guess what? He suddenly had a prejudice against Catholics! To be clear, it wasn’t individual Catholics that I had issue with, it was the church itself. I had suddenly (if you can call 6 months sudden) learned so much more about God then I ever knew and felt I had been short changed by the church.

However, if I am to truly take a deep dive here, I have to acknowledge that the truths of God’s word are spiritually discerned and until He breathed the breath of life into my lungs and saved me, it wouldn’t have mattered if I was Billy Graham’s next door neighbor, I just wouldn’t have been able to hear and understand the truth.

It wasn’t being Catholic that held me back from God and His truth, it was my unbelief. I couldn’t believe because I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t understand because I couldn’t hear. And I couldn’t hear because I was dead in my sin. I needed the resurrection power of Jesus. I needed to be born (again). Only then could I believe, trust and rest in Him!

So why am I up here sharing this with you…

Over the years I’ve noticed that there are a few groups that some of us Christians are comfortable painting with a broad brush. One of those groups are Catholics. Typically we are making a point about faith over works. Sometimes it can kind of feel like an “inside joke”. And while I’ve been guilty of this myself, I don’t believe that doing so extends a sentiment of inclusiveness to members of those groups. Particularly to those who have come out to see what our faith is all about, whose hearts are ready for more of God, perhaps because they have some guy at work gently and lovingly sharing God’s truth with them.

In fact, I’ll have to admit that I’ve been cautious over the years to invite my Catholic friends and family out to church services or events because I didn’t want them offended by a comment that wasn’t necessarily directed at them, but was pointed at their group.

“Mets fans are stupid, bikers are criminals, don’t even get me started on the Catholics, and those McDonough’s…ugh!”

Recently I found myself with a group of believers, and unbeknownst to the others, among us was a practicing Catholic whose heart was tender and searching for God’s truth and encouragement. As we discussed the scriptures and were discovering God’s abundant grace towards us who believe, a couple of comments were made toward Catholics in general that may have made our guest feel uncomfortable, unwelcomed.

I realize that I have done it too, call out a group instead of directing my comments towards an individual. So here’s my proposal, lets stop referring to groups like Catholics, Mets fans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bikers, Muslims, McDonough’s and Jews and start referring  to the condition of individual hearts. Instead of saying “they” just don’t get it, let’s try “he” needs more prayer and more love and “I” need to plant and water more seeds. Let’s try to be more like the tax collector and less like the Pharisee in Luke 18.

11“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector (insert Catholic, Jew, McDonough or Biker). 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’

The building that others choose to go to on their day of worship may not be the best indicator for the condition of their heart. I’m not saying to hold back on the truth, my coworker certainly didn’t and I’m grateful for it. But he corrected my error in love, and directed his comments specifically to me. Then allowed me, by God’s grace, to draw my own conclusions.

So if we want to make a point about a guy who strictly follows his religion, checks all the boxes, but is lost and dead in his sin, lets say that. Then pray that God would show Himself faithful to him (the guy) as He has to us who believe. And let’s try to leave the broad brush in the paint can where it belongs.

By His Grace,

Bob McDonough


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