Walking Through the Church Doors

2017-0127

WALKING THROUGH THE CHURCH DOORS

What’s the number one thing that keeps spiritual searchers from walking through the doors of a church?

That’s easy:  Christians.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell famously said that he would believe in a Savior when his followers began to act as if they were saved.

Craig Detweiler, a Christian filmmaker, knows that artists can feel particularly hostile to the traditional church scene.

About a decade ago he attended a sold-out showing of a virulently anti-religious movie at the Sundance Film Festival.

In the movie, a suburban Southern Baptist family is killed in a car wreck on their way (of course) to church.  In heaven, a tattooed Jesus sends them back to earth so they can live far happier lives the second time around – this time with few moral boundaries.

Their scandalized church friends decide to send them back to heaven, hopefully for good, by poisoning an apple pie.

The crowd loved it.

It didn’t seem to be much of a stretch, after all, to imagine Christians as homicidally hyper-judgmental.

After receiving a standing ovation, the director was asked if any conservative Christians had seen it.  “I’m ready for that fight,” he smiled.

That’s when Detweiler, not even thinking about what he was doing, rose to his feet.  Here’s his own account of what happened next:

“I struggled to compose my words.  My voice cracked slightly.  I eked out, ‘Jay, thank you for this film.  As a native of North Carolina, a fellow filmmaker, and an evangelical Christian…’

“I never use the word evangelical.  It is so loaded with negative baggage that I usually attempt to distance myself from such an association.  But in this case, it seemed quite right.  I was speaking for my community, responding to a particular stance we had staked out for ourselves.

“Jay stepped back, ready for that fight.  He tensed up, preparing to launch a counterattack.  The crowd sensed that things were about to get ugly.  My next words caught them off guard:  ‘Jay, I apologize for anything ever done to you in the name of God.’

“The entire tenor in the room shifted.  Audience members in the room turned around.  ‘Did I heart that correctly?’  They craned their necks.  ‘Who said that?’

“Jay fumbled for words, not knowing how to respond.  He was ready to be attacked.  He was not ready for an apology.

“He offered a modest, ‘Thank you.’  The audience was literally disarmed…

“Audience members approached me afterwards with hugs.  A lesbian couple thanked me.  Gay men kissed me.  One person said, ‘If that is true, I might consider giving Christianity another chance…’

“A simple apology set off a series of conversations and exchanges about our faith and how we live it.”

Churches are willing to do almost anything to increase the foot traffic to their front doors:  catchy slogans, fish fries, family nights, concerts, ice cream socials.

It’s just possible that two words, spoken humbly and sincerely, will generate more good will than all those strategies combined:

We apologize.

— Authored by Glenn McDonald

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