A Response to the Eraseboard

The other day someone left a message on a dry ease board in a classroom at the church. Someone spent several minutes explaining why individuals in our congregation should change who they are- to conform to this person's biblical understanding.  Words like "Repent!" were there, alongside phrases like, "God does not support homosexuality," "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin," and "Don't wait, be straight!". Several people saw this, and responded with anger, frustration, or disgust. How should we respond?

Recently we had a sermon series called "Christians Behaving Badly," and this type of situation was exactly what we were concerned about. Those with one perspective feel compelled to share it, without sensitivity to how it will be received. Oak Lawn UMC is a place that values inclusivity in everything we do. Every Sunday I stand before the congregation and say something like this: "We are proud to be a place where everyone is valued and respected as a child of God, made in God's own image." I have heard several people say how much they appreciate this. The thing is: no one coached me on that. My first Sunday here I literally stood up to welcome folk to church and that came out.  I did not plan it in any way. It's who Oak Lawn is. It's important for everyone who calls Oak Lawn home for their heart knows this.

As upset as I was to see these messages in our church, I also had a different reaction: the message that we are a welcoming congregation to everyone is getting out. Those who do not support our message of welcome are feeling a need to respond. And those who have looked for an inclusive, diverse place to worship are hearing about Oak Lawn too. We see them every Sunday, and we are more than happy to extend God's love and grace to them.

These comments were left on a dry erase board. It would be easy to erase them and pretend the sentiment never existed. Instead we chose to address them openly. We hope those with similar opinions would seek out others in the congregation and ask about our church's DNA. At moments such as these, it is helpful to ask, "What are we about?" "Who are we?" It's interesting that this happened just as we are going through a process to determine a new vision for our congregation. Wherever we go from here, God is going to take us there together. And more and more people, with varied understandings of theology, the Bible, and sin, will join us on the journey. I am proud to serve such a diverse place as Oak Lawn as your Senior Pastor.