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The Separation of Church and Jesus

Several years ago a friend of mine was working as a youth minister for a church that was exuberantly evangelistic. The pastor spoke eloquently and often about “winning the world for Christ.” Unfortunately, the community around the church was “in transition.” That’s code for white families moving out and people of color moving in.

In spite of that, my friend decided that if the church was going to win the whole world, why not start with its own neighborhood. In a short time, he had encouraged several young people to attend a recreation event he held at the church during the week and eventually persuaded a couple of the teenagers and their mother to attend a Sunday morning service. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
When they showed up on the church steps they were greeted by a special usher committee that told them they could not enter. The head usher explained to them that they would probably be more comfortable in a church “of their own kind.”
 
The mother explained that she and her children had been invited by the youth minister to attend the service. The usher nodded and said, “Yes, I know. He made a mistake.” With that, the small family left.
 
When the youth minister heard what happened he confronted the usher and demanded an explanation. The usher told him that it was a long standing position of the church that people of color not attend.
 
The youth minister was shocked. He could not understand how a church could claim to be evangelistic and eager to win the world to Christ, and yet turn the world away when it came to the door. He said to the usher, “Is this the kind of church you think Jesus wants?”
 
The usher replied, “Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
 
And there it is. Not the racism–that’s just a symptom. I am talking about the separation of Jesus from the church. Apparently there are some areas of life that are simply too important to run the risk of Jesus meddling with them.
 
For instance, not long ago Time magazine ran an article about theologian Stanley Hauerwas and his view on the run up to the war in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Iraq. Hauerwas believes that since Jesus taught and practiced non-violence, the Christian community has a responsibility to resist war, or at least approach it with great reluctance. Since there did not seem to be much reluctance, does that mean “Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with this?”
 
Or how about this: A churchman in a recent letter to the editor made the point that Christians have no real responsibility to seek ways to alleviate poverty. All that is required of us is to practice a little charity as we have opportunity. Is that what Jesus taught–just a little pocket change when we feel the urge? I guess when it comes to issues of substantive economic justice, “Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
 
The New Testament has Jesus saying at one point, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” The preachers I grew up with used to say that the door on which Jesus was knocking was the metaphorical door to our heart. Jesus wants to come into our lives and save us. Later I learned that the door in question was really the metaphorical door to the church. Jesus was on the outside of the church, trying to get in. I wonder what sort of committee he ran into.
 
James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.