I saw something on social media the other day, originally said by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, which said something to the effect of: why do we find it so easy to follow an angry and vengeful God, but when we start to preach Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, and acceptance, we become angry and vengeful?
I’ve been reminded of that a lot over the last week or so, as I watched the carnage (for lack of a better term) that was the Methodist Church’s General Convention.
I was reminded of those words as I watched and listened to people who profess a message of love, acceptance, and inclusion, show that they have no idea how to actually be accepting, inclusive, and loving. And so instead cling fast to an outdated model of Christianity that used exclusion, anger, and fear to bring people into church instead of into a relationship with God.
Each denomination takes a slightly different approach to Christianity, in looks, approach, and beliefs.
A denomination, for those not familiar with religion, is a different sect of a religion. Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, UCC, MCC – these are a few of the many different Christian denominations (Unitarians are a type of religious organization, but aren’t strictly speaking Christian, so I left them off the list).
Most of the differences stem from the different power structures within the Church. But at the end of the day, in theory, we all like Jesus. We just talk about him differently, our services are a little different, and the clergy people have very different paths to ordination.
And here’s the thing that we tend to miss in becoming attached to a particular denomination: no denomination, really, no religion, has the one right path to God. There isn’t one right path to God. There’s just what works best for you.
No denomination has God figured out.
No denomination has an exclusive rights deal worked out with God. And if someone tried to tell you they have it all figured out – that they have God figured out – they are wrong.
There isn’t one way to God.
We get lost in believing that there is sometimes. We get tied up in details. We become convinced that our way is the only way. But it’s not.
This week, the Methodist Church has struggled with how, or if, to embrace a more loving and accepting approach to being Christ in this world – an approach that would allow for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ identifying people to be ordained.
The Episcopal Church is having a version of this fight too with our Anglican (Anglican being Latin for English, so here I’m referring to all of the denominations that fall under the umbrella of the Church of England, including the Episcopal Church) brothers and sisters from around the world, some of whom do not even ordain women.
The various Baptist denominations are at various stages of this same struggle and are also strongly debating in some branches if they wish to ordain women.
The Catholics have a bunch of things they’re working out, but don’t allow their clergy to marry, only let men be clergy, and seem to have a different scandal every month.
None of our denominations are perfect. None of us are right. ALL of us are scared.
We all have declining numbers. We all have to start wondering about how to keep our doors open. We all have to ask if there is something in our message that is no longer relevant to the world around us.
This week, the Methodist acted out of that fear – they choose to cling to an outdated model that worked well in the past in the hopes it will work again.
Spoiler alert: it won’t.
Clinging to structures or institutions instead of Jesus is going to fail. Every time.
Getting trapped in the idea that our denomination is better than another is an institutional trap. We’re not better.
Because the American Episcopal Church started the fight the Methodists are fighting two decades ago doesn’t make us better.
The second we start thinking we’re better than someone else, that’s the second we have gotten off the path that Christ has laid before us.
We hang rainbow flags outside and pretend like that’s enough to be welcoming and inclusive. But once people come in, we expect people to just assimilate to how we have always done things.
We all need to figure out how to preach the message of Christ – a message of love, acceptance, mercy, kindness – and more important, how to preach that message with our actions, instead of merely our words.
To simply answer my question, where is God in denominations?: God is with the people, not the institutions, moving us ever forward, ever closer to a world where we actually love and respect one another.
God isn’t limited to our buildings.