If Your Church is Not of the Marginalized, You Are Not of the Church
I am, as fellow author Jenny Lawson would say, “furiously happy.” This has been a good week for a poor, queer writer in the Midwest. I get to keep my healthcare, and should I fall in love with a woman, I can marry her and have all the same rights my parents enjoyed when they married in 1972. It’s a truly wonderful thought, and something that makes me deeply grateful for the support I’ve received from the queer church and for all the theologians, friends, and accomplices who have spoken truth to power and light into darkness over recent years. This sea change in America in civil rights, across all spectrums, is impossible without the work of numerous activists over the years. And, to be sure, we have a long way to go.
Naturally, I spent a good chunk of my weekend in a state of glorious schadenfreude over the predictable doom and gloom reactions of the American Christian Professional Right. First Things published an unintentionally hilarious “symposium” on the decision, wherein numerous public intellectuals – most of them white and male and straight – responded. Many of these respondents employed the same kind of wording – “I’m not surprised but disappointed” and several others devolved into hilarious word salad that I’m sure made some sort of sense in an alternate universe to which I am not privy.
But one response struck me as particularly obtuse and yet, revelatory about the position from which a lot of conservative Christians approach society. Everybody’s favorite, Owen Strachan, president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, published an obviously pre-written post about the SCOTUS decision on Friday morning. In it, he explicated that there are five main implications of the decision. Number five was as follows:
5. The church is now a marginalized community. Our witness has not carried the day in the public square. To a considerable degree, we now find ourselves at the mercy of those who disagree with us.
If you’re acquainted with my work, you can probably imagine the raised eyebrow that happened in response to this statement. Here, we find a microcosm of why the white, conservative church in America has deeply problematic theology. This is the perfect crystallization of why the American church has stepped away from Gospel and instead has become a power-hungry domain of the privileged.
Here’s the thing: I believe that the church is the haven of the marginalized. It is not the powerful seeking to maintain power. It is the world of those outcast by society, the poor, the hungry, the destitute, the spurned. Jesus himself decried political and statist power within the church, and focused on the margins, calling women, working class men, tax collectors, lepers, and the disabled. Church is – or should be – the home of the marginalized.
But the church in America is distinctly separated from that Gospel truth, as demonstrated by Strachan’s fearmongering about “becoming” marginalized. In truth, if your church and your practice is not already marginalized, if you fear marginalization, if you just now fear the persecution of “those who disagree with you,” then, bluntly: you have not been doing God’s work. I don’t know what work you’ve been doing, but work that places you in a position of privilege, work that makes you comfortable and powerful in society is the opposite of the work to which Christ calls us. Work that relies on Christianity being a dominant religion and legislating to make others follows a specific, narrow form of it is, plainly, not of God and not of Christ.
Being part of the Church is, by definition, to embrace and work from and with the margins. It is to understand that the margins – those prized and created and beloved by God, those we are called to care for – are so significant to the church as to become the face of the church. Jesus was an itinerant preacher who spoke from the margins, embracing those society would not, a man hated by many.
If you, as a church pastor and theologian, fear marginalization, you are not prepared to preach the word of God. You are not prepared to carry Their message of grace and love and understanding from the margins. You should already be speaking from the margins, not fearing for your self when those margins finally defeat a part of their marginalization.
If we are to be a church that contributes meaningfully to the ongoing discourse about justice, in all forms, we must be a church that celebrates, embraces, and is the marginalized. If you are fearful of becoming marginalized, you are part of the problem.