It Smells Like Jesus.

A person is standing in the back of your church, clearly intoxicated. They reek of cheap beer and whiskey, their eyes aren’t focusing, and they are swaying slightly but they aren’t making noise or a scene. What does your church do?
In the case of one local church, they asked the person to leave. When I was told about it, I was completely shocked and dismayed. Isn’t this the person that Christians should be welcoming the most? Isn’t this the reason why we are here, to show love to those who need it? I could understand if the person was yelling, swearing and interrupting the sermon, that perhaps a congregant could invite the person to the lobby for some coffee or even better, offer to have lunch at a local restaurant and spend time building a relationship, but to ask a person to leave because they were intoxicated seems like the direct opposite of Christianity.
It seems that the Church has always struggled with excluding the very people Jesus included. We want people to clean up and  present a pretty, put together, 1950’s, faux Christian life before we will even considering accepting them. Kicking them out the door or not letting them in to begin with seems to be a common reaction to people the church deems “not good enough”. Libby Anne from Love, Joy, Feminism recently wrote in Jesus the Enabler about Pat Robertson’s praise of a grandfather who told his gay grandson that his friend was not welcome at their home for Thanksgiving because his friend was likely from “that so-called lifestyle”. Robertson said that if the grandfather let his grandson bring his friend to eat with the family, he would become an “enabler”. If a family believes that gay sex is a sin[1][2], then in fact, the best way to imitate Jesus would be to welcome their grandson’s friend with open arms, sitting with him, and eating with him as Jesus did. As it says in Mark 2:13-17 “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners where eating with him and his disciples, for they were eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” NIV

Instead of loving people where they are and accepting them for who they are, we expect people to “play the game of church” and make sure that their appearance is upholding the “reputation of Christ”.  Really this is only about appearances, since we all have things in our lives, that if exposed, would probably get us kicked out of that church or family Thanksgiving. The person who has had five shots of vodka before they could enter the church because it was so triggering to them because of past abuse, can politely sit in a pew and suck on mints, and be every bit as intoxicated as the person in back, but because they know how to “behave” in church because they were taught how to since infancy, they can sit there and be accepted but the person standing in the back gets kicked out because they haven’t learned that appearances are what matters. Should the person in the pew start speaking up about the abuse, they would likely be kicked out as well, as that isn’t playing church nicely and might damage the church’s reputation.
A friend said that he frequently thinks about the song lyric by Todd Agnew, in which he states “Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church/The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet”. How true is that of our churches and if it is true, how can we change it?
Shouldn’t the church be a place where those who are outcasts and marginalized by society be accepted with open arms? Shouldn’t it be a place where AA/NA/SA meetings are regularly held? Where the homeless can find food and take a hot shower? Where skateboarding kids can ride in the parking lot and be offered snack and a soda? Where parents who have had their children removed due to abuse and neglect can find healthy parenting classes? Where LGBTQ couples who have been disowned by their family can find a new family in the body of Christ?
My favorite time of the year at my church is when we have the Share the Love Christmas Store, where local families with few resources can shop for their children for free. When I walk in to the church it smells of cheap beer, stale cigarettes, and body odor. It smells like church should. It smells like the people who Jesus would have ate with and associated with. It smells like Jesus.

I wish it smelled like this all year long instead of just once, around Christmas. As a church we can do better at accepting those who are marginalized and outcast, at not turning away imperfect people, not focusing on appearances, and eating with and associating with those who do not conform to “church standards”.  What ideas do you have to be more accepting and inclusive of people who have previously been excluded from the church?

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[1] I do not hold the belief that homosexual sex in a conventional, respectful, and loving relationship is sinful. See my blog Now it Gets Personal for the reason.

[2] If they believe the orientation of being gay is a sin without the person ever engaging in any behavior or dwelling on lustful thoughts, to be consistent, they would also have to believe that any orientation is a sin. For instance, a person with a biological predilection for becoming an alcoholic would be living in sin, even though they have never touched alcohol, or a person who is heterosexual has a biological response to engage in sex with people they are not married to, yet does not dwell on the thought nor engage in extramarital sex, would also be living in sin.

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2 thoughts on “It Smells Like Jesus.

  1. Jesus did break bread with sinners. The reason was because He wanted them to be saved from their sins. Mathew himself changed after meeting Jesus. All of us sin but we should not live in sin on purpose. We struggled in PNG with a ministry who would have send a struggling young mom out into the street and not even willing to help her. The ministry did not do it because we stood up for her. Now that we have left she was fired and we found out recently that the reason for firing was that she had a child out of wedlock. I don’t understand how a ministry who proclaims Christ as their Lord is not willing to e like their Lord. we are heartbroken.

    • Wow. That is horrible. If one is purporting to be pro-life (which I am sure this organization claims to be) what better way to show a person who has decided to keep their baby grace and love by making sure she keeps her job and has the support of the community. Instead they fired her! What an incredibly un-Christlike thing to do! If I remember correctly, when Jesus was confronted by a woman caught in adultery, his response was to tell the crowd that the one without sin was to throw the first stone. Plus, without asking her directly (which I am assuming they didn’t), how do they know that it was a consensual act that led to the pregnancy? What consequences are there for the male? How do they expect her to feed her children?! Wow. They really should know that we are Christians by our love, huh?

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