5 things your church shouldn’t give up for Lent

February 28th, 2018

During this season of Lent, people of faith are considering what to give up. In years past, I have given up despair, hopelessness and the occasional chocolate donut. I have even tried taking things on, when giving something up felt self-defeating. But this year, I want to make the case for five things your church definitely should not give up for Lent.

Give up diet sodas, but don’t give up these things: your voice, your neighborhood, being the church, people and love. This week, I’ll lay out the case for not giving up your voice. As Lent unfolds, I’ll address the additional four things.

This Lent, don’t give up your voice. As United Methodists we take a vow to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. If you are uncertain about how to resist evil while not alienating folks, please read about how to take an ethical stance on tough issues by working with the Wesleyan quadrilateral. Don’t shy away from talking about volatile issues such as gun violence simply because everyone might not agree. Agreement is not required. In fact, competing ideas and conflicting messages underscore the need for your clear and courageous voice to be heard.

I know it takes courage to raise your voice. I know it takes time to figure out a faithful response. Please garner the courage and take the time to make your voice heard. It matters.

Here’s what’s at stake: If you silence your voice in the world, then you abdicate your place at the community table. No one is asking you to do that. Your community needs you — more than they know and probably more than you know. Please don’t complain that no one listens to you anymore if you aren’t in fact speaking up.

The challenge is how to articulate your vision and stake your claim without making others wrong. Note: making others wrong gets people riled up. They’ll simply want to make you wrong, in turn. That won’t get you anywhere. I don’t believe you have to make enemies of people with whom you disagree in order to take a principled stance on matters of justice.

Here are three suggestions for how to claim your voice without stomping on other people:

  1. Proclaim your vision of the Kingdom. Let it transcend the current reality and paint a new picture of what is possible. In Dr. King’s day, civil rights activists were met with water hoses, attack dogs, tear gas and swinging police batons. Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech posited a future reality in which sons of former slaves and former slave owners would be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. What’s your dream? 
  2. Frame your message with gospel values. At the same time, don’t assume that people who see things differently than you do don’t also abide by gospel values. They probably do. They simply may not think about things in the same way that you do. Respecting people with whom you disagree will elevate the dialogue. I lived in Colorado when the Family Values movement was in full swing. This was long before twitter and hashtags. It was interesting how competing bumper stickers proclaimed both “Homosexuality is not a family value” and “Hate is not a family value.” Because of the way they were worded, I’m not sure either one left room for faithful disagreement. 
  3. Leave room for disagreement. Create a space in which people can join you even if they don’t fully agree with you. It’s not necessary to have total consensus in order to work together. Some of my dearest friends and I disagree on important topics, including: appropriate human sexuality, biblical interpretation, the nature of God, the existence of heaven and hell, the veracity of climate change and the power of prayer. But we don’t allow our differences of opinion to kill the relationship. The truth is, we see eye to eye on most other things. We have left room for disagreement. It works for us. 

As you practice using your voice, you’ll develop your own list of what works and what doesn’t. The point is to start speaking up and speaking out. Keep your seat at the table. Your community is listening.

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at rebekahsimonpeter.com. She is the author of The Jew Named Jesus and Green Church.

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