Last year opened our eyes to our nation’s “areas of improvement.” And I was saddened by the lackluster response the Church had to the injustice and turmoil our world faced during 2020. I love the Church, which is why I am holding her accountable to be better and do better in the years to come. Here are three changes the Church needs to make in order to be a pivotal place of healing for the community again.
(Disclaimer: This article is not a representation of any one specific church. Every church can be better. These are general issues I’ve witnessed from the overall Church in 2020)
Stop clinging to traditions
Church traditions are modes of worship embedded in history which call us to remember our past and celebrate our story. Traditions are beautiful, but they are not mandatory. I love singing traditional Methodists hymns. I love remembering the history of John Wesley and singing songs my great grandmother sang. But most traditional hymns were written only a few hundred years ago. So we can’t treat hymns like the bedrock of worship itself. Christianity survived hundreds of years before hymns and will survive hundreds of years after them.
In 2020, the Church clung to traditions instead of celebrating the opportunity to create new ones. The Church clung to the tradition of a “building,” when, in actuality, Christianity was born out of the homes and small shacks of villagers. Instead of setting that tradition aside for a moment and taking up the tradition of serving the poor, singing in homes with our families, bringing food to the homeless or offering clothes to the naked, the Church decided to grasp at a tradition and call it a “right.” And in doing so, made herself an unproductive and unhelpful member of the community instead of the leader and healing place she is called to be.
I know that not being able to worship inside a building is sad. No, it’s down right frustrating. But our right to worship remained untouched. The First Amendment gives us the right to worship however we like, not wherever we like. The First Amendment guarantees we can worship any or no religion at all. It does not guarantee we can worship anywhere we want. The act of worship is a right, the location is not. Singing, serving others, playing music outside, volunteering, all forms of worship remained completely legal. And instead of making new traditions and working within the confines of safety, we decide to die on the hill of tradition for the sake of our comfort.
Stop making the world your standard
The most disappointing behavior I saw committed by the Church was its continual parallel to the protests and riots. Many Churches claimed that if people can gather for protests, churches should be able to gather for worship. But comparing the behavior of an emotionally distressed community who’s struggling to uphold COVID guidelines while simultaneously fighting for human rights is an unfair and ineffective parallel for the Church to compare itself to. It’s like saying, “That Syrian refugee isn’t practicing social distancing in the asylum camp, so why should the church?” There is a bigger issue at stake, and to villainize a suffering community is an unacceptable attempt to shift the world’s attention away from the marginalized voice.
Yes, protesters who were unmasked should have worn masks. Yes, protesters who gathered closely should have socially distanced. But instead of hyper-focusing on the protocol misgivings and turning the protests into the “other,” the church should have continued to abide by Covid guidelines and avoiding gatherings in an effort to come alongside the marginalized community and take the necessary precautions to protect their community instead of fighting against them with an unfair comparison of circumstances.
Stop focusing on fame
The Christian community in America is very privileged. We get to worship without persecution and we are a large percentage of the practiced religion in America. With that comes large congregations and large funding. Over the years, I’ve seen churches grow to insurmountable numbers. And that’s awesome! But with large numbers comes large responsibility. And while pride is something every Christian leader has to continually combat, I saw pride and an obsession with fame become an increasingly large issue in 2020.
I watched countless sermons by pastors who made the decision to turn their pulpit into a political campaign. They used their platform to preach political views because they knew it would get animated responses and increase viewings.
Additionally, I saw significantly more church instagram ads for experiential events and merch drops than I did for outreach initiatives. Why? Because you rarely get famous for serving at a soup kitchen. But people love a merch drop and a laser tag event. And while I will be the first in line for a graphic hoodie and a ticket to shoot lasers at my enemies, I also think the church can focus less on experiences for the audience and more on services for the community. Again, I am a huge advocate for intentional programming. The church is a place of refuge, but it’s also a place of fun and laughter. The Church should always create space for connection and experiences for their congregation. But in 2020 I believe the pendulum went out of balance. And in a time when the community couldn’t need the church more, I’d love to see an increased portion of church resources planted back into areas of need.
Savannah is the founder of The Juice, an online editorial exploring the crossroads of theology and culture. She is also a pastor at a local church in Sacramento California where she lives with her husband and 3 beautiful houseplants. Catch her on instagram @savannahraecarreno