Recently a friend posed a question as her Facebook status where she asked, “What does it mean to say your churhc has open doors?” This question got me thinking. I, like many I am sure, want to immediately answer that it means simply that church is to be welcoming of all. But I hesitate and find myself questioning that automatic response. What is the true meaning of being “open to all?”
The United Methodist Church has affirmed through media adverstisements the need for “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Now I think as good Methodists this slogan is classically as ambiguous as some of our doctrine. But let’s unpack the reality of this statement a bit. In word we proclaim the doors of our churches to be open. But practice tells us something different. Actual practice sees many churches in decline and dying. And when the congregation is asked about reaching new people they answer uniformally that “there’s no one left where we are.” Now in a country with a fairly decent population density one should find this hard to believe. The truth is, if we are truly honest, the real response is that the people we want are no longer around our churches. The powerful, the prominant, and the influential have left for other parts of town. And now we are left with those we don’t really want in our church. But this shortcoming does not lie solely on the congregation. Well-meaning and capable pastors recognize the need for powerful, prominant, and influential persons in church because we need to pay our bills and apportionments and, even more directly, our salaries. There is inherent risk in building church around a congregation of homeless and poverty stricken people. It ‘s just not practical.
So if this notion of Open Doors is a value judgment what are we saying we value? Quite simply, we value accessibility to resources. We are a production-oriented, Westernized culture that places ultimate value on the productive capabilities of a body. And is this wrong? If one is measuring value by the value system that runs our culture there is absolutely nothing wrong with this value judgment.
But does this reflect God’s system of value judgment? This becomes a much more difficult question. Scripture tells us that God values that which is least among us. One need to go no further than many of the parables, miracles, and teaching of the Gospels to find such a value judgment. But does this mean, in turn, that God does not value the rich and powerful? I would say absolutely not.
So here is the crossroads I feel the Church stands at in terms of what it means to have open doors. God values the poor. This value judgment is plain and simple. Further, and even more general, God values all human life. This includes those who may be of different race, ethnicity, background, life experience, sexual orientation, and any other measuring stick we place in front of those who dare desire to walk through the doors of our churches. Further, God values the least among us. And make no mistake, this least often applies to that which we may regard as the most. If we have all fallen short of the glory of God then how dare we, as the Church, place arbitrary value on any person?
If the worship and the life of the Church is meant to be holy ground then there is no room for value judgments to keep particular persons off such holy ground. The truth is, many of us who act as the gatekeepers are less deserving of such inclusion than those who we exclude. And yet, by the grace of God, the holy ground can be and is extended even beyond the walls of the church-sometimes in spite of the walls of the church. And we are humbled before a God who dares to remove all value judgments we hold in the name of a redeeming love and grace that says all are welcome in the holy place of worship. Thanks be to God.