Saturday, December 12, 2009

A brief defense of my church

How ironic, as I come here, that everything is beeping at me ... the laundry, the eggs, not to mention *Christmas is coming!!* Beep, beep, beep, indeed!

Since I have been the first to criticize the church's failings in addressing social ills and standing for peace and justice in the world, I will also offer some things that I think local churches excel at.

Churches are outstanding at creating a community in places where other communities have crumbled. My husband and I and my children have a social circle at church. Most of my FaceBook friends are from church. My husband has grown close to the people he is in Sunday school with. I feel a real connection with the people in my Disciple Bible class. My children love to go to youth night, and my older son participates with the praise band and a new youth praise band. If anyone in our church group has a need, that person is greeted with many offers of help ... not just prayers, but transportation, food, fellowship, and more. Of course, this help is not offered broadly throughout the community but is kept largely within the walls of the church group.

The one action that led to us becoming very attached to Floresville was switching our church membership from a San Antonio church down here. That was the single largest way that we met many people in the Floresville and Poth area.

Our local church is not as diverse as I would like, in keeping with church traditions everywhere. There is a Hispanic church that meets separately, and the lines of separation go very deep. Ironically, the Hispanic church is seeing a generation of children of its members who largely do not know Spanish, which is a great loss.

I am torn about who is the most judgmental as a group, people who attend church or people who do not. I know that church-goers are often viewed as being extremely intolerant, thanks to the evangelical movement that has pounded so hard on so-called "family values" that are a disguised way of attempting to legislate intolerance for certain groups of people. I have not personally observed this extreme of intolerance from most of the people I know at church.

We have a nice blend of liberals and conservatives. Like many churches, the United Methodist Church struggles to hang on to people of differing political views. In an attempt to alienate no one, the church no longer stands for much in the way of social action and belief. Yet it does have churches and schools, like Africa University, that represent a meaningful global outreach.

On the local level, our church does meaningful work to help the less fortunate. Our church members founded the Wilson Area Housing Authority, which helps make home improvements for the needy and distributes Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Some members are active in the Poth food pantry and other local charitable organizations. We buy gifts for 85 local children through the Angel Tree every year, to my knowledge the largest single sponsor in the community. We routinely take up special offerings as the need arises. Recently, we have sponsored two mission trips.

Other churches have done similarly important work in the community. Another church in town offered a weekly large-scale food distribution service that required a lot of dedication and sacrifice from its members, though it stopped doing so this year, and I don't know if it will restart or not. The need is even greater right now because of the poor economy, so it was a blow for this food distribution to end when it did.

Local churches offer a place where families can find a loving community of people, and a relatively safe place for children and youth to meet. I think that on balance, churches contribute to positive spiritual growth in the world, despite the numerous human failings, corruption, and opulance that plague this human institution.

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