24 May 2021  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Recently a motion was brought before the church to remove the membership of a gay man because he was, according to some, an adulterer. I voted against it, but it still passed by a strong margin. This man, who had been attending regularly, has said that he no longer feels welcome and will go to a more liberal Sunday church now. (That didn’t seem to bother the members.)

I know it’s in the Church Manual, but the notion that people whom we judge to be sinning should be pushed out of the church bothers me. Why some sins, and not others? Our head elder, who pushed this action, is one of the most arrogant, judgmental, prideful people I’ve ever met—yet no one has ever suggested he be removed from fellowship! 

How do you balance church discipline with demonstrating the love and forgiveness of Christ?

Signed, I prefer grace

Dear Grace,

The ministry of Jesus was broad and accepting. One of my favorite quotes from his ministry is, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Jesus took it as a compliment when his critics said “He eats with tax-collecters 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 to repentance” (Mark 2:17). 

Yet after Jesus was gone, when Paul was designing the organized church, he introduced the idea of purifying the church body, including some controversial passages about shunning and dissociation. I prefer to think that Paul didn’t foresee the damage that such ideas would do in churches in subsequent years.

Aunty believes people shouldn’t be pushed out of the church fellowship except where they’re a clear danger to others. She has always felt the church would be better off being a hospital for sinners, not a gathering of self-proclaimed saints. After all, people who are expelled from membership generally don’t stay around—and who can blame them?

Aunty wonders why people regarded as sexually noncompliant are pushed out, but people who rip the church apart with criticisms, who destroy pastors and their families, who disparage others and exalt their own moral and theological superiority, who keep the congregation in a state of turmoil with their disapproval and gossip, are never brought up for disfellowshipping. Astonishingly, they’re often selected as the church leaders! 

This, it seems to Aunty, is one reason so many young people are fleeing the church. 

Aunty believes there is no reason to bar anyone from seeking God in a church unless they present a safety risk to the flock, such as sexual predators. (Aunty has in fact seen a predator who apologized be accepted back into a congregation, while earnest God-seeking LGBT+ people are sent packing! It makes zero sense.) 

A church should be as welcoming and as open a place as anywhere on earth. It should be a place of emotional and physical support for those who are seeking God. It should be a place where people can lovingly disagree, and seek to understand. It should be a place where church discipline is used to protect the most vulnerable, not a way to “purify” the church body—because no group of people will ever reach purity.

I hope you don’t let this Christian brother leave your life, even though your congregation is expelling him from the church. 

Aunt Sevvy

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