About a week or so ago I had the privilege to take one of several to come, walking tour of Madrid. My guide, (April Crull) took us to the Royal Palace and Cathedral. We were hoping to look inside the cathedral, but it was quite congested around the site. After looking around for some time, April comes to us and blurted out something that I found quite metaphorical. She declared, “The problem with churches in Europe is you can’t find the door to get in.” I thought to myself that may actually be the problem with churches everywhere. I’m not talking about how attractive they are or how engaging they are. What I am talking about is how the church can actually end up becoming the opposite of what it is here for.
In a recent talk, Alan Hirsch referred to a survey that he and some associates did in Australia getting soundings on peoples attitude toward faith. They asked people about their attitude toward God, Spirituality, Jesus and the Church. Without reading too much into the study (it loses a bit of umph because it was done in Australia), but I think it is indicative of the attitude of many I meet. You can probably guess the outcome: God? Ok. Spirituality? Still no problem. Jesus? Not surprisingly positive (although most are making up a Jesus in their own likeness). When asked about the church, however, it was overwhelmingly negative. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that the church in the west has a bit of a reputation problem.
In other words, it’s really hard to find how to get in (read – accessibility) because we have put some many weird things in the way. Here is a list off the top of my head: Hypocrisy, Churches only want people money, Christians are “haters,” Christian are anti__________________ (fill in the blank), church people are the religious right or the religious left…you get the picture. It is somewhat like the picture here of the massive cathedral in Segovia, Spain. There is a literal and a metaphorical gate that keeps people from the altar. I'm being serious, there is a 20 foot steel gate separating folks from the Eucharist. You say that it is gated to protect it from thievery and vandalism. Fine, but even when it is open only a small portal exists. Not what I would call inviting. I would suggest that by our posture (defensive) and our actions (“against”) WE (including me) look like the gate. We say, “Come on, the gate is open!” But the reality is, it renders a community that says one thing and portrays another.