What follows is an email, in its entirety, that I received today. The author has approved my sharing its content, but asks that I protect both her identity and that of her congregation. I think it is both a message of hope and realism — fair, reasonable, balanced, and deeply grateful. Here it is:
Dear Pastor Dick,
It has taken me awhile to figure out exactly what I want to say to you. I have been reading your blog and I find it a breath of fresh air in a somewhat dry and dismal desert of church rhetoric. That said, I want to politely disagree with you, or at least offer a perspective that is out of line with what you and others have said.
This is my story. Four years ago my husband ran out on me and my three children. Neither of us had been overlay faithful in our marriage, and I was scared to death. I didn’t know what to do. I was desperate. My life was a wreck and I was looking anywhere for help. I grew up in a Methodist Church, and the church on the corner was a Methodist Church with the Igniting Ministries “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” slogan displayed on every side. For me, it was an offer of grace and a beacon of hope. From the first day I entered the doors with my kids, I was accepted, loved, and included. I found a level of acceptance I have never known before except by my closest and best friends. I believe the church may have saved my life and saved my family a lot of hardship. That message of openness attracted me, and in my case, it delivered.
But that isn’t the end of the story. I am very active in leadership now, and I confess, it breaks my heart sometimes that we withhold from others the love and acceptance I personally received. They took in a divorced woman with a shady past, but they won’t accept the gay man who moved in across the street. They provide shelter to the homeless, but they refuse to help the drug addicts. They will visit the mentally challenged, but refuse to start a prison ministry. As I talk to more and more people, I realize that this isn’t exceptional, but normal. And this is the message I want to share with you. The issue of “openness” is not “are we open or are we closed,” but “where are we open, and where do we need to become more open?” I am distressed by your message that the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” campaign is hypocritical, or worse, a lie. No, we’re not perfect, but we are trying. “Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds” is not a statement of fact, but an offer of grace. My church opened to me in amazing ways and I am a new and better person because of it. We may not be open to everyone, but we are open to many who need us.
You are challenging the church to be better. I cannot tell you how inspired I feel by much of what you write. But you are sometimes too hard on the church and church leaders. Continue to challenge us, but be kind. I know that the people I work with in my church are all doing the best they can, and the best they can is pretty wonderful.
Anyway, it took me a long time to figure out how to agree and disagree with you at the same time. Your position on Igniting Ministry is both right and wrong at the same time, just like our churches are both open and not open at the same time.