Friday, April 08, 2005

Special Attention

What makes a church different from a country club?

We have a building we try to keep beautiful. We have membership rosters although visitors are always welcome, but usually only during open hours. There is at the very least an unspoken dress code. There are no proper membership dues, but people are encouraged to give of their own volition and ability to fund various programs. Maybe we'll do some community service or donate a fair amount to a handful of charitable organizations.

So what do we do here that country clubs don't do?

Part of it is our definition. We maintain a definition a theological definition of some sort: because we follow Jesus, because we are called by God, because we have experienced new life through the Holy Spirit, we are God's representatives on earth, we are an instrument of God's kingdom. Take your pick. Meanwhile, country clubs, the Lions, the Rotary, the VFW, the Moose Lodge, all those others, are 'just being nice.' We have a higher calling, we say. A higher commitment. A greater goal. We have Jesus.

I'm almost finished with From Beirut to Jerusalem. Mercifully I am about 125 pages from the end this 576-page book. The chapter I just finished dealt with the media spotlight on Israel. Why does Israel get so much attention? And why the Palestinians? Why not Iraq and the Kurds? Why not Lebanon and the Syrians? And why so much particular focus on those incidents where Israeli forces destroy Palestinian homes, suppress Palestinian violence through violence? Why so much attention on this situation and in particular the actions of one side? Friedman's answer: because, no matter how suppressed this might be in the psyche of its collective mind, the West expects better from a people who from their earliest and humblest beginnings claimed to be different, to be special. They are a separate case to be judged by separate criteria. And due to its historical significance in the West, the West agrees and judges accordingly...until the criticism comes.

Oh, how sometimes Israel might like to be just another country on the world's stage. But historical claims prevent that. And oh, how sometimes the church might like to be just another charitable non-profit 'nice' organization. But historical claims prevent that, too. And sometimes the church recoils much the same as Israel when special attention is paid. Closer scrutiny is applied to its actions and its people. A televangelist is caught laundering money and that's what makes the news instead of the soup kitchen. A Catholic priest is brought up on charges of molestation and that gets the front page while the homeless shelter gets two paragraphs on page C15. The wrongs, the sins, are amplified while acts of love are given little to no attention at all. We have made historical claims and presented theological definitions, and the rest of humanity is watching whether those claims and definitions are held up and when, why, and how they might be ignored or forgotten.

The church is given special attention because in a sense it demands special attention. That's as challenging as anything else.