The Church Needs Lent This Year...
For the Church in America, it seems the season of Lent can’t come soon enough this year.
In these last several weeks the Church has dominated the headlines for all the worst reasons. First there were yet more revelations of the extent of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and even worse, a culture of silence and cover-up reaching the highest levels of the institution.Then there came the scathing report of widespread abuse and cover-up within the Southern Baptist Convention. While this report was contained to abuse within the SBC, we know full and well no church or denomination is immune from these horrors.
And then this past week, while surely of a very different nature, the headlines were dominated by the United Methodist Church who in a Special Session of their General Conference had discussion around and eventually voted upon resolutions addressing inclusion of LGBTQ people in their churches. After days of procedural maneuvering sprinkled with impassioned testimony surrounding three different plans, a vote was held and the plan known as the “Traditional Plan” passed. This plan not only keeps the hardline language declaring “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” ineligible for church leadership and prohibits same-sex marriages within the church, but calls for greater discipline on those pastors, churches, and conferences within the church that challenge this stance.
Reflections I’ve seen suggest very few people at the meeting feel good about what took place, regardless of how they voted. Perhaps worst of all, after years of preparation and a week of meeting, questions are emerging about the legitimacy of the final vote itself, meaning very little may have been decided at untold cost. Friends within the UMC who support the full inclusion of LGBTQ people— let alone those who are LGBTQ themselves—are devastated and lost, and my heart breaks with them.
I was particularly struck by reports that the final day of the meeting, when the vote took place, was rushed. They had to move out and make room for a monster truck rally that was using the space next.
If that doesn’t put a finger on the absurdity and risk of irrelevancy of the Church in America right now, I don’t know what does.
So my God, do we need Lent. We need a season of repentance and prayer and reflection on who we are, what is truly holy, and where God is calling us to be in the world. We need to smear ashes on our foreheads and hear those words of God to Adam and Eve as they left the garden, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We need to be reminded that not only is God bigger than the church, but so is each and every person on earth—especially the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. And if the gospel we preach and practice isn’t good news for them, it’s not gospel.
We in the Church need Lent this year, maybe even more than we need Easter. We need Lent for Easter to make any sense at all. And perhaps our saving grace is that this has always been true.