I don't think I have ever been frightened about going to church. Oh maybe there was that time when I was a bit anxious because I was the visiting preacher at a church that had a horrible reputation one morning. There is the normal Sunday morning anxiety that I feel every Sunday morning (yes even after being ordained for almost twenty-nine years. I still feel anxious each Sunday morning). There is that questioning I have about mundane things- will the technology work this morning, will the heaters or fans work, etc? Sometimes I wonder when I choose a new hymn- how will it be received? Sometimes I feel called to preach on a topic where I know a member of the congregation has a strongly held opinions that run contrary to my understanding of the gospel. How do I preach to the text in a way that challenges my congregant's way of thinking, but does not condemn them. Sometimes there have been disagreements amongst members of the congregation. How do I minister to both parties without being triangulated? These situations cause me unease, but for the most part, going to a worship is an easy experience for me. I go to worship confident that in a few hours, I will come safely home.
Unfortunately, for a few worshippers this year, worship has not been a safe event. Last year, worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue were killed by a gunman. We watched in horror as 50 believers at two mosques in Christchurch were shot in March. Then we saw the retaliatory attack in Colombo where muslim terrorists killed many because of the New Zealand attack. Then last week another shooting attack happened at a synagogue in San Diego county. Worshippers have been targets of extremists in so many other places: North Carolina, Texas, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nigeria, and so many other problems. Going to worship for some has become a risky activity
I really don't think any worship service of any religion should be one of complete comfort. The Chicago based humorist Finley Peter Dunne said the role of a newspaper was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Religion at its best must do the same. All religions, in one way or another, challenge the status quo. They call us to look at the world with new eyes, live our lives differently because of our faith, and to be changed because of our beliefs. Religion done well is not like pablum for toddlers. It should cause us to question, to wonder, to think again.
I also believe that the job of all religious worship is to comfort the afflicted. In all religion, prayers are said for those who are ill and people ask that they be healed. In all religions, offerings are taken to alleviate the suffering of others. In all religions, care for each other is the prime motivational factor.
Also sadly there have been abuses of power in all religions. The royal commission on sexual abuse shows that all faith groups have members and staff who have abused the weakest members of society. All faith groups have sometimes spent money unwisely on buildings while the poor have suffered. All faith groups are not perfect.
Religion is not perfect. It's followers are not perfect. However, like the vast majority of Christians, I found it abhorrent that the Christchurch shooter claimed to have carried out the massacre because he was protecting Christianity from attack. His acts were not Christian. His ideas were a befuddlement of any biblical beliefs. His hatred and the mass murders are not part of the Christianity I know. In the same way, I'm sure, all but a handful of muslims were horrified by the events in Sri Lanka. People of true faith attempt to bring comfort to others. Only those who pervert the teachings of faith seek to kill others. Religion is far from perfect, but religion cannot be blamed for these atrocities in the world. It is not Christianity's fault, Islam's fault, or Hinduism's fault. The twisting of ideologies to spread hatred and racism is the real evil that the world faces. Peace will remain elusive as long as as the confounders of truth have an audience. Blessings.
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