I’ve always been a little worried about our open doors. When the United Methodist Church adopted the slogan “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” some twenty years ago, it captured a sentiment that many United Methodists have about themselves. Whatever else we may be, (and that’s an area of great contention), we have been the broad middle, accepting and celebrating a wide variety of peoples and viewpoints.
When the planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center in 2001, our then-new slogan had just been unfurled on a giant billboard in Times Square. In the aftermath of that attack and in the wake of the other scares of that awful fall (anthrax, the elusive sniper), the whole tenor of the country changed and the impulse was to close every door and to go into lockdown mode. Our openness stood out in prophetic contrast then and that slogan helped us adhere to our faith in the One who made himself vulnerable and who, in his crucifixion, “broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us” [Ephesians 2:14].
But there were always dangers in the slogan. One was that it might get confused as a mission statement—as if openness was our reason for being. In that case, openness might as well be emptiness because the slogan doesn’t speak to its source. Open hearts, open minds, and open doors are a byproduct of a vital faith in Christ, not an end in themselves. What we’re about is the worship of a God who is making all things new and one sign of that is that walls are coming down.
A larger danger was and is that the slogan might be taken for a description of how things are rather than as an aspiration of what we hope to live out. Fleming Rutledge goes after this in her book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ:
Congregations are claiming for human beings what is possible only for God. No congregation can include everyone. No self-identified inclusive and welcoming church can live up to this assessment of itself. Many a person who has attended a church advertising radical hospitality has come and gone from church coffee hours without being greeted by anyone…The congregation that makes a place for torchbearers with Downs syndrome might fail to embrace an unwashed, unmedicated, disruptive man off the street…Despite the good intentions of congregations that proclaim themselves as diverse, welcoming, and all-inclusive, the fact remains that no one and no group can be, in this life, all-embracing. (576-7)
If the danger were just false advertising, we might just tweak the slogan: “Mostly open hearts, minds, and doors.” Or better yet, choose another one. But Rutledge points out that the problem is ultimately theological. We are overestimating our potential to do what only God can do and has done.
It isn’t that we shouldn’t be about the work of hospitality. Lord knows we could use some freshening up in how we acknowledge and include new people, and all kinds of people, in our churches. But we could also use some real honesty and humility about our need for God in order to understand how openness happens.
John Wesley invited the same danger when he talked about Christians moving on to perfection. When you separate such language from a bedrock trust in God’s work in Jesus Christ, it sounds like Wesley is putting his faith in human efforts. But Wesley understood the ways that the we are warped by slavery to Sin and Death. He knew that human work was always done in the light of Christ’s prior work on the cross to free us, despite our lack of potential, to nevertheless follow where he leads.
All of this to say, that the slogan needs some grace. Grace that will allow us to stop using it as a weapon to needle our brothers and sisters for not living up to it. Grace to accept the freedom God gives us, not just for earnestness, but for joy and wonder. Grace to not attempt to be more than we are called to be.
For generations, we have tried to be too much as a church—social scientists, political theorists, psychologists, urban planners, non-profit charities. And all-inclusive at that. God bless our curiosity and ambition. But God forgive our forgetfulness and lack of faith in the centrality of being a Church living out of the deep well of its faith in the crucified and risen Christ. It is enough.
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