The topic of showing grace to church folk has been on my heart lately. You see, I have no problem being a critic of the church. I guess part of why I don’t is because I think of it kind of in the same vein of when I criticize things going on in the black community or within my family. As a member of the church, the black community, and my family, it’s “alright” for me to criticize, because, as someone from within, there is the presumption that my criticisms come from a place of love. When someone outside does it, at the very least we can say that we don’t know from where that person is coming from.

But, dang it, if some Christians don’t make it hard to love them.

We’ve all bumped into these modern day Pharisees, the ironic thing being that they, probably like the Pharisees of the day, don’t see themselves as being in the wrong. Let’s remember, the Pharisees were the good guys back in the day. The keepers of tradition, the religious folk steeped in knowledge; however, they seemed to miss the point of their religion. They had strayed from their mission and what they were to be about.

This sudden bout of conviction concerning my need to offer grace to them has been something of a recent epiphany (after re-reading “Messy Spirituality”). It’s like I’ve been quick to show grace to “unsaved” people or people new to or wandering in their spiritual walks; quick to be a guide or listening ear when possible to those interested in spiritual things. But when it comes to people steeped in the church life, I turn up my nose as if not wanting to catch a whiff of their Pharisaical stench.

I guess it’s been easy for me to accept and embrace “messy spirituality” in people who don’t want to be constrained by the modern evangelical definition of spirituality. However, to turn around and be judgmental towards the spirituality of modern evangelicals (as if I have it so right) smacks of something akin to hypocrisy. They are just as messy (even if they don’t realize/recognize it).

Worse, I’m often just as arrogant in my beliefs as them.

We’re quick to judge one another sometimes. We all judge. (Tell me you don’t turn on Jerry Springer with a sense of moral superiority.) So I am trying to take a step back and shake myself. I know that one reason for some of this conflict might be the fact that often we are in different places in our spiritual walks. Many of us post-modern types have had our Pharisaical day in the sun. I like to believe that we’ve grown out of it. As such, I think we ought to show patience with our “weaker brother” (though, isn’t it telling that the weaker brother never sees themself as the weak one) bending for him even as we try to teach him and bring him along.

It is weird thinking of yourself in terms of being the more mature Christian. There seems to be a whiff of arrogance to it when you say it about yourself. Unless you realize what it means to be more mature: to be more willing to humble yourself, to sacrifice your freedoms for the sake of not tripping up another, to show grace to people who might not show any to you. So whoever is the stronger brother needs to start by being more humble about their faith.

We have to be careful. Jesus was short with “some” Pharisees. We tend to equate them to our modern day religious fundamentalists, but the Pharisees could have been any of us. I’m sure that there were some Pharisees, some teachers of the day, that had things “right”. Not everyone that we see as Pharisaical would necessarily be the kind of Pharisees that Jesus would have picked on. The strict fundamentalist who doesn’t understand what he’s doing or how he’s judging … sometimes, he is honestly attempting to please God, but going about it the wrong way. The Pharisees that Christ picked on had their motives all screwed up

This should even run to how I view churches.

Churches, since they are run by messy people, can’t help but also be messy. But we cannot abandon the church. We need to accept its messiness, like we would anyone else, and continue to encourage it/them along in their spiritual journey. This would include pastors more concerned with expanding their personal empires and stature rather than expanding the kingdom. This would include well-intentioned elders who become more focused in their personal missions and agendas and lose sight of the big picture mission. This would include prominent “names” who seek to criticize rather than engage.

This would include me.

So I’m working on trying to love these people like Christ loves them, extending the grace that God has shown me. At the very least, I know is we’re called to love everyone. (Though not necessarily be best friends with them. Hey, cut me some slack: I’m still a work in progress.)