I recall a scene from the movie The Man in Black. Johnny Cash has just been through detox hell. He has had a "come to Jesus" crisis with the aid of June Carter and her parents. He goes to his record company and says he wants to do a concert in Folsom Prison.
Record Company Executive says, "Your fans are church folk, Johnny. Christians.
They don't want to hear you singing to a bunch of murderers and rapists...
trying to cheer them up."
Johnny Cash replies, "Well, they're not Christians, then."
Record Company Executive: "I'm fine with you doing a live record. Just not at a prison. That's my compromise."
Johnny: "January 13th, I'll be at Folsom Prison with June and the boys. You listen to the tapes. You don't like 'em... you can toss 'em."
I can't tell you how many times I have heard complaints of the same thing. Growing up in the parsonage I heard good "Christian" people's constant complaints about "those kind" not being wanted in church. Apparently many think church is a club for people just like me.
I don't like it either. Why do I want God to rejoice over one sinner rather than the ninety-nine righteous people? It seems we spend most of our time as pastors taking care of the righteous, right? Perhaps we are looking at it all wrong.
Brennan Manning has shaped a lot of my thoughts along this line...after reading his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. He is a monk/alchoholic. Yes, both. He goes sober for a while and then hits the bottle again. He speaks of his journey in the book.. Evangelicals have a hard time accepting that a man can be a Christian and an alcoholic???? Can God use a ragged ol' monk who can't stay sober? So when does one of the fold become one of the sought after lost? Will Jesus leave the fold and go and seek an ol' preacher who gives into addictions over and over? Does he ever give up? Does he ever write us off and give us over to the evil one? These parables he tells us remind us that he can't let go.
Most of us don't like having sinners invade the church because they remind us of our own sin. Shutting out people who "shack up" make us feel better when we indulge in any type of sexual sin.
Ask friends who have known me since high school and they will tell you I pointed fingers and judged all the time. I preached at people constantly. It was a serious bout with temptation in my early 20s that taught me a lesson. We are all capable of sin. When we can confess that in honesty and say we are all just trying to seek God in the best way we know how we forget to judge people.
A youth pastor intern I had once started bringing in all kinds of kids to church. One of the older ladies whispered to me as I joyfully watched a huge group of kids playing basketball in the church yard, "That kid does dope." I looked at her and said, "Praise God he's here."
Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from the Man in Black.