The first letter here makes me tremendously sad. But sad turns to angry easily.
It is sad when a teenager is an “outsider” because she hasn’t taken on the set of beliefs her peers have (and it’s just possible her peers haven’t done so for themselves, but have had them imposed by parents and not yet had the mental, emotional, or spiritual resources to question those beliefs). It’s sad when teenage girls exclude one particular person because she does not go to their church–as bad a reason to exclude someone as wearing the “wrong” clothes, or because their skin is a different color, or their family name is from an unfamiliar group.
And it makes me angry it’s done in the name of being “Christian.”
The answer to the letter is good–how much more of a fraud will this young lady feel if she joins a church just to be friends with others from her school. But it’s theologically thin, because Christians aren’t supposed to only be friends with other Christians. They’re supposed to be kind, helpful, loving, inclusive of everyone.
Especially those who are different.
They’re not supposed to look down on those who are different. If they are indeed followers of Jesus, they know they’re supposed to welcome and respect–love, even–those who are not just like them. They know the most religiously correct people are the ones Jesus had the least time for. They know people are attracted to following Jesus because the people who follow Jesus are supposed to be such good human beings they are irresistible as friends.
They don’t turn people away–no matter how politely–because those people don’t agree with them on spiritual matters.
They don’t say (with words or actions) “you can’t come be part of this group because you’re not a member of our church.” They say “come spend time with us, and see if you like it.” They make a space. They extend a welcome.
That doesn’t go just for teens. It goes for adults as well.
For years now, Christians have yammered about “radical hospitality”, but it seems we haven’t taught the next generation what that means. It means we welcome others, but don’t expect or demand they become like us. It means we are honest about who we are, but respect when others cannot swallow our belief system whole the way a snake swallows a rat. It means we look for the good in others, and use that to build relationships.
I worked for a year at a small Christian affiliated college, where a number of the girls shunned others whom they believed weren’t “good Christians.” While wearing their “WWJD” bracelets.
Guess what? Jesus wouldn’t do that.