By Rev. Matthew Kieswetter
Relatively early on in the pandemic, a local Bible chapel lobbied the government to reopen. The news coverage didn’t interest me much, but what did catch my attention was a related conversation thread on a popular message board website.
Many of the comments dripped with vitriol, cynicism, and suspicion. They want to reopen so that they can collect money… Pay taxes, THEN talk to us about reopening… Let them reopen, get sick, and allow natural selection to weed them out.
Our liberal values (both secular and theological) often lead us to assume that we’re an appreciated, tolerated voice among other voices. This discussion thread clarified for me that not everyone holds communities of faith in high regard. What does this message board nastiness say to us as we reflect on the theme of Christian stewardship?
Firstly, we must understand that there are misconceptions about our faith and our churches. The commenters had no clue that pre-authorized donations have been possible for some time. (That’s a procedural misconception. The broader one is that all churches are scandal-ridden bastions of the values of the Religious Right.)
The message board writers also held to a very transactional view of church life. But in reality we operate differently than a country club or a marketplace. Jesus’s demonstration in the Temple, and Luther’s writings against the medieval practice of indulgences, make this clear. No, instead, we give as we are able, in a spirit of thanksgiving to our extravagantly generous God. We receive from God’s goodness, and from the various ministries of our churches, but not as reward for paying our fees. Oftentimes it is those on the periphery of the parish, or those without much to give, who are attended to most closely. The generosity of others makes this outreach possible.
There are occasional signs of hope regarding the relationship between the Church and the wider world. I recently heard comedian Marc Maron, on his podcast, mention that he had come to the realization that much of the important charitable deeds that preserve the very existence our society are done by kind-hearted religious people. Perhaps they are old fashioned and unsophisticated, he said. But they also quietly do good work that most others would rather avoid.
Not everyone is as open-minded and articulate as Maron, however. Others would like to see us make way for more Best Buys, pot shops, and condos. The pandemic has affected our routines and finances. Nevertheless, we will gather — when safe — and we will then disperse into the world, and do that often hidden work of being yeast, salt, and radiance.
In a situation of ignorance and impertinence, both in some expressions of Christianity, and in the secular (especially online) culture, we are called to support the ministries of the Church that proclaim the gospel message of love and life. Ours is a subversive, countercultural message that should not be taken for granted. It will not just ‘happen’ without us and our spiritual disciplines of offering back to God our time, talent, and treasure.
Rev. Matthew Kieswetter is a member of Huron Stewardship Committee.