The Doors Of The Church Are Open – But For Whom? By Michael J. Forbes

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When the doors open up to your faith but close on your identity

The doors of the church are open so they say, but are they really? Open to whom and what? Open to only what you want to see and what is given, or are the doors wide open to all and anyone no matter whom and what they are? I think about the church, particularly the ‘black church’, as I can only speak from a place of personal connection based on my own experiences amongst others, which is rooted within our community, the black community. “Come as you are” we’re told, but that only puts you up against a list of projected judgment, endless questions out of curiosity, side-eyes from the pews, calls for alter prayers of deliverance and after sermon chit-chatter.

“Come as you are” we’re told, all is welcome, but am I really? Is that other brother or sister really welcomed as they are? These are the type of questions that run an endless marathon through my mind time and time again. I think about Sunday service, being greeted by the ushers at the door entering the sanctuary, our smiles meet; I’m given a service program and ushered to the nearest pew to be prepared to receive the word with an open mind and open heart, as I am. It then turns out that the word that I thought I was prepared to receive was a word that made me ask, why am I here? As I sit there listening to the word be delivered I think about Gods grace and love. I didn’t think the love for me or anyone else for that matter was a love based on particular conditions; I thought it was a love that was unconditional, as I am.  I thought about how I was anticipating the word to feed my soul and nourish my spirit while bringing me closer to God. However, the word I received was delivered in a way that made me feel as though my presence and existence was worthless and that God’s grace and love was distant from me, because of who I am.

Church, a place we congregate with others and fellowship, as we are, but is that really the case? When it comes to the church, particularly the black church, and identity no matter how one may label or identify themselves; coming as you are comes with its own set of challenges when it falls outside of the heteronormative ideology. So you sit in service shielding, masking, hiding, repressing, questioning, and pretending to avoid being further subjugated and condemned. But what happened to “come as you are” and the doors of the church being open? Coming as you are is just that, as you are; and the doors being open should open up to a space that is inclusive to all.

Many fail to acknowledge the trauma and harm the church can have on a person who is trying to find their space to exist within their identity, while in the same breath, being demonized in place of faith for being who they are. This further pushes those away who are simply looking for an outlet to connect, worship, and fellowship. From this, I realize the role of the black church can be much more impactful, and less of a hindrance to black radical progress if God’s word delivered was less anti and more pro, less in a tone of dissection and more in a tone of inclusion. “Come as you are” we’re told, the doors of the church are open, but for whom? Maybe one day it will be for me, for him, for her, for them, for us; one day. When it’s all said, and done, I have distanced myself from the black church amongst others for this very reason. However, I remind myself that my faith remains strong and undeniable, my relationship with God remains personal, and the love God has for me and over me remains unconditional even if the church finds my identity questionable.

  • Shenika Lewis

    Response to As I See it: I love the fact that you were able to express your concerns as you see it. To me it is a wake up call. As woman and men of Christ, we should never make someone feel out of place. I will be sure to watch my actions and those of our congregation. You should never go to church and wish that you have stayed home. I apologize for anyone who have ever made you feel this way.