If you’ve ever been offended by a Christian, Pastor Barry Smith of Sacramento’s Impact Community Church wants you to know he’s sorry.
Believing the reputation of the church has been tainted by the hatefulness of a few, he recently preached a series of messages called “Confessions of a Repentant Church: Guilt by Association.”
“We all know that God loves everybody,” he said, “but, how do you feel about homosexuals, abortionists and liberal politicians? Admittedly, many of us have that ‘Turn or burn mentality.’ ”
In one three-point sermon, he challenged people to stop judging, stop condemning and to stop the hypocrisy. He could have ended his sermon with a few handshakes from parishioners and gone to Sunday lunch.
But if he’d done that, he wouldn’t have been the man I’ve come to call pastor.
Instead, he issued a challenge to parishioners for us to visit unchurchlike places and say that we’re sorry for our behavior and the way we’ve come across.
Calling it exposure therapy, he asked us to bring gift baskets to bars, aids clinics, gay newspapers, prisons and strip clubs to say we’re sorry.
While I did see some parishioners walk out giving Barry nothing but a perfunctory handshake, I also saw a few brave souls accept the challenge — souls such as Dee Tschida. Dee took a box of candies to the office of a gay publication that routinely receives anonymous threats. She initially was met with an understandable level of distrust.
Yet, editorial director Matthew Burlingame of MGW Newspaper told me, “We were all very touched by what Dee and your church did. It reminded us not to lump everyone together under labels. ‘Christian’ doesn’t have to mean anti-gay.”
Of course, it’ll take more than a box of chocolates to put Smith and Burlingame on the same theological page. Smith will continue to urge gays to repent, and Burlingame will continue to urge the church to welcome gays. Yet, the editor remains hopeful that the gift challenged many people’s prejudices on all sides.
Smith recalls another church member who initially had turned down a construction job at one of the gay bars because of what the structure was going to be used for. It was a humbling act for her to bring teas and coffees to that same bar. They even sent thank you cards saying it was appreciated.
Not all reactions were good.
One woman approached an abortion clinic with her child in tow and was immediately rebuffed by office staff saying that children were not allowed in the clinic. “When she tried explaining that she wanted to leave something as an apology from her church,” Smith said, “she was told, ‘We don’t need that here!’ Security escorted her out.”
The security guards at a nearby strip club were no problem for Cheantelle Camaioni.
“We brought veggie trays thinking that many of the girls may be weight conscious. We brought flowers to make them feel beautiful,” she said.
From behind a bar, she remembers hearing a deep voice ask, “Can I help you?”
She explained she had brought gifts “to apologize for the way Christians have treated you.”
Camaioni saw the man’s body tense as she said the word Christian, “but he took the tray and flowers from me.”
Camaioni shook the man’s hand and wished him a nice day. Later, she reflected that “the word Christian should communicate love, acceptance and grace, because it means ‘One who follows Christ.’ Instead, it often brings dread, anxiety and fear of judgment. I am glad I am a part of a church that wants to make a difference in how people see and meet Christ through us.”
Me, too, Cheantelle. Me, too.
If you’d like to see Pastor Barry’s sermon, visit the church Web site at www.impactcommunity.com.