Recently I sent a letter to a high church official. I received no answer, although I emailed it to an address given on the organization’s website. I received no acknowledgment from the person I addressed or an assistant.
I present it here, lightly edited, with identifiers removed.
Grace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ, who animates the world and makes all things possible.
I am writing to you with a concern as a lifelong member of the [unnamed church organization]…
A friend of mine, also of long-standing, has informed me of a letter she and others received several years ago from the [lay leader]… of her church. I have not been able to read the contents of that letter, but she has informed me of its general content.
Apparently it is [your organization’s] practice to send letters to members who do not have a record of communion and do not make a financial offering for several years. The letter informs them they should be on record for communing or sending an offering, or they will be dropped from the membership rolls.
The letter apparently was written in an insulting, bureaucratic, and corporate tone. She is not given to exaggeration, has a good mind for detail, and I believe her.
This is abhorrent on several levels. First, I have long been bemused and put off by the use of communion cards, as if the presence of the risen Lord is in some way quantifiable. The card reduces an ineffable encounter with God to mere record-keeping. You may as well give reward points for each visit to the rail.
Secondly, and more importantly, letters of this kind reinforce the idea that the body of Christ should be run on a business model. This is far removed from the concept of the church as the sum total of the faith of its members. Apparently churches are at a financial disadvantage that have too large a percentage of inactive, i.e., non-revenue-producing members.
I have seen comments to the effect that other Christian churches do the same thing. Apparently a corporate mentality exists across American religion.
I understand that churches are housed in buildings that need upkeep and must pay their clergy and staff. And I applaud the [denomination’s] many efforts on behalf of the powerless. I am proud of [its] heritage of musicality and unrestrained preaching of the word.
But by imitating corporate philosophies that regard employees/worshipers as economic units, the church is complicit in a power structure that wounds the dignity of the very people it is commanded to champion. Skeptics see this clearly and it provides one more reason for them to stay away.
I think that, if the church truly wants to draw in those members (who know injustice when they see it), it should engage at the grassroots level in critical reflection of and repentance from an essentially profit-centered model, and open itself to the economy of God, which is based on generosity rather than scarcity.
I am not an economist, or for that matter, a businessman, but I am certain that a more equitable system could be imagined through the Holy Spirit, and implemented by the laity. What a witness that would be to a world of inequality.
I am not naive. I know I am speaking in broadly idealistic terms that would meet stiff resistance on the grounds of practicality.
But Christianity itself is supremely impractical. At its head is a God who died in disgrace, preaching a gospel of losing one’s life in order to save it, rising in defiance of all expectations.
It’s time to dream of the impossible. I thank you for reading this and wish you God’s guidance in your servant position.
Sincerely, Larry Bliss, [member] since 1965.