“The Episcopal Church is a church where you can come in without leaving your brain at the door and then have the opportunity to love all of those who managed to come in with their ‘wrong’ ideas.” — The Rt Revd Leo Frade, Bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Florida
“We deeply love the intellectual as well as the spiritual life that is cultivated in our members (‘you don’t need to leave your mind at the door’)” – Progress Report from the Task Force for Re-Imagining the Church
Yesterday I saw these quotes pop up in two different places. As I read the report from the Task Force, I had a difficult time reading after the “mind at the door” line. I found myself thinking, “Is this what we want a reimagined Church to emphasize?”
I get what people are saying when this line is put out there – many of us come from traditions that were overly dogmatic, prescriptive, or even fundamentalist. Yet I find there to be a sad smugness to our adopting this line as a party platform.
I have chosen this Church over the Roman Church and yet I do not want my Roman Catholic family members and friends to think I chose this Church because they are all leaving their brain at the door when they go to Church.
What does this kind of message say to a single mother who goes to the local Baptist Church because they invite her and her kids to sing in the choir and to be part of the Singing Christmas Tree? What does it say to the widow who goes to the local Roman Church because it was the last place she felt real peace? What does it say to the Methodist dentist who goes there because his family has for four generations and they built the church steeple?
The Episcopal Church has enough issues with people perceiving us as a club that is not for them. Why would we perpetuate that perceived haughtiness by adding yet another perceived barrier – a lack of smarts – to coming to our churches?
As we are undertaking mission work here in Denver, one of our challenges is that there are many who can’t read English or can’t read at all. I don’t want them to ever think that this is not a place that they could call home. If the Episcopal Church wants to put up signs that say “All are Welcome” then we need to be prepared for all kinds of people to come through our doors – people who aren’t there to prove that they are smarter than other faithful people.
I wonder what exactly qualifies as checking one’s brain at the door? If one believes in The Virgin Birth, The bodily Resurrection, the Second Coming, miraculous healings, and the efficacy of relics – has one checked one’s brain? If one both rejects the death penalty and abortion – has one checked one’s brain at the door? If one believes that God, indeed, has sent angels to watch over us – has one checked his or her brain at the door?
Much of our culture already thinks that we have checked our brain at the door simply for believing at all.
I have met clergy with shocking gaps in their theological, liturgical, and organizational training. My own gaps in Scripture, contemporary theologies, and modern music are sources of real distress at times. In other words, even our seminary trained ministers have lots of learning to do – especially when I talk with Methodists about preaching, Roman Catholics about social doctrine, Baptists about Scripture, and Pentecostals about the power of the Spirit.
Comprehensiveness as a Church must mean that we are open to learning from brothers and sisters of the faith rather than dismissing them as insufficiently smart or lacking in self-awareness. It is unhelpful for us to position ourselves as the Church that isn’t full of unthinking spiritual drones when there are faithful, kind, and generous people all across Christian traditions.
I recognize that we have methodological differences in interpretation of Scripture and ecclesial differences with regard to authority – and these differences have hurt many – yet every other church out there is not some version or another of Westboro.
Frankly, we’re just not that smart – and thankfully Jesus doesn’t seem to be searching out smart people to share his message. He looked for those who were least likely to be “in” or even thought of as people let alone who might be smart. Jesus calls us to the deepest love for one another and a charity of spirit that this kind of language undermines.
I pray that we’ll be careful talking about checking brains at the door lest people just think we’ve decided to check our hearts instead.