Baffled by Church Event in a Bar
January 22, 2014

Dear Theo,

I was an active member of a UCC church for several years. It was a great experience and I miss it terribly. My biggest problem with the church was their annual fund-raiser. I was at the church the first year they started this activity and remained for another year, until I felt I could no longer support such an activity. You see, the fund raiser took place in a local gay bar. Yes, a bar! I'm lesbian and had no problem with the gay aspect of it, but had a huge problem with it being held in such an establishment. The first year we had the event, I invited people from work. Can you imagine the looks on their faces when I explained that it was being held in a bar? I kept getting the comment of "what kind of church do you go to?" It was an embarrassment and the next year, I didn't tell anyone about it and in fact didn't go myself. I really want to go back to this church, but really feel like this event is un-Christian like and sends a bad message. I've discussed this with the pastor and other church members, but it seems like I'm one of just a few that, at that time, were opposed to this event. Is this a normal practice of the UCC church to hold a benefit in this way?

Baffled By Event

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Dear Baffled,

One of the best and worst things about our denomination is that there's really no such thing as "a normal practice of the UCC church."  Thanks to our congregational heritage, each UCC congregation has the freedom to make its own decisions about what kind of ministries to offer and what sort of events to hold.  Like animals that evolve to resemble their natural habitats, most congregations over time become deeply shaped and informed by the needs and concerns of the communities in which they are embedded—meaning that what would be scandalous for a UCC church in one community might be standard, even tired, at another.  

And that's a good thing, because it means that each UCC church has the freedom and responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus however and wherever the Spirit moves us to do so, whether that means being present on a golf course, or a picket line, or a subway stop, or (thanks be to God) at a bar.

So unless there's more to this story than you've included here—like a "Tequila Shots for Jesus" theme or some similarly salacious tidbit—I can't join you in your condemnation of this event as "un-Christian" or sending a "bad message" simply because it was held in a gay bar.  What would that bad message even be?  That Christians sometimes drink alcohol?  You say your co-workers were also scandalized, but I have to wonder if their pearl-clutching had more to do with "gay" than with "bar," because I'm just not feeling the outrage here.  If you'd like another indicator of the wide variance in Christian attitudes toward alcohol, you might Google "pub theology" (and note the 4 million+ hits) to get a sense of alternative perspectives on the propriety of mixing church and alcohol.

Ultimately, Baffled, you must decide whether your discomfort with this single event in the church calendar is so great that you need to seek another church home.  Particularly if your personal history with alcohol is a complicated one, that might be the case.  But I challenge you to consider whether this bar-friendly church might in fact be the church to which God is calling you, despite your discomfort.  Do you really need to agree with every aspect of every church event in order to be part of the community? Would it be possible to be an active member of that church and simply abstain from this one fundraiser?  What would it be like for you to stay in relationship despite this difference of opinion? My prayer is that you'll find out.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,

Theo   

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