This past fall, Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, made news when they decided to remove plaques from the front of their church that noted famous parishioners from the past—George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
A statement by Emily Bryan, senior warden of the church, explained why: “The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.” The plaques have yet to be taken down. They will be moved this year to “an appropriately dignified and respectful location,” according to the statement.
I am not here to comment on Christ Church’s decision—social media and the news hotly debated whether this was the right decision or not. But their decision did, however, get me thinking.
What would I be willing to part with if it got in the way of someone coming to church?
I’m not talking about changing God’s Word in any way. I’m talking about what some people call adiaphora, things that God has given us freedom to decide on. Using Paul’s guidelines in Acts 15:19, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
Could traditions in our congregations be making it difficult for people to join? What is within my power to change so others have it easier to learn about God—even if it’s more uncomfortable for me?
For some, it might be simply sitting in the front of church so latecomers and visitors can sit in the back, without feeling as if they stick out. Maybe it is changing the service time to accommodate more guests. Others might decide to study their worship service to make sure it is easy to follow and participate. For some, it might mean changing preconceived notions and attitudes toward others.
At Christ Church, they believed removing plaques was vital. That’s their decision for their church to make. Your church’s decision might look different. (Actually, I know it will. There’s really only one church in all of the U.S. that had to have a conversation about its plaques for the first president and a confederate general.) Still, no matter the age or size of your congregation, looking at your church through fresh eyes and having the discussion is important.
Christ Church’s decision also made me grateful that we have a God who leaves sinful humans in his “Hall of Fame.” Hebrews chapter 11 is full of people in the Bible who lived by faith and God praised them. Still, the people he chose weren’t perfect. Noah got drunk after being in the ark a long time. Abraham pretended his wife was his sister—twice. Moses killed a man. Rahab was a prostitute.
We all have our own sin—greed, slander, drunkenness, gossip, arrogance—that should disqualify us from any honor. Except God doesn’t look at our performance (or lack thereof). He looks at Jesus’ performance and gives us the credit for it. He keeps our pictures up—in his heavenly home.
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor whose name likely will never be on a plaque in a church.