Shades of Purple (Churches)

Politically speaking, the Bible is an equal opportunity offender.  Not only is God neither a Democrat nor a Republican, God’s wisdom and love are beyond all measure, beyond anything we can comprehend or package.

It was fun to see one of my favorite churches covered by NPR recently for finessing the tricky path to being a Purple Church.  “Purple churches” appreciate the perspectives and honor the presence of people who consider themselves “red” politically (i.e. more conservative) and people who consider themselves “blue” politically (i.e. more liberal.)

Can we – as a spiritual community – be “open and welcome to anyone who wants to come” and not be theologically wishy washy?  I think so.  But there are many shades of purple for “Purple Churches.”  I served a Purple Church for 22 years.  We talked about Jesus openly.  We talked about “hot topics” (abortion, LGBTQ rights, immigration) openly and allowed people to agree to disagree. And yet . . .

  • Some would say that we were not-so-secretly “Blue” because the church was served by a female pastor.
  • Some would say that we were not-so-secretly “Red” because  closeted LGBT members who were approached about serving as elders said that they were not ready and  the church was not ready.
  • Some would say that we were clearly “Blue” because we decided that – in fact – we would ordain LGBTQ leaders and we would also welcome same-sex couples to have their marriages blessed in our sanctuary.  (Same sex marriage was not legal at that time in Virginia.)
  • Some would say that we were clearly “Red” because we started a new church that focused on open conversation about faith in Jesus and personal testimony.
  • Some would insist (and leave the church) because we loved our LGBTQ members and didn’t exclude them from leadership.
  • Some would insist (and leave the church) because we refused to baptize a Muslim woman who asked to be baptized but couldn’t say that Jesus was her LORD and Savior.

I just finished Robert W. Lee’s book A Sin By Any Other Name in which he discusses what happened when he  challenged his white congregation to address white privilege.  (Spoiler alert: he was asked to leave the church.)  Lee was a young a pastor and perhaps did not finesse his message as a more seasoned leader might have.  But he spoke from a place of deep conviction and doesn’t Jesus ask us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world?  Doesn’t Jesus warn us about persecution for speaking up and living out our faith?

Sometimes I worry that calling ourselves a “Purple Church” is an excuse for dodging tough but essential questions.

The NPR story and this article about the same congregation stresses the importance of process.  It’s not always helpful for the preacher to preach a volatile message – even if it’s a faithful message – without preparing the congregation to hear it.  (And yet, didn’t Jesus do that?  Jesus wasn’t executed for being a middle-of-the-road preacher.)

Jesus also loved God’s people deeply – even to the point of dying for them.  I assume that Jesus would be pleased with us ensuring that all voices are heard and respected.

Note:  Jesus also was a name-caller:  “Brood of Vipers” etc.

The bottom line for me is that following Jesus is easy and not easy.  We are called simply to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Simple, right?  But who really does this and does this well?  Do our neighbors include Transgender people, undocumented immigrants, terrorists, parents who won’t vaccinate their kids?  And what does “loving” them mean?

There are shades of purple and one person’s purple is another person’s royal blue. Maybe some of our congregations are actually “lilac” and others are clearly “eggplant.”

I’m sad when people leave “our church” to go to another church, but I’m more interested in them finding a community where they can best connect with God.  Maybe our brand of purple looks red hot or baby blue to them.  It’s okay.

But it’s a gloriously holy thing when God’s people can wrestle and grapple and be a random, odd assortment of misfit toys together.  That’s church.  In the Purple Church I once served, we had Republicans and Democrats, people who had served in every US President’s administration from Ford to the second Bush, and folks from Nigeria, Vietnam, South Sudan, Korea, Cameroon, Ghana, and Turkey. And we loved each other.  And we did some amazing ministry together.

And sometimes people needed to leave and find another congregation.  That hurt.  But we have to trust that God is working in lots of different kinds of congregations in many shades of purple.

One response to “Shades of Purple (Churches)

  1. Thanks for this. The church I serve is purple, and yet we don’t stay silent about the things that cause deep injustice and pain for marginalized communities.
    We talk with each other, pray with and for each other, focus on hospitality and welcome, and remember the one who brings us together is bigger than our partisan divisions.
    I’m sure there are people who look at the congregation and assume it is all blue, but it isn’t.


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