Gold Stars in Church

Earlier this week, I listened to two people discuss this Sunday's gospel reading. I have to be frank with you, I came home disgruntled. Somehow, they missed entirely Jesus saying that he came for the poor, the blind, the oppressed. Instead, they thought about how proud everyone must have been that the local boy turned out so well, and isn't it great that Jesus is our Messiah?
I was disproportionately irritated. "Were they listening?!" I asked Mr. M. "What does it even mean to them, that Jesus is the Messiah, if they're not concerned with what He came to do?"

So I spent a good day and a half rolling my eyes and feeling frustrated (both mature and Christian behavior on my part, obviously), and then I remembered that feeling resistance to something is a good reason to pray. So I did.

And I realized, "Jesus is the Messiah!" is a great Sunday School answer. When the Gospels reference Hebrew prophesy, we're trained to recognize that as shorthand for, "Jesus is the Messiah! Jesus is the one we were waiting for!" That answer gets you the gold star. But we don't ask, "Why were we waiting? What did we need? What do we need now? How is He saving us each day?"

Most of us want the gold star. For most people (I'm going to make a generalization here, and maybe someone can tell me if I'm in the right ballpark), especially people who have been in the church for several decades, it is not OK to give a different, possibly wrong, answer about God. It is often not OK to ask real questions in church. Uncertainty is scary for all of us, but uncertainty coupled with the threat of punishment (from authority figures, or from God's own self), is understandably too much to risk.

And so, I hope in ministry that we can get rid of some of those gold stars. I'm worried that they're serving double-duty as shackles.


  1. Gabriele1:47 PM

    How glad I am to see this post. I've been talking to the Rector of my sons Jesuit school this morning. I wanted to know why my son who went through the motions of Religious Ed classes was rewarded while my youngest son who wants to know, to ask questions and explore what it means to be Christian is punished for "wrong" answers.

    He seemed surprised but has agreed to consider my point of view. I wish I had put it as eloquently as you.

  2. The older I get, the more understanding of others and their choices I become. In the last half of my life, it's easier to see how a person's life story informs his or her actions. However, I am becoming firmer in my opposition to religious strong-arming which I think leads to the whole "gold star/pie in the sky" faith. I plan to call it out every time I see it but I am working on how best to stay firm without being overbearing. I admire Gabriele for stating her concerns to the rector and for the rector being big enough to think about what she had said. Gabriele, you might not have said something "elequoently" but you sure did act elegantly.

  3. Eeks, big typo..."eloquently". I neither type eloquently nor elegantly. Sigh.


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins