A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast

Episode 4: Attend Church?, Cancel Culture, & A Knock on the Church Door

March 25, 2021 Simon Doong and Lee Catoe Season 1 Episode 4
A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast
Episode 4: Attend Church?, Cancel Culture, & A Knock on the Church Door
A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast
Episode 4: Attend Church?, Cancel Culture, & A Knock on the Church Door
Mar 25, 2021 Season 1 Episode 4
Simon Doong and Lee Catoe

Questions for the Week:

  • Can you still be a Christian and not attend church, what do you think? 
  • There are many examples of creators of popular works doing or saying something that is controversial or problematic or that seems to contradict the work they created. This creates a problem for those who enjoy the works that these creators have made. Is it possible to still support or enjoy the work but not support the person who created it? 

Special Guest:
Jeff Moles, Director of Christian Education and Mission, First Presbyterian Owensboro, KY

Guest Question:
What should churches do when people come to the door asking for help?

Resource Roundup:
Lift Every Voice

Show Notes Transcript

Questions for the Week:

  • Can you still be a Christian and not attend church, what do you think? 
  • There are many examples of creators of popular works doing or saying something that is controversial or problematic or that seems to contradict the work they created. This creates a problem for those who enjoy the works that these creators have made. Is it possible to still support or enjoy the work but not support the person who created it? 

Special Guest:
Jeff Moles, Director of Christian Education and Mission, First Presbyterian Owensboro, KY

Guest Question:
What should churches do when people come to the door asking for help?

Resource Roundup:
Lift Every Voice

00:03 – Simon Doong
Hello, and welcome to a matter of faith of presby podcast, the podcast where we respond to your questions and comments on issues of faith, social justice, and church life. Don't be afraid to write in and ask your question. Because if it matters to you, it matters to us. And it just might be a matter of faith,

00:21 – Lee Catoe
Whether it be faith in God, faith and others or faith in yourself. We are brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program, and unfound, the interactive journal on Christian social justice for the Presbyterian Church, USA. I am your host, Lee Catoe.

00:39 – Simon Doong
and I'm your host Simon Doong.

00:41 – Lee Catoe
Without further ado, let's dive into today's questions.

00:46 – Simon Doong
So Lee, today, we've got some questions about being Christian and church. So the question reads, “Can you still be a Christian and not attend church?” What do you think Lee? Can you still be a Christian and not attend church?

01:03 – Lee Catoe
Yes. And with a caveat, you know, I do think that a part of our faith does speak to the need to be in community now what that looks like, I think is the thing that's up for interpretation, or is that to context. So I do feel that being a Christian, we are called to be in community, to love one another to do justice. And to do that you have to be in us in some sort of space. And right now we're in a digital space, hopefully. But I do think that in, in our faith, we are called to really be together in some way that really cultivates the workings of the Spirit. And I personally love worship, both traditionally, and not so much. And so there is something to cultivating something that really does enrich our lives spiritually, we are a church that at least on the national level really speaks to justice, and justice, work and organizing. And sometimes I do think that we could also really find new and exciting ways to really cultivate a more diverse spiritual life that isn't necessarily focused on what the quote, church, in a traditional sense looks like. And I do think that people get that spiritual nourishment from many, many different ways. And in some ways, it's not surprising that people don't attend church. And now there is a history that the church has, that is not so good. And so it shouldn't be a surprise that, that we have seen a decline in church attendance. But I do think it's not that people aren't going to church, they're just finding other means to kind of fulfill a spiritual need, that the church is not giving us. So of course, I think we can still be Christian and not attend church. But I do think there needs to be some sort of communal aspect of the faith that nourishes us spiritually.

03:18 – Simon Doong
Yeah, it's, you know, I'm glad you touched on the role that church plays for community and worship. Because yeah, church, what church provides is it provides the opportunities for, for worship, for community, for education, for inspiration, and also for, for action, you know, for doing something in your community, and in in the world and in society. And so I think that if whatever group you're participating in, if it checks all of those boxes, and does that for you, if even if it's not a church on Sunday morning, under a steeple, or you know, sorry, it was four walls around it, and stained glass windows, I think that that's valid. If that, if that works for you, then that is real. And that's what matters. Now, if it's, you know, attending something every now and again, you know, and it's, you know, on and off. I think that's also just that's part of the faith journey. There are times where sometimes we're really engaged with church and there are times where we say, you know, I'm not really feeling it this morning. But what church provides is a reason to want to go even when you're not feeling it, and hopefully coming away from it still feeling challenged, inspired, moved, all of those things. So don't be afraid if you're not going to church, that's fine. But don't be afraid to give it a try or to try out something if it's not if you know, what does if you know what doesn't work for you. That's good to know. Try to find something that does, because you might be surprised by what it what it brings to you. I think a lot about you know, college students you know, some college students are very active in ministries and on their college. He says, and I think also, a lot of times, you know, people are raised going to church, and then they go to college, and then they kind of stop going, you know, I went to church a couple times while I was in college, but I was, you know, as busy, you know, with all the activities of in life of being a college student. And now, you know, as we've talked about, on previous episodes, during pandemic, people can't physically be in a church per se, but they are still looking for ways to have that worship that community, that education, those moments of inspiration, so be on the lookout for those because you might be surprised how important and how valuable they are in terms of helping you grow your faith and challenging yourself.

05:41 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, it's, it's been really interesting. Like, just in my own journey, how I've just ebbed and flowed when it came to church, and I'm kind of in one of those low dips now. And a lot of people are surprised at that when they when they find out your ordained minister, when you have the rev in front of your name, and you're like, Well, I'm not really sure about church right now. Um, I've also had a lot of trauma that stems from church. And I also think that a lot of people need to realize that when in many times, I think one of the things that happens is that you go to church because you feel like he should as a Christian, and if you don't, then people ask like, why aren't you going to church like what, but there's so many reasons why you don't go and I do think that in many ways, the church needs to be able to take that in to, to really kind of look inward and ask those questions as to why these types of questions come up. Because there are so many reasons why people don't go. And I think the church needs to hear that, that not everybody is going to be on the same in lockstep with each other. Not everybody is going to be on the same path. Church may never be something you want to do. It may be the outreach of the church that really gets you into continuing that path and the faith. But I also know that there are a lot of a lot of creativity that is happening right now when it comes to church, and things are changing. And people are finally realizing that what was is not necessarily what should be right now. And you don't need the big cathedrals and the outlandish in some ways, structures that are not sustainable. I think people are asking so many different questions now about what it means to be church.

07:33 – Simon Doong
Yeah, I appreciate that. You raise the point about everyone has a different sort of variety of reasons for why they may not be currently attending church, and particularly with regards to you know, past harms or trauma that the that the church and faith community has probably has inflicted on people, if someone has tried going to church, and that church is not inclusive of who they are of who they identify as and perpetuates oppression, and invalidation of their identity, that's really hard for someone to overcome. And that would make anyone skeptical of faith communities in fully more and more inclusive faith communities, churches and congregations, you know, we need to be cognizant of that. And we need to remember that. So I think that this question is, it's a valid question for someone who is a Christian and currently not attending church. And then I also think that for folks who may say, “Oh, you don't attend church, but you identify as Christian?” to not ask that as a question with judgment, if that makes sense. And like you were saying, keep your mind open to a variety of reasons and circumstances that people find themselves in about where they are at with their relation to church, and in their faith journey.

08:55 – Lee Catoe
So Simon, let's go to our next question. There are many examples of creators a popular works doing or saying something that is controversial or problematic, or that seems to contradict the work they created. This creates a problem for those who enjoy the works that these creators have made. Is it possible to still support or enjoy the work but not support the person who created it? How do we navigate this question as Christians?

09:26 – Simon Doong
I think that's a really good question. And I think it really what the question is getting at is sort of this classic dilemma of trying to separate the art from the artist. And this question about, you know, I really like what this person created or this organization made, but I just, I can't I don't I don't like their business practices, or I don't like their views on something. I don't like what they've said, you know, we've seen this with authors, we've seen it with businesses and organizations and how we navigate it as people of faith is really interesting, because, you know, I think there's also a question about, you know, how does our faith call To live into this into this this space, because there's First of all, a financial question, you know, and every situation is going to be different. For example, if there's a author of a book that you really like those books, but that author has said things that you think are, you know, that you have issues with, but you bought the books years ago, before you ever knew about it, it doesn't really matter. Because you are, I mean, you already have the books and those books means something to you, it is what it is. Now, in terms of futures, future content that that person comes up with, you have a question there about whether you want to support that or not, but again, recognize that it's it really is dependent on every situation being different. Because sometimes, you know, just because you buy something doesn't necessarily mean you're only supporting that person, you know, there may be other people involved who in your process or in your choice, to not support that person, you know, you're also not supporting X number of other people who may or may not have something to do with it. And obviously, it really depends on how you how you view that that situation. I think that, you know, we've seen it in the past with the church in terms of larger questions around topics of boycott, divestment, and sanction, with regards to companies, and I think that really it just comes down to it comes down to one's conscience and sort of where you draw the line, and everyone's going to draw that line in a different place. And I think that that's, I think that that's fine. As long as we're able to have good conversation around that. And again, every situation is going to be different. If you find out that a creator of something that you really like is, for example, a convicted, you know, convicted of sexual assault, or being a pedophile, that that may resonate very differently with you, then finding out that they have political beliefs that you disagree with, everyone's going to come down in a different stance on that. But you know, it's a it's a really complicated space to try to navigate. What do you think, Lee?

11:56 – Lee Catoe
Yeah, and I think that's why we've seen the discourse we've been seeing, because it is something that is so contextual. And I also think that speaks to you know, the, what it means to be a person of faith and what we have to give up. And I think that is also something that we don't often talk about in our faith journeys a lot is that there are some things that you're going to have to give up and some things, it's going to cost you some things and it should. And I think that's what faith is about. It is about that discerning, and this question is really getting to cancel culture that we are hearing in the end, the rhetoric right now that I don't necessarily think is valid whatsoever, I do think that people aren't used to being held accountable. And so there are many people who get the push back and get books canceled, book contracts cancelled, they get their albums taken off the air, they get record labels, they're dropped, and all these kinds of things. And we've seen that recently, and a lot of music genres, that somebody will say something that is very awful, and they get dropped. And people ask the question, well, should I still listen to their music? Should I still support? And I do think in many cases, that person is still going to benefit from whatever you buy, whatever you whatever you do. So I think that is a question financially, but but I do think a deeper question could be as like, as a person of faith, we're gonna have to give up something. And it's gonna cost us to do this stuff. And it should, it should cost us to, to walk this fate to where we have to ask these hard questions is really helpful to for me, if you're a public servant, I mean, this is your job. And you're saying things that go against you. It's pretty easy to do that with a public figure who was in government, because that goes against your morality. But I do think there is a question about the art that someone may you have to have a conversation about what what are what is the inspiration for that art? Is that inspiration rooted in oppression, or rooted in, you know, abuse, or rooted in whatever it may be, that this person, you know, has, has kind of instigated? And and I also think as people of faith, we have to ask the question of, of where does grace fall into this? And not saying that grace is absent of accountability. But I do think we have to also have conversations about renewal of life, restoration and grace alongside accountability too.

14:44 – Simon Doong
Yeah, I love that last bit that you said restoration, grace, and accountability, because we do believe in opportunities for reconciliation, redemption and turning a new leaf. And I think there is a question there for people of faith about once we do some research and learning about Whatever the situation is the context of the situation, you know that that's being discussed, you know, like you said earlier canceled culture doesn't necessarily always get great results. And so there's a question there around, really what is the best way to hold this person, this organization accountable in a way that they may be able to change? And what's the best way to foster that, and some, some people, some organizations, they're not going to change. And it's, and they're very steadfast in their ways. And there's really, you just kind of have to make a choice about your decision to support them or not. But I do think that there's this question about how to invite those people and those organizations into a conversation about doing things differently, and changing their views on things we shouldn't always only be focused on, we need to make sure that we're focused on providing opportunities and avenues for change, and down the line, maybe, hopefully, people will, but we can hope.

16:01 – Lee Catoe
And I do think that we often are so reactive. And usually, when that happens, we react to a symptom of what is actually happening within an organization or within society. And for me, in some instances, I do think people need to be held accountable. And I do believe that some people do not need to be in the public eye. And I do believe that some people cannot make that decision for themselves. And they need to be told that that is something that they don't need to be doing. But I also think that in many ways, cancel canceling, or quote, that canceling somebody is often because of kind of a capitalistic agenda. You know, like if we don't get this person off of our label, if we don't drop this book deal, if we don't, you know, get this person off the air, we're going to be losing money. And we're going to we're not going to have we're not going to be able to produce and to gain financially. And so that, to me, is something that needs to be investigated to is that these decisions, are they being made on a moral stance, or they're being made on a posture that says we're going to do better, we're going to, we're going to instill things in our organizations, and actually create an environment where it is equitable. We are not going to we're going to provide trainings and counseling, and what are they going to do for the people that have been hurt? What are they going to do for future stuff that happens like this? I do think it is a bigger instance, that in many ways, when you when we say support, we're using something that is monetary to do that. And I think that's powerful. But I also wonder about the deeper question of what does it mean to be a capitalist place? And do that? And, and what is the motivation behind our actions? Because for me as a person of faith, again, I want them to be held accountable, because that is a part of my faith, too. But whereas the restorative part and what is the mentality behind the accountability to

18:25 – Simon Doong
Yeah, and I'll just add that in the modern internet age that unfollow that, that tweet that calls out that that person or that organization that is just like one of 1000s that yeah, that may make you feel good, but what does what does that actually doing? And also, make sure that in terms of motivations, don't be doing things one, just to make yourself feel better, but also, I think in the internet age, there isn't a mentality of like, Oh, this is the thing to call out right now. This is what's hot to to cancel, or this or it's very easy to just kick organizations and people when everyone's already kicking them. And I think as people of faith, we're called to be better than that. You know, we're called to do that hard work to do that research and do that thinking about, okay, yes, there's a lot. There's problematic things going on here. What is the best way to again, think about trying to make change and provide again, and to be accountable with that flexibility for grace. And I'm not always convinced that simply canceling because everyone else's canceling is always the appropriate method.

19:39 – Lee Catoe
So today's guest we are welcoming a really good friend of ours. Jeff Moles, who is the director of Christian education and mission at First Presbyterian Church, Owensboro, Kentucky, so shout out to Owensboro Kentucky. Jeff, welcome to the show. 

20:00 - Jeff Moles 
Thank you so much. 

20:01 - Lee Catoe
It's good to have you. Yes, so a fun fact, first, we were all young adult volunteers. And we will have, we will feature that program at some point, I'm sure. But if you don't know about the volunteer program, you should go look it up. It brought us all together, and probably the reason why we're doing what we're doing today. And that's how I met Jeff the first time as to that program. So just a shout out. So Jeff, your question for today is “What should churches do when people come to the door asking for help?”

20:41 – Jeff Moles
That is a wonderful question. And it is one of the most practical questions for those of us who work in churches. But my spoiler alert for you, I don't have a good answer. It's a very complicated thing. So I have experience working in a nonprofit setting, working with people who are experiencing homelessness. And then I also have experience working on church staffs and church buildings. And so I know that sometimes those worlds are kind of similar. And sometimes people will come into a church as a place where they can receive help. And I'm glad that they do, because I think that's, that should be one of the main reasons that we are here, but it is, it can be complicated when people come in, because I think we all want to do what is right, you know, it's a central part of Christianity that we are, we are called to help people who are struggling. And Jesus stands with people who are oppressed, and who are caught up in systems of poverty. And it is a central part of being a Christian, to help those and provide aid to people who, who need it. But we also know that it can be complicated when we involve actual human beings in those things. And we all want to be good stewards of the gifts that people have given to the church. And we want to make sure that the hope we give is actually helping a person and not just keeping them trapped in a cycle or something like that. So I would say that, you know, churches that are in different contexts require different solutions. And there is no one size fits all answer. So if you're a church, in a more rural area, or in a suburban neighborhood, you probably have a very different experience than a church that is located in an urban area might have. And so some churches may have somebody who stops by once a month, or once every few months, like the church that I'm serving in right now does. Or you might have several people a day, like other churches I've been part of. So I think the number one thing to remember, when somebody comes asking for food, or help, financial help, or some kind of material assistance is to treat that person with respect, that person is a fellow child of God. And as the church, we are called to see them as our neighbor and see them as a member of our family see them as someone who was created in God's image, pretty much deserving of of respect, I think a lot of times, we instantly go to a place of suspicion, or seeing them as a security threat or something like that. And I think, as Christians, we have to have to approach people with that attitude of respect. I think we also have to be very honest with people. Sometimes we want to solve a purse every problem that a person might have, or we want to, you know, maybe do more than we should. And we have to acknowledge to people that we don't have all of the answers that we might not be able to provide everything that they want or everything that they need. So it's important for us to be open and honest. But we can always listen, we can always give people the gift of time and invite them in and offer them an experience of hospitality. Some churches I've been part of have sort of a very formal system in place for how you handle these things. They might have a stash of grocery store, gift cards, or gas cards, things like that. And it's always nice to have kind of something consistent, you can offer people who might need help gift cards to a fast food restaurant that is available customers, people like McDonald's or subway or somewhere like that is often a good thing to be able to offer. Because sometimes, maybe not when we're having a pandemic, but oftentimes those are not only places to eat, but places where you can be inside for just a little bit and enjoy a little bit of normalcy. It's always good to have maybe some snacks on hand, have coffee ready. But you know, a place where people can kind of sit and be comfortable and have a conversation and kind of understand what issues they might be facing and how the church might be able to help some churches have specific point people who will work with folks who come in, I think that's a good job for deacons for members of mission committee. I don't think that it always has to be a pastor who is talking to people but sometimes it is Good to have a person whether it's sort of a consistent presence and a consistent response that people have, sometimes there will be a hospitality point person on a Sunday morning or other high traffic days of the week who can talk with people about what they need, what the church might be able to do to assist. Another option that a lot of churches will go with is supporting a nonprofit organization, some outside agency that helps people. Now this can be good, and it can be bad. I think it can be bad when churches just send off a check to that organization and expect that organization to take care of people so they don't have to. I think it can be bad when churches are disengaged and don't really know what's going on. And people end up just being shuffled around. So some best practices for working with nonprofit organizations might be to get to know these agencies that you're sending people to learn about what they do. Maybe get involved there, encourage your members to, to volunteer to get to know the people that are being served. And it's always a good thing to get to know the staff who work there, the staff and volunteers so that you can not just send a person to their to receive a service. But you can have a friendly handoff and make a phone call and saying, Oh, I'm sending this person over because they have a question about this is that something you can help with because so often people in need just get shuffled from one place to another and never really have their needs met? I think church staffs should be trained in what other organizations do and what places are available for people to receive meals, where people can go for different resources. So it might be good to take some field trips as the church staff were helping goes on. And then my last point would be that churches need to keep an eye on the big picture issues of poverty and need, although they are very personal issues for the people who are experiencing them. They are also related to issues of justice. And churches need to keep an eye on what they can do to help build a world where people's full humanity is affirmed and where people don't have to be hungry and don't have to come to the door in need. And we need to offer one another grace, we need to offer a person who is willing to come and be courageous and vulnerable in asking for help offer them a little bit of grace. And we also need to offer ourselves grace in knowing that we were just muddling through life together. And we don't always have the answers. But at least we can offer one another relationship, and time and listening and what resources would you have?

27:29 – Simon Doong
Thank you, Jeff, for that wonderful and insightful response about how we, as Christians, and people of faith can live into our calling. When people come to our doors asking for help. We're really grateful for your insight. And we hope that everyone took something away from your response about something practical that they can do to be ready when people come to our doors. So thanks so much, Jeff. 

Jeff Moles – 27:57
Thank you for having me.

27:57 – Lee Catoe
Thanks, Jeff. It's good to see your face.

28:03 – Simon Doong
And so for our resource roundup section where we spotlight a relevant pcusa resource or program or office, Lee is going to talk to us about a really helpful reports. That is about democracy, voting rights and electoral reform. So Lee, take it away.

28:24 – Lee Catoe
So this week, we are going to highlight a resource and it's actually a policy of the Presbyterian Church USA that some people may know up, some people may not. And it's called lift every voice and lift every voice is a written policy that you can look up, you'll find the link, we'll post it in the show notes that speaks about what it is as people of faith how we are to live out our our callings as Christians when it comes to the political discourse of how are we to engage in our democracy. How are we to engage in voting rights? How are we to engage in election reform, which is very relevant because right now we are seeing a lot of legislation and bills out there that are really trying to instigate voter suppression that are really trying to instill how do we take the vote away using a variety of means and this policy actually has an update about that specific topic. It's countering voter suppression. That is a part of the update of this, this resource. And the reason why this this resource is so important is because many people in the church may not know where to start when you're asked the question or when you're or when you're talking about or having a conversation about whether people of faith shouldn't be involved in the political discourse, or people of faith Shouldn't they should not be mixing in politics with what they're preaching or what we're doing as a congregation. And for Presbyterians, that is something that within our tradition, we've always kind of been involved in politics. But what in this specific policy, it really does tell about the history, it tells about what it means to be a person of faith and also be an advocate in the political sphere, and especially really lifts up voting rights and how we should be on the forefront of fighting for people's right to vote and fighting against voter suppression. So I think it really is a good resource to back up a lot of the the current things that are happening right now and how the church should be speaking out against those things. It's a great resource for church leaders for lay leaders, to really have a grounding for it. And lift every voice is a resource published by the Advisory Committee on social witness policy, which if you don't know much about that committee, it is a committee composed of members of the Presbyterian Church elders, ruling elders and teaching elders that, that come together and talk about what we should be speaking to when it comes to the social issues within our within our world and how the church should respond to those things. And it's also was published in partnership with racial equity advocacy Committee, which is a committee that is really focused on how do we bring equity to our churches and in the social discourse, and each member of this committee are elected and directed by the pcusa General Assembly. And the General Assembly is our big national gathering where people from all over the denomination are sent by their presbyteries to calm and to make decisions about the national church and, and each member of this committee is elected and directed by that group of people sent to the national gathering that we call the General Assembly. So we are hoping you go out there and download the policy. If you are a person in the church, it is a great resource to kind of start a study with your congregations. If you are a youth leader, even if you are a young adult leader, this is a great way to have conversations about voting and about politics within your church that can get you started if if your congregation is really interested in what it means to be politically engaged in the country. So I highly recommend going and looking at that so you can be able to download it on the link in our show notes. And we hope you utilize it because it is a great resource.

33:18 – Simon Doong & Lee Catoe
This has been the matter of faith podcast brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unbound. If you would like to submit a question for discussion, you can do so at faith [email protected] We look forward to hearing from you. See you next time. See you next time, y'all.

33:54 – Simon Doong
Thanks, everyone for listening to Episode Four as a matter of faith presby podcast. Don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

34:03 – Lee Catoe
And don't forget to leave us a review. It really does help get the podcast out there. And it continues to let us bring more of this to you our audience. So until next week, we will talk to you then.