I was fresh out of college, working at a restaurant, and trying to raise money for a faith-based volunteer program I wanted to participate in the next year. I was sending out the dreaded fundraising letters:
“Dear Friends and Family,
I would like to make the world a better place and boost my resume in the process. Please give me money to do so. Thanks.”
Ok, so the letter sounded a little better than that.
Anyway, I was contacted by a church in my hometown I’d attended in the past that was interested in contributing. The meeting was with the missions committee, and it just so happened that the head of the committee and a couple of members knew my parents, and they were happy to meet with me. We sat down and I began to talk about the volunteer program I hoped to join. I would be in Seattle volunteering at a community center, and living with other volunteers.
Cue record scratch.
“Living together?” the committee asked.
“Yes, there are two houses where the volunteers will live together. Anyway…”
“Are there men AND women in this program?”
“Will the men and women live in separate houses?”
“No, the houses are co-ed.”
And with that, the committee was no longer interested in hearing anything else. They proceeded to guilt trip me about the living situation. Why were the houses co-ed? Do I think that’s appropriate? And my personal favorite: “I know your parents, and I can’t imagine they would approve of something like this.”
I was 23 at the time, FYI.
And then those keywords: “The bible tells us you must avoid even the APPEARANCE of evil.”
How many times have we heard this from church leaders? Avoid the “appearance” of evil. Even if no evil is actually taking place, it is imperative that NO ONE has the faintest idea that any evil has the REMOTE POSSIBILITY of occurring.
But what does that really mean? And who interprets what constitutes evil? How often have we been told this in relation to clothing, relationships, or any kind of public behavior?
I remember back in 9th grade at the conservative Christian school I attended, we had a joint 2-day assembly with other Christian schools in the area. I don’t remember many details except it meant we got out of class, so we were all thrilled. Some young hip youth pastor was brought in to preach, and before worship each morning contemporary Christian music was blasted throughout the assembly room. After the assembly, our science teacher was overheard complaining about this, saying that such music could have a negative effect on our “Christian witness” if someone drove past the school and heard it. I remember being so perplexed by this. It was Christian music, after all, and not even pop music at that. Was someone seriously driving past our school hearing Michael W. Smith belting out “oh the ha-a-and of providence…is guiding us through choices that we make” and drawing the conclusion that debauchery is afoot?
Back to the meeting. The committee members continued to grill me about the living situation, and actually attempted to persuade me to rethink the program. I never got the chance to share with them what I’d actually be doing as a volunteer. I didn’t get to share about the diverse neighborhood I’d be living in, or the bi-monthly discipleship meetings my fellow volunteers would have with the director of the program, or the trip we would take to El Salvador to learn from and fellowship with people who had lost their homes in the aftermath of a civil war. To this day, no one on that committee has any idea about the volunteer work I did that year in Seattle, or the impact it made on my faith, or the relationships I built (and still have), or the church home that I found because of it. No, when I left that meeting, they only knew that I was possibly going to share a house with dudes, which was not in accordance to living “Christlike”.
Whenever I hear that phrase or the verse it comes from in 1 Thessalonians, my mind instinctively goes back to that meeting. A committee of well-intentioned Christians too steeped in rigid legalism to hear about one person’s plan to spend a year of service.
Coincidentally, the volunteer house I lived in turned out to be all women.