By Robb Ryerse
In a recent speech, Donald Trump was distracted by a baby crying somewhere in the crowd. As a pastor who has experienced firsthand what it’s like to have your train of thought jump the tracks because you hear a crying infant, I immediately sympathized with him.
I even appreciated how he handled the situation.
“Don’t worry about that baby; I love babies … I hear that baby crying; I like it.” Trump said. “What a baby, what a beautiful baby. Don’t worry … Don’t worry about it.”
Imagine the baby’s mother in the back of the room. She knows her child is being a distraction to people. She’s desperately trying to keep him quiet. She wants to make sure her child is comforted, and she wants to be considerate of others.
Donald Trump’s words must have been a huge relief to her. A moment of grace when she was panicking. She was welcomed. Her baby was welcomed.
And so, she did just as Trump said. She didn’t worry about it. Her baby had been called beautiful by a man who could be President. She relaxed and presumably enjoyed the speech.
But her baby kept crying.
Once again Donald Trump noticed. He stopped again. And this time, he said what he really thought.
“Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here,” he said sarcastically to roars of laughter. “I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying when I’m speaking … People don’t understand.”
No, apparently they don’t.
When someone says that something is not be worried about, the people who are worrying take comfort and stop worrying. When someone says that people are welcomed, the people who are wondering if it’s OK for them to be there relax and feel welcomed. They do really believe the words that are said to them.
That’s what makes it so tragic that Donald Trump was lying to that mother. Her crying baby wasn’t welcomed. He didn’t love it. It was something to worry about. And he mocked her for believing him.
It’s sometimes easy to point a finger at a national figure who is so blatantly caught in a lie. It’s much harder to point the finger at ourselves when we tell similar lies.
I’ve noticed that a lot of churches advertise that everyone is welcome in their communities. They say that they are a place for all. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come in their doors. “Come just as you are,” they proudly pronounce. “We love everyone.”
On some level, I’m sure they mean it. After all, most churches keep track of their attendance, and new guests help to pad the numbers. Of course they’re welcomed. More people in their services are more people who can hear the message, who can be ministered to, who can be reached.
Sure, you might “come as you are,” but like the crying baby at the Trump rally, sooner or later (and really, it ought be sooner) you better stop crying and get your life in order.
Our welcomes have limits. If you don’t clean up, shape up, quiet down, and get along, you’re no longer going to be welcome. And, if you don’t realize this, we might end up mocking you. “I think they really believed us that we love everyone. People don’t understand.”
The idea of welcoming someone is to gladly receive them. The word doesn’t have limits in its connotation. Further, the Christian value of hospitality is not one that has strings attached.
Over and over again, the example of Jesus is to welcome people no matter what.
Self-righteous religious people? Jesus welcomed them.
Adulterous women? Jesus welcomed them.
The outcast and marginalized? Jesus welcomed them.
The handicapped? Jesus welcomed them.
Poor people? Jesus welcomed them.
People from different racial, ethic, political, and theological backgrounds? Jesus welcomed them.
Crying babies? Jesus welcomed them.
In a scene that is strikingly similar to the Trump rally, Jesus was once inundated with parents who wanted their crying, squirming children to get close to him. Jesus’ disciples rebuked those parents, “You can get those babies out of here.” But Jesus was having no part of it. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” he said, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19.14).
The kingdom of heaven belongs not to the people who lead churches or develop their clever marketing schemes. The kingdom of heaven belongs not to those who make up the cool sounding slogans like “Come just as you are” and “All are welcome.”
The kingdom of heaven belongs to the seeking religious people, the adulterous women, the outcast, the marginalized, the handicapped, the poor, the different, and the crying babies.
It seems to me that when Jesus says the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these, he wasn’t putting a time limit on it. It’s a no-strings-attached promise. The welcome doesn’t get revoked if someone doesn’t make the right profession of theology or changes their personality or overcomes their sin. It just is. The kingdom of heaven belongs – and will continue to belong – to such as them.
Because we’re all crying babies in some sense. If the kingdom of heaven doesn’t belong to us, it doesn’t belong to anyone.
Churches need to be really careful that when they advertise a hospitable culture and a welcoming atmosphere that they are not actually lying.
Is a person who is transgender welcome in your church?
Is a person with serious doubts welcome in your church?
Is a person with mental illness welcome in your church?
Is a person going through a messy divorce welcome in your church?
Is a person who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual welcome in your church?
Is a person who disagrees with your pastor welcome in your church?
If not, your church is probably lying to you.
Robb is the founding pastor of Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
He is the author of "Fundamorphosis: How I Left Fundamentalism But Didn't Lose My Faith."
He blogs at robbryerse.com