The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Guaranteed acceptance

Recently I typed in the words "guaranteed acceptance" into an Internet search engine. As I scrolled through seven pages of results for loan companies and insurance agencies, I noticed there wasn't a single church or Christian ministry among them.

Thinking that a different search engine might yield different results, I typed "guaranteed acceptance" into the top-rated search engine. The results were exactly the same.

"Maybe churches aren't ranked very highly," I thought. I went to the 16th page of the results, then to the 25th, then to the 34th. Insurance agency after insurance agency was listed, but still not one church or Christian ministry.

On the Internet, it seems that guaranteed acceptance is about loans and insurance — not about the God who loves us. Guaranteed acceptance must be a popular search term, otherwise businesses wouldn't use it among their key phrases.

Why didn't a church appear among the results? Maybe no one expects a church to offer guaranteed acceptance. If so, that is sad.

Maybe we don't believe in guaranteed acceptance as people of God in the church. If so, that is even sadder.

Maybe no one expects guaranteed acceptance from God. If so, that is tragic.

According to a recent study by the Barna Group, one-fifth of young adults said "church is like a country club — only for insiders." One-third said churches are afraid of pluralism. It seems that young adults perceive the church to be more about "no" (or "yes, but") than acceptance.

"God loves us as we are, not as we should be," the contemplative Brennan Manning once said, "because we'll never be as we should be." According to the word, God loves us unconditionally. This no strings-attached divine love means that God provides guaranteed acceptance. No questions asked. No medical exams. No pre-approval. Only love. Guaranteed.

Does guaranteed acceptance mean guaranteed agreement? No. Agreement is a whole different matter.

Acceptance precedes everything. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor, are thirsting for acceptance, to be loved, to be valued, to be respected for who they are, not for what they do or don't do.

The best way I have found to embrace a life of acceptance is by saying "yes, and." The phrase "yes, and" comes out of the world of improvisation. Improvisers are taught to approach people and ideas with acceptance ("yes") but not necessarily agreement ("and").

Think like an improviser and approach the world with unconditional acceptance ("yes") while adding your voice to the unfolding of the story of God's love ("and").

The next time you encounter an idea or person you dislike, strive to discover what is good about the idea or person. A useful response begins with "What I like about that is ...." Look beyond what causes displeasure in you and then add truthfully what you do appreciate about the idea or person.

As a church, we need to become more like an insurance company, willing to take on the risk of sick people, guaranteeing acceptance when they come into our presence as God's people. We need to think and behave more like God who loves unconditionally.

What if the world associated guaranteed acceptance with God and the followers of Jesus more than it does insurance agencies and loan companies? If this could be so, what a wonderful day it would be. 


Keith Gatling

Keith Gatling

Posted at 3:29 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/24/2012

Perhaps the phrase guaranteed acceptance for churches is what we librarians would call a stop word; words like the, a, and an, that are so common that they don't get indexed in the first place. At least in old-style card catalogs, you'd never find a title beginning with any of those words...otherwise half the items in the catalog would begin with them...The Sound of Music, The Wind in the Willows, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and so on.

OK, granted, those items would still show the the, but at the end, as in Sound of Music, The. But the larger point is that those churches who want to be exclusive don't care anyway about stating that they're something that they're clearly not; while for those who are inclusive, talking specifically about their inclusivity is like talking about oxygen: it just doesn't occur to you to think or talk about it. Moreover, talking about how inclusive you are can seem to be blowing your own horn, or trying to distance yourself from how you may have been in the past.

It's a tricky thing. I used to teach at a private school that was agonizing over its new mission statement. Members of the Diversity Committee thought it was necessary to make a clear statement about being welcome to all, while others thought that no such statement was necessary.

I suppose it all depends on whether you're coming from the "outside," where you've found yourself excluded before, and are wary, or from the inside, knowing that you welcome everyone, so what's the big deal.

Or as one pastor I know once said, "We're supposed to be welcoming in the first place, so why should we have to mention specifically that we are?"

Tricky...very tricky.

Alice Argon

Alice Argon

Posted at 10:03 pm (U.S. Eastern) 1/24/2012

Being accepted by God and being accepted by the church are two different things.  The church is composed of people and people fail.  Thank goodness there are other ways of knowing the utterly shocking acceptance of God.

Keith Gatling

Keith Gatling

Posted at 11:07 am (U.S. Eastern) 1/25/2012

Alice, I like that! We always have to remember that no matter how hard we try, we will screw it up in one way or another.

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