Following is a letter from Bishop Benfield, reposted from the Facebook page of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, (June 21, 2017).
Last week at Senior High Camp we had a round of “Stump the Bishop,” the chance for campers to ask the bishop whatever they wish. One of the many good questions was, “If God loves us no matter what, then why do we need to go to church?”
My response was that being in church — and consistently hearing its message — makes it more likely that we begin to see the people around us as members of the body of Christ. That insight will change our relationships. By the end of our lives we will be treating everyone as our equal. And then, if nothing else, we have the prospect of dying in peace.
It is an important gift that Christianity gives to the world: see the risen Christ in others so that they become our equals as we love them as we love ourselves. It brings peace. It is a message that the world needs now more than it has in ages. For example, all the recent attacks on others, be it in London or Paris or here in our own nation, are symptoms of people who are not hearing the gospel proclamation, but are choosing hatred instead.
Affiliation with a church and attendance at its liturgies has traditionally been a way that people have found connection and meaning in their lives. Unfortunately, church attendance has been dropping, but people still seek connection. Apparently, now this connection comes through “tribalism,” a bonding with people of like mind that pits “us” against “them,” winner takes all. We see it in politics, in religious extremism (which, I can confidently say, is not based on being guided by religious ethics), and in the very greed that pits rich against poor.
We Christians cannot fall into the trap of tribalism. We need to be in church precisely so that we can be with others unlike ourselves and thus grow beyond simply looking out for our own kind. And we need to keep our doors open so that all those people who need to find connection in their lives have a healthy place in which to experience it. If there is an antidote to the terror of this age, it may start as we proclaim that our doors are open and all tribes and peoples are welcome (to quote from the Bible). And then to act that way in our lives each day.