A Little Hope From My Friends

Not all days are our best days. But asking for help is not a weakness. It is perhaps the strongest part of maintaining a positive outlook on life.

People with criminal conviction records eventually will slip into a coma-like mental pattern where opportunities feel hopeless or disconnected from the operational world around them. Many people have spent countless days in jail, prisons, or perhaps at home with a jail-like experience with inabilities to either leave or not having the finances or knowing where the next meal, roof, or opportunity will be before them? I, too, have been in that dark place. There will always be unhelpful opportunists to exclaim “well, you put yourself in that place.” But trying to find the light with so much darkness around can be a steep path to navigate. But the one thing that kept me going was a determination to discover answers. Rather than sulking in sorrow or misery, I had to ask for help first mentally and then spiritually. For some of you, the spirituality method may be a sore subject. I completely get that because I felt abandoned by my own God. However, for the sake of keeping a compass bearing, let’s focus on the mentality part.

1.2 million individuals living with mental illness sit in jail and prison each year

Mental health is nothing to put off thinking that one can “get brave” and handle it. Asking for help for any mental health issue is a challenge because we are embedded by parents, spouses, leaders, friends, and sometimes self-help materials to not let people see the vulnerability within us. We are reminded to keep our tears secreted and masked only to show the strongest side of us. Without hesitation, I say that well-being is the worst piece of advice anyone could ever give! Naturally, our survival instinct triggers us mentally to panic and survive at nearly any cost. But that is the vulnerability we should pack away for a moment and allow others to assist in a healthy direction. That direction begins with contacting local, state, county, social services, churches, LGBT centers, NAACP groups, food banks, creditors, banks, online friends, former contacts, allies and sometimes non-traditional support methods. If it has a phone number, call it! Asking for help is the hardest part because not only do we feel shame on one level we experience shame on another level for asking for help.

Ignoring your pain, masking your weaknesses, and suppressing your emotions won’t make you any better. Remind yourself that asking for help means you’re strong enough to admit you don’t have all the answers. … It means you’re trying to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like humility, fear, and embarrassment, head-on.

People that know me will immediately say that I present resources and contact information to get things started. Yes; Others must do the work, but I can show the doorway by being a support resouce for others – as other have the ability to do so. I have rarely had feedback saying, “they couldn’t help at all?” Instead, I have witnessed successes because providing the door allows others to maintain control without feeling as much shame. But then once the austerity conditions set in the shame switches to frustration, anger, and blame assessments. This is common. But a good plan is to be aware that these feelings are normal. But they are feeling and not a factual part of your life directly. Anger happens to lots of people. So, don’t feel so all alone and isolated. Instead, bring a manta in your life to keep you going. Mine is, “don’t bring me a problem; bring me a solution.” That way, I don’t complain to others or fall into a gap of seeming to blame others. I work out my problem to find various solutions and then attempt to implement them. If I need help, I discuss the solution to determine if that part plan is realistic?

But this piece of advice may be adequate or inadequate depending on where your mental health is with you today. Try to be hopeful. Hope has allowed me to cling on perhaps the worst days of my life. But at least I can be optimistic about something in my life or the optomism in the life of others. Without question, being hopeful and positive require lots of energy. But I would argue that it takes more energy being angry at the world than it does to be happy and optimistic. Therefore, I encourage all to be positive in your day-to-day routine and try to be positive for others.

Attitude is a decision.

Lastly, for those that have an issue with spirituality. If you have a problem with God or a fixed ultra-being, then I highly recommend finding a temporary fix to your religious situation. For example, if you enjoy eating, then perhaps the refrigerator could be your temporary God? That way, the light comes on and goes off each time you open and pay respects to the refrigerator-god! (feel free to play dramatic spritual awaking background music at this moment) Sometimes there may be food, other times not. But if you require a spiritual awakening moment, place your head in the freezer portion for a few minutes – to cool down from being so overwhelmed. But develop something that gives you a spiritual goal until you are comfortable enough to maintain a relationship with whatever religion you choose. Spirituality provides not just comfort, but it provides guidelines and an ethical code to follow, which can help mental health issues. It is somewhat symbiotic but helpful to find balance in life. (and dont worry about the graven images commandment. You have a long way to go at this point!)

Perhaps the original messiah of refrigerators

If you have never experienced jail, prison, house arrest, or confinement. Congratulations! Now take that virtuous life you live being helpful to others returning others towards a good life similar to yours. Help one another and hope for the best!

One more thing. Learn to laugh again and share that laughter!

The Biggot In Us All

Many people may have a deep prejudice for anyone listed on a sex offender registry. The stigma of registrants went from a simple listing of constant identifiable threats to a list whereas anyone with an infraction of the word sex is a listable offense. That’s right! Offenses regardless of how significant or insignificant, have always been an integral and meshed part of the sex offender registry. It is no longer a listing of the habitual offender. Today the streakers, nudists, flashers, urinators, and sometimes masturbates in public settings are the midway point as the sex registry grows and expands.

There will always be heated debates as to what is a sex crime, which should be listed, and how that listing is to be used. But one thing is crystal clear; there is no easy solution as to what is the most credible threat of a sex offender these days thanks in part to the convoluted sex registry.

At some point, you or someone you may know has been convicted of something. Rather a traffic infraction or a serious crime, there has been some conviction that has been publically shared or encountered. However, thinking of that particular situation of, for instance, drunk driving, assault, or theft. Does that one black mark insist that the individual should be labeled for the rest of his/her life? Could you imagine a society where one drunk driving conviction would take away your driving privileges for the rest of your life? Better yet, what if there was a special license plate on a vehicle identifying the driver was convicted of a drunken driving encounter? How would you react or feel by that stigma? Better yet, does that conviction demonstrate a need that the punishment should continue for a lifetime? Well, welcome to how society has created the modern day sex offender registry. Of the one million US registrants, mostly all are first time convictions.

Mississippi is considering a DUi license plate. Ohio, Georgia and Minnesota issue DUI plates.


Additionally, most convictions are plea deals similar to those that receive plea deals for drunken driving or other criminal convictions. Before tossing out a narrative that drunk driving is far different than a sex offense; think again. Sex offender registries all across the nation have become a catalyst in adding arson, drug, homicide, and other crimes unrelated to sex crimes as a registerable public offense. Some states are currently in legislative processes to create a pet abuse registry. Sure, all these lists sound as if they serve a more significant cause of public safety. However, quite the opposite effect is taking place. These registries are not only the stigma of shaming efforts but are a threat towards liberty but also a threat to families all across this great nation.

When a state such as Alabama enacts a forced sterilization procedure for convicted sex offenders shouldn’t that alleviate the risk of ever offending again? Why not delist a potential offender from registry requirements if there is forced sterilization? Sounds like a reasonable trade-off? But Tennessee now wants to strip parental rights of registrants from their own families. Without sounding politically motivated, isn’t it the Republican Party and Libertarians that tout where the government should remain out of harm to families and protection of life? Don’t worry; the Democrats aren’t any better. They are the party of transparency, liberty, and human rights but are the first people demanding anyone “suspected” of a sex crime be put on a registry before they have a trial!? Isn’t sterilization or parental right terminations no different than abortion or a violation of the sanctity of family or the protection from divorce? I am sure evangelists will interject some rhetoric, but I warn any religion that “you can’t pick and choose the word of God.” Politics has no business managing families unless the family is in danger and has been assessed by a judge instead of a politician.

However, perhaps history has an eerie part in repeating itself through other means? Wasnt is the Nazi’s that created a list of Jewish people although they were not criminals? However, the Nazi’s deemed Jewish people criminals by enacting confusing and complicated policies. What about the Civil Rights movement? Didn’t policy and bigotry create many Jim Crow laws where African-Americans were quickly arrested for crimes that weren’t crimes? What about World War II and Japanese internment camps? What about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s when there was talk about an AIDS registry? LGBT rights where people were arrested for being gay/lesbian, What about the President of the United States that insisted on a Muslim registry? Do you see where this is going? We haven’t learned any lessons throughout history. We repeat history rebranding it as a clever marketing gimmick in the name of “public safety” and “maintaining higher morals.” There is no higher moral standard if the policy intends to do more harm than good.

Instead, there ought to be a point-blank suggestion pro-registry proponents are perhaps the torch bearers of bigotry. After all, it is demanding a listing of sex offenses without equal representation of other more serious criminal offenses that identify the cusp of prejudice. It is all about the generalization of sex and the disgust pretending to maintain Christian standards of becoming pro-registry citizens on the exterior, but in secret, these Christians prey on the internet to find their ill repute but when caught attempt to shame others claiming “they aren’t like the people on the registry!” It’s bigotry at its most elegant design and society dances around the registry as promoters of bigotry and its prejudicial issues. Prejudice is nothing more than hate filled with hate on top of hate. It doesn’t matter how you attempt to slice hate as a choice. It is still hating if you believe it should happen to others but not to you. If you want to fix something, then you find a solution to sustain help, with programs, and education. Instead, all we have over the past several decades is a hate list that keeps filling up; not because of sex crimes. Its because America wants to keep adding hate so that other people will hate too.

Immoral Majority: How NC Law Allows Sex Registrants to Vote; But Not Vote.

States have disenfranchised felons and now include sex offenders. The number of convicted in the US creates a concern for politicians that their vote that may be a vote against them. People are demanding reforms, but politicians fear losing power to those that have voting rights restored. But it gets more complicated as lawmakers create unnecessary hurdles to vote.

There has always been an assumption in America that voting is a right and privilege of its citizens. While the spirit of that argument may be meaningful, it’s not entirely accurate. The United States Constitution, when it was initially drafted and ratified, didn’t define who was eligible to vote. It left that decision up to states. On April 19, 1792, Kentucky was the first state to ban voting for anyone convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Soon after many states followed suit by prohibiting voting rights for those with conviction creating a term commonly known as “criminal disenfranchisement.” As the centuries passed and more Americans were becoming casualties of the prison system, the disenfranchised and advocates pushed to reform voting rights. Those affected by states refusing to allow voting of those convicted was gaining momentum in part by allowing a voice of the repressed. On June 24, 1974, The US Supreme Court ruled in the case Richardson v. Ramirez that disenfranchising convicted felons does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. On April 16, 1985, the US Supreme Court ruled that criminal disenfranchisement Is legal in the case of Hunter v. Underwood.  The courts say voting standards are the responsibility of each state as long they do not discriminate against race, sex and those that reach the age of 18 on the day of voting. The state can rid of the homeless from voting if it chooses because they have no address to report. It is just how the law sometimes works without much sympathy for how it may impact the disenfranchised. 

Today justice reforms and voting rights have been hot topics of controversy delivered with undertones of mysterious voter fraud and gerrymandering redistricting planning that suggests disenfranchisement.  Election boards are often tasked to identify and disqualify those with felony criminal records. It is up to the voter to prove their rights have been restored if the state allows such a request. But what if voting rights are restored allowing those not confined to prisons or jails to vote freely? That would surely indicate the freedom to arrive on election day to cast your vote at your assigned polling place.  Absolutely not!  In North Carolina, all you have to be is on the sex offender registry, and the act of voting could mean spending five years in prison.  Why? Nearly all of the polling locations in North Carolina are at schools or places where registrants are prohibited. The 1000-foot rule ban for registrants applies to public or private schools. Registrants are forbidden to live, work, or loiter in these invisibly marked far-reaching areas protected by unforgiving and harsh penalties. The loosely written 300-foot law was added later preventing registrants anywhere a daycare operates (private home or business) and where minors “frequently congregate.”  A minor by state law is 18 years of age. Examples of restricted locations include, but not limited to libraries, arcades, amusement parks, recreation parks, swimming pools, museums, shopping malls, and fairs. The law also suggests that restaurants, businesses, and places of worship with play spaces or care services specifically intended or scheduled for minors are off limits and subject to immediate arrest. (G.S. 14-208.18) Basically, forget trying to eat at a McDonald’s without fear of someone reporting a sighting of a sex offender sitting at a table far from the play area. Therefore, don’t stop to eat at McDonald’s, then drive to the library to pick up the newest book available on your way to vote in the next election before treking home. That registrant perhaps just added 20 years of prison time for all those offenses.

However, there is a workaround allowing registrants access to voting in person. First, a registrant with voting privileges must contact his/her County Board of Elections. Usually, there is a form to request an absentee ballot. Once the form is submitted and approved a ballot will be mailed weeks before an election. It is that moment an individual can vote in the privacy of their own home. However, that person will need two required signatures from relatives or acquaintances as proof that they are who they claim to be. If registrants have no family support or available friends,  the voter must locate and pay for a Public Notary to officially stamp and certify the ballot. Lastly, the absentee voter, once again, has to pay for postage to mail the excessively large envelope back before the voting deadline. It is safe to say registrants must pay $6 each time they vote

If you are that rare and daring registrant that chooses to vote in person on election day, then you may test your luck. There is an unusual step, according to law, that loosely allows voting registrants to appear in person. First, the registrant must call the school where the voting takes place. Second, speak with the principal of the school and disclose the full name of the registered sex offender assigned to that location to vote. Third, if the principal agrees, then they must contact the County School Board of its decision to allow and escort at all times an offender on the property. Fourth, the School Board office contacts the Sheriff for guidance. Fifth, the offender is eligible to vote with police and school staff shooing families away until the registrant casts a ballot and leaves. But this tested method in practice never really works. Voters and principals don’t coordinate well with polling stations filled by long lines and the ill-timing of when registrants can arrive to vote.  Early voting has its limitations too. Many satellite polling stations are at community colleges, public libraries, and YMCA locations. All of these places are off-limits or have a policy that forbids registrants.

People often ask, “why not just sneak in and out to vote?” One, it is unlawful and a public record that a vote took place in person. Two, deputies and police often patrol school grounds as resource officers keeping the schools safe in addition to voter security during high voter turnout. If an officer recognizes a registrant, then they are subject to immediate arrest for being on or near school property.  A person can exclaim the principle has been notified in advance, and no children are present. It doesn’t matter because registry compliance laws are all felonies. There are limited protections within the law that allowing voting rights to registrants. However, officers typically say, “tell it to a judge.” It will always be the discretion of an officer should they choose to arrest or not. Cases in North Carolina Sex Offender Arrests for compliance violations usually say somewhere in police reports “loitering around an area minors frequent.” If minors are not present, it doesn’t matter if an arrested individual is sitting in jail only to have the case dismissed. The arrest and waste of taxpayer time, resources, in addition to crafting a charge that isn’t true but indirect significantly shakes the core of “letter and spirit of the law” of those affected. The state is the body of government that decided to use schools for polling locations but perhaps deliberately did so to keep a sex offender from voting? Nearly twenty-thousand registrants are intimidated, discouraged, and effectively banishes from reasonably accessible voting, educational, public, and right to purchase property in North Carolina. 

When California introduced its version of a state sex offender registration program, its primary target was to criminalize and shame homosexuality. By the mid-’80s, the registry grew to other states targeting the worst possible repeat sex offenders. It also somewhat targeted homosexuals entangled in sexual acts with boys or consensual adult sex in public restrooms. If caught police would put into action a shaming campaign to large print media agencies and publicly mentioning them by name in community awareness meetings. Officers would describe in graph detail laced with description what transpired at the scene facilitating a sensation for others to change the story to uncontrollable measures. During that period there were no restrictions, no websites, no laws interfering with registrants. Instead, it was a carefully coordinated effort to identify and isolate a group found undesirable and highly promiscuous – as portrayed by police. Naturally, the stories police, politicians, and in the name of religion were a continual targets to purge gay life.

A couple of years later California fundamentalists and a powerful lobby group known as the Moral Majority began a campaign to insert a highly charged conservative agenda to change what were perceived by the group to be threats to society. Ronald Reagan was not elected President just yet.  The mission of the Moral Majority was to mobilize a conservative political force for judgeships, Congress, and ultimately making Reagan the 40th President of the United States. It succeeded to do just that. It’s behind the scenes mission was to influence its agenda to the presidency, media, politics, businesses, and grass-roots communities.  A part of that agenda was to mobilize others to support traditional family values, condemning homosexuality and the responsibility for the AIDS crisis, and sexual perversion.  As the AIDS epidemic became a nightly news controversy, the Moral Majority would take to the airwaves, congregations, and radio stations across America suggesting that those with HIV or AIDS be listed on a registry. Public panic directed fear of homosexuals because they may be infected with HIV. There were awful slurs uttered that being gay also meant they are pedophile tendencies and have an agenda to infect children. It’s not uncommon to hear today that gay men are attracted to boys. It is an irrational charge that not only perpetuates lies and innuendo but extends to other groups, mainly registered offenders.  The footprint of the now-defunct Moral Majority continues to linger with fundamentalist rhetoric. It continues to lay claim that “we must tighten and purge any forms of deviant sexual behaviors because there is no cure for this sickness.” As the fundamentalist’s voices become louder, so will the influence and persuasive theme that “if you say it enough, people will believe it.

Today the registry is far incredibly beyond the visions of the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994, Megan’s Law of 1996 and the Adam Walsh Act of 2006.  The registry has become a state’s rights shaming tool adding anything in any way it sees fit. The registry has evolved into this societal human data dumpster where anyone can be listed for life and unable to do anything to stop it. Three major federal acts working in concert with individual states, municipal, and town ordinance makes the registry a conundrum nearly impossible to absolve in our lifetime. Law enforcement, politicians, and fundamentalists sell and absorb it to distribute to the masses. It is when politicians create laws that restrict any form of a consistent voice is where the war on sex offender reform must begin. That discussion must include false labels, hysteria, sensationalism, lack of facts, and it’s compulsive-obsessive must-have access without any idea what to do with the information provided. At some point, the registry will become so massive that it will not only surpass jail and prison populations but will trickle into travel, insurance, health, and financial agencies as forms of approval creating black market services that will allow other criminal networks to flourish.

When North Carolina passed its comprehensive child congregation law, it made it impossible for registrants to visit his/her elected official in the state legislature. Because school groups, children, and other youth programs take place on legislative property, it disallows registrants being on the property. If representatives from NARSOL were to request a city demonstration permit to protest at the N.C. Legislative Building, it perhaps would be approved. However, all of the participants on the registry would be arrested. Merely engaging in legal, civic, and public space creates unreasonable and unconstitutional methods. If the state proceeds with plans to kick registrants off the internet, then it will add to the impossibilities to email an elected official to protest current or future legislation. The right to demonstrate, right to use libraries, pools, public parks, churches, access to voting, loitering, damaging mischaracterizations, banning registrants from use of the internet to contact his/her elected officials are “nails in the coffin.” The intent of the registry today is to uplift disenfranchisement to an insurmountable level where reforms and rehabilitation will never be allowed to have a voice. 

Assessing LGBT issues in contrast to registered sex offenders is essential. While many may disagree with similarities, the laws that once restricted and intruded upon gay life, suspicion, and rumor are strikingly similar to that of registrants. Gays were fired from jobs for suspecting to be gay. Accesses to lawmakers was always a closed door to gay advocates. Pools didn’t want gay people fearing that AIDS would infect the water. Street gangs would beat up gays on the way to polling to intimidate and frighten. Churches didn’t want gays and if they did insist, they attend conversion therapy (similar to sex offender treatment). Gays were often subject to arrests just for being gay. Thanks to the Stonewall Riots in New York, the intimidation suddenly stopped. I’m not suggesting registrants’ riot or commit acts of violence. But all of these acts didn’t require being on a registry. LGBT citizens have been erroneously mislabeled, arrested for protesting, arrested for consensual actions, wrongly accused of misconduct, and the list is nearly identical for registrants.  What the gay community did to change that was come together and unify, much like NARSOL and other organizations. It is safe to say that the message often isn’t unified or in agreement. That is completely okay.  But it is ultimately crucial that a message from all walks of life, backgrounds, genders, religious affiliation, identity, political influencers, age, race, and disabilities become a louder and amplified voice for how legislation, restrictions, and promotion of the culture of fear standard hurt families, commerce and a create a pathway towards socialism. Being told where to live, where to work, what’s off limits, no accesses to God or religion, told where and when to shop, to ask permission to attend school, standing in food bank lines to get a loaf of bread and report to the police periodically when requested. It has the smell of communism but branded as socialism.  

This very moment, registrants are the newly rebranded “Immoral Majority“. Its mission to engage with media such as radio, print, or television. Contact politicians, support businesses that hire registrants or formerly incarcerated, actively vote, and speak about how family values have been disruptive and an impact to self and others because of the registry. Be persistent, professional, to the point, thankful for the opportunity to be heard, and unafraid of constant rejection. Lastly, pray for self and others. The message to lawmakers is that “voting rights of a million registrants and growing aren’t disenfranchised anymore.”  As American citizens, there must be equal access under the law and spirit of independence without fearing our neighbor. The silence attempt by legislation is clearly an attack on democracy, freedom, and justice.  The registry is an un-American tactical product disguised as an act of safety but delivered as a Ponzi scheme. Registrants may be the swing vote to turn the next election? 

We Are Pontius Pilate

Since the first of the year, I have been going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week to rediscover how to get my body back in shape and to fit in reasonably sized clothing choices once again. I attend a wellness center filled with many people, usually mature or older, seeking to either get in shape or highlight therapy towards injuries and such. After a vigorous swim, I decided to enter the hot tub. For some reason, the hot tub at this wellness center has jokingly become the informal roundtable pool

Todays topic began with the R.Kelly grand jury indictment. I carefully listed to all the various unscholarly noise and gut assumptions. After nearly five or so minutes of listening I felt as if the conversation had become judge, jury, and executioner well before evidence or trial can present its arugment. 

What ended the conversation quickly is when an older lady looked over and asked me directly, “do you think he is guilty?”  I replied with, “I have no formal opinion on the matter because I don’t know R. Kelly nor do I live in the Chicago metro area.”  The hot tub quickly became quiet. The facial expressions snapped over to glare at me to suggest I am the onion in the soup. She then said in a careful tone, “but there are perverts like him out there harming kids.”   I said, “yes, but R. Kelly’s issues don’t affect me directly. However, what I am most concerned about our citizens that may be called to be potential jurors claiming to not know anything about R. Kelly but do and want to spread bias while affirming an oath to a judge and God then they will be fair an impartial. Now, that does affect all of us.”  Quickly the hot tub emptied. I knew that I hit a raw nerve. But instead of listening there is cult or gang-like atmosphere that people insist that we agree with fears and affirm everyone is out to get us or do harm despite the fact that it is thousands of miles away or next door.

Rather than engaging in an argument I quickly became the advocate of reason. Did I obtain any winners or sway people? Perhaps not. But what I did convey is pushback towards normative behaviors that we must agree or nod to keep the peace when in fact we are just reinforcing a bad behavior. 

I managed to get out of the hot tub and go to the locker room to change ending a workout. In the locker room I saw a few men from the pool area. As I was changing, one leaned over and said, “you know that woman is a preachers wife?”  I looked back with a smile and said, “I could tell with all those virtuous Christian values pouring out.”  Everyone in the locker room laughed with agreement. The men began suggesting I was the only person that ever stood up to disagree with her. I tried to explain that as a Christian my beliefs are to seek justice, then mercy, and forgiveness. I said, “People have a choice to either be more like Jesus or become like Pontius Pilate.”  That alone cemented that we are often quick to adjudicate before weighing evidence.  It is not my intentions to sound overly biblical or born-again. Instead it is important that people claiming to be Christians practice what they preach. 

On that note, there are many people not only entering correctional facilities today but a large number are let out and attempting to reintegrate into society. In my eyes those exiting the legal system in America have paid their price and should be treated as paying that debt to society. If our culture has no planning towards atonement and reentry into society then we have no reason to provide love, worth, or ambition in excelling as life continues by those affected or connected to incarceration or registry requirement.  It is fine to dislike the crime, but our energy shouldn’t be consumed with hating the person. Disappointment should be brief lapses over time. Instead, we live in a world today where we want to lock people up and throw away the key. Eventually that place too will become overcrowded and bursting with no room to reform and teach others because a person influenced others to think like them. It’s not gangs we should be worried about. It is the ganglike mentality that fails to separate between the street gang and the hypocrites that appear ganglike we should worry about. 

Welcome shouldn’t come with an asterisks

I recently wrote a blog about my thoughts on why church membership has declined over the years. The focus of that particular blog brought attention towards a message of “do unto others” and how we seem to have forgotten that everyone has a specific path when seeking a relationship with their God. After all, we are taught that God created all in his image. Rather than allow that particular message blend with our soul, we somehow became selective rather it be mannerisms, different behaviors, or ideologies to determine if membership and welcoming is qualifications for membership.

This brings me to today’s observation of church parishioners and leadership to particular congregations or perhaps denominations. There seems to be emphasis or expectation on how a person is welcomed into a congregation. Naturally, there are welcoming committees, interest cards to be filled and returned, and in some cases acknowledgment during a service to welcome new visitors. But are congregations and parishioners accidentally or purposely making the welcome feel somewhat unwelcoming? One Sunday I witnessed a car pulling into a visitor space reserved for new people at my local Presbyterian church. Most noticeable on the car rear windshield was an Obama decal. I watched the young couple get out of the car and greeted by a committee person standing at the doorway that could see the visitor parking spaces. The couple was met with a handshake, and the church member went back towards the door to watch for other cars that may be first-time visitors in the remaining parking spaces.

Standing in near the doorway I could overhear conversations as the area from the choir stairwell is adjoined to the area that the welcoming committee stands. What I overheard next from the welcoming committee to a fellow parishner was most disturbing. “Another Obama supporter. I doubt they will be back.” From the brief moment I was struck that membership and welcoming are how one makes and develops it. To some, this observation may be an overstretch of other congregations. But the message of how we receive any prospect of new members or welcoming others to seek whatever religious preference available has indeed become a select committee judging others by the tangibles rather than the merits.

It is as if by chance and constructive skill that some Christians view others in an unchristian like manner if they appear or support others that different than the greeter or congregation majority? A self-assessment would be if an individual at your church mentioned they went to a political speech of a high profile political speaker, despite your objections and opposition to the speaker, in general, would you view that person or member differently? If so, you are perhaps an additional reason church members will continue to decline.

Christian values and virtues should be met with peace, dignity, intercession, and supplication. It doesn’t imply that our personal compass must align with others. It merely means that we surrender at one moment when before our Lord or higher power that we may set aside the controversy and reflect our image of God as merciful and legitimately welcoming of all. Congregations shouldn’t have to become marketing and customer service oriented agents because we should be superlative in our welcoming.

If your congregation has an image of blue jeans, tee shirts, tattoos, unshaven men, or others that appear dramatically different than yourself? Consider your congregation to be lucky and privileged to retain those seeking a religious message of positivity and spirituality versus if they were never there at all. I am always reminded that the meek will inherit the earth. It doesn’t say anything about the best dressed and most successful is in the same line?

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