A Parable for the American Church

Such a quaint little town.

Some even called it a “slice of Americana.”

By chance, a new family had just moved there.

It was Saturday and the O’Malleys decide to walk the family through downtown.

As they sauntered along, townsfolk would wave and say good morning.

The “hellos”, the flowers, the absence of litter…it just seemed perfect.

Jane O’Malley noticed a barber shop and mentioned that their son Jimmy needed a haircut.

Jimmy and Dad walked through the door with the announcement of a bell ringing.

The shop owner rose from a chair, “Good morning, can I help you?”

“Yes sir, we’re new in town. My son needs a haircut.”

“Well, uhmmm…” the shop owner grumbled, “we don’t serve his kind here.”

“His kind?” the Dad said.

“Yes, sir. The boy has curls. His hair is too long. I don’t want people thinking that I’ve compromised my standards by cutting the hair of a boy with hair that belongs on a girl.”



He had no response.

As he took his son by the hand and headed for the door he heard the shop keeper say, “Thanks for stopping in. You seem new in town. Stop by First Church tomorrow. After the service, we’re having a meal.”

As he slammed the door he muttered, “Not in a million years will I visit…”

Once outside, he relayed the events to his wife.

After calming him down, they agreed that the situation was a result of one lonely crotchety old man who had limited his kindness and his ability to grow his business.

They turned a corner and saw the diner which advertised pancakes, hamburgers, open face roast beef and assorted pies.

The family walked through the door and silence fell over the crowd.

An older lady walks briskly to meet them.

“Good morning, how can I help you?”

“Table for 4, please.”

“Excuse me?”

“We’d like a table for 4.”

“Sir, did you see the sign in the window as you walked in?”

The mom turns around sees the sign to her horror.

“We do not serve people of size.”

The diner owner says, “We want to protect the reputation of our business. Can’t have townspeople or tourists thinking that our food makes people…well…pudgy.”

He said, “Ma’am, are you saying we can’t eat here because I’m overweight?”

“I’m saying we have standards and principles. You might feel more welcome at an establishment that has lower standards.”

“Let’s get the hell out of here….” he says as he turns the stroller around and they begin to head out the door…

The diner owner then says, “Never seen ya before. Welcome to our town. If you haven’t made plans, stop by First Church tomorrow. We even have a meal afterward.”

Dad turns around and says, “You’re the second person to deny my family service this morning. And yet, you’re the second person to invite us to that church. Odd. My son’s hair is too long for the barber shop but not too long for your church. Me and my family can’t eat here but we can eat at your church. Would seem to me it would do you well for your businesses to be a little more like your church….”

With that, the embarrassed and shamed family pressed their way down the street.

They passed a wedding shop with a sign that said, “We don’t serve adulterers or those pregnant outside of wedlock.”

Just around the corner was a bakery with the most fantastic cakes and cookies in the window. As they were about to push the door open, Mom noticed a sign. “No mixed families please.” The O’Malleys had adopted a baby from South Africa. To her amazement, next to the “No mixed families” sign was a flyer advertising the service at First Church with the meal afterward. The baker had apparently taken the time to write a handwritten note that said, “Be there for the meal, I’ll be serving up one of my cakes!!!”

The O’Malleys were confused and angry.

Such an odd little town.

Welcome to America in 2018.

Welcome to many churches in 2018.

The gospel we preach in our churches isn’t the gospel we practice in our homes or workplaces.

The grace we’ve been shown in our own lives is the same grace we refuse to extend to others.

In the name of “principles” and “standards”, we deny people cakes, haircuts, meals or any other basic service.

The Jesus of the Bible was friends with prostitutes, the blind, lepers, people of other races, those who betrayed him, tax collectors, the outcast and those overwhelmed by shame.

He showed them grace.

The first step of grace was usually friendship.

That doesn’t mean He didn’t take their sin seriously.

He did. He died and rose again to forgive that sin.

But it means He didn’t allow what was different about others keep him from loving them.

Dear follower of Jesus in America today….

Bake the cake…

Serve the unbeliever..

Be friends with those you disagree with…

Clothe the homeless…

Feed the hungry…

Welcome the newcomer…

After all, Jesus did say we’d be known our love for one another…not by our principles.

Last time I checked, the simplest way to build the kingdom is to strike up a friendship and share the gospel…not beat someone down and hope they’ll repent.

May the grace we treasure at church be the grace we practice in our lives.

The world is watching….

Let’s be a little more like Jesus…and little less like the Pharisees.

If you see the O’Malleys today…invite them to lunch.

Jesus would.


– Brian Sanders