The First Church of Hackers

Someday when I’m so rich that Bill Gates hits me up for a loan, I’m going to buy a thousand acres of land. Then I’ll hire some groundskeepers to follow me as I whack a golf ball 72 times. The gardeners behind me will be charged with the task of building a golf course around my errant shots. I figure that’s the only way I will ever hit a round of par golf. With my severe slice, I reckon the course would be a perfect circle.

My stubborn slice notwithstanding, I am obsessive about golf. I can’t get enough of the sport. There’s only one thing about golf that I detest. That’s the snooty attitude that prevails at some courses.

Take, for example, my recent experience at Crosswater Country Club in Sunriver, Oregon. It’s ranked as one of the best golf courses in the world. And they’re not shy about reminding visitors of that fact.

While hacking I noticed lateral hazards that were marked by both red and yellow stakes. Having never seen markings like that, my friend Doug asked the club pro for an explanation.

The pro’s jaw dropped. Incredulously he sneered, “How long have you been playing golf?”

“About 30 years,” Doug replied.

“And you don’t know the difference between the red and yellow stakes?”

“Well, not when you have them marking the same lateral hazard.”

“Well,” the pro huffed, “what’s your handicap?”

Doug told him and asked, “Could you just answer my question?”

“A question that silly I’ll have my understudy answer.”

A kid whipped out a manual as thick as the Portland Yellow Pages and mumbled an explanation. I have forgotten his answer, but I will never forget that feeling of being shamed and excluded from “the club.” I felt like Homer Simpson on a date with Britney Spears.

Unfortunately, that elitist attitude is not confined to country clubs. Sometimes it even creeps into the church.

“I’ve been head elder for 22 years in this church, and nobody else is qualified to take over.”

“Our church caters to the culturally elite.”

“We can’t trust the youth group to plan the worship service.”

Now consider the blunt words of James, the brother of Jesus: "If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, 'Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!' and either ignore the street person or say, 'Better sit here in the back row,' haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

"Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God" (James 2:2–7, The Message).

God calls his church to include all people. Rich and poor, black and white, crabby and happy—these are the folk who make up God’s church. And until we accept all people, we’re nothing more than a country club playing church.

I rejoice to look around the North Pacific Union and see churches and Sabbath School classes being intentional about including all people. Whether you’re talking about free-market groups in Kelso or church plants in Seattle, we honor God when we throw open the church doors for everyone to join the community. So open your arms and embrace every sinner. Carve out a place in your youth group for anyone to feel safe. Simply put, make unconditional acceptance par for the course.

May 01, 2004 / Fresh Start