Today I read an article about a judge in Oklahoma sentenced a teenager convicted of a DUI manslaughter to 10 years of church attendance. You can read the article for more details.
Disclaimer: I didn’t do any research beyond to see how valid this is, the whole story, extenuating circumstances, etc. so be aware that I am writing with limited knowledge and making some assumptions.
It’s likely that this judge is well aware that Jesus is the answer to this teen’s problems. Jesus meets us where we’re at and it appears that this young man could use a dose of the Good News – full of love, forgiveness at hope. I don’t disagree that this teen needs Jesus and for many people church is where they find Jesus!
However I’m quite bothered by the fact that church is being used a “punishment”. When you do something wrong, you are punished. At least that’s how it worked in my house growing up (I got lots of spankings for talking during church…my parents will deny it, but it’s true!!) Is church now associated with punishment for this young man? Is forcing him into a pew going the most effective way to reach his heart, the place of his deepest need? I think of the testimonies of so many people who met Jesus in a jail cell. People meet Jesus in the pews. In the shower. In hospitals. At youth rallies. In coffee shops. In nature. The list goes on and on.
One of my favorite quotes from The Alpha Course by Nicky Gumbel is: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Is a 10 year church attendance sentence going to help? Or will it harm?
There are thousands of people out there who attended church for a very long time yet
I’m unsure if I agree or disagree and I suppose that doesn’t really matter. It seems unlikely that “required attendance at church” is the answer, but I am confident that Jesus is the answer for this teen and Jesus can reach him whether he’s in a jail cell or the back row (or perhaps he’s a front row attender – I won’t assume) pew at church.
I am grateful for the reminder that Jesus meets broken people where they’re at – both spiritually and physically and that He has given his children a role to play in the work He is doing to redeem this broken world.