By Jackson Curreri
Ask anyone close to me my family, my friends etc. about my views of the American church and you will come to find out that I am as cynical as can be. Why so cynical? Well that is a long and complicated answer, but in short I am fed up with the politicized evangelical Christianity which has made its job not to sacrifice for others in love as Jesus did, but rather to lay judgment on others through the sword. By sword I simply mean the use of violence on those with whom we view as a threat to our righteous way of life. This includes, but is not limited to, passing laws against certain “unrighteous” groups of people, waging war against perceived enemies of our nation, and refusing to share our resources with those in need because of some perceived sin they have committed.
To be clear, I am a part of this communal sin of the church community myself. I am certainly not as giving with my money as I should. And at times, I have been made aware of my own hypocritical self-righteous attitude wherein I judge others for their tendency to judge. But my cynical distaste for American Christianity lies not in the fact that church is so filled with hate and judgment, but in its failure to recognize this hate and judgment as the wrong in any way. Instead, this kind of judgment in many circles is celebrated as a necessary means to bring Christian values back to this nation and to the world. One only need begin looking into the attitudes and practices of Christian schools, festivals, and other institutions to begin to understand what I am talking about.
But my internship experience has changed everything about how I view the future of the American church. During this internship, I worked with and for amazing Christians who have dedicated their lives to helping those who are in need. I particularly was inspired by the loving service of my fellow interns whom I am honored to have worked with for six weeks. Together we experienced so many amazing things. From serving food at Cityteam in Chester, to leading a church service at a prison, to simply spending time interacting with the local immigrant community in South Philly; this internship was a life changing experience for me.
I see now that the church is not without hope, and that there are groups all over who are dedicated to showing Christ’s love. And as I spent time learning from the leaders and volunteers of these dedicated groups, I began to get a clearer picture of how I can work to contribute to the building of God’s kingdom. I began to see just how much growing I need to do in order to be ready to use my talents for this kind of work. But at the same time I got a better picture of just what those talents are and how they can be used.
One example that comes to mind is how my experiences at My Brother’s House. My Brother’s house is a safe-haven for men who need a place to stay as they work towards permanent housing. During my time there, I worked directly with many of the men, learning their stories and helping the staff with different projects. From this experience I learned that my biggest weakness is fear of rejection. I often found myself afraid to approach certain men in the house either because they intimidated me, or because they seemed not to be interested in conversation. But as I spent time there, I noticed that in most cases my fears rang hollow. Other interns and volunteers approached these men and I watched on as they reacted with warmth and kindness. As such, I spent time during my internship working on my internship skills with MBH’s director Larry.
On the flip side, I also found areas where my skills could greatly contribute to MBH’s mission. For example, when I learned that it costs $120 to complete a G.E.D. degree, I was outraged! How are people who have no jobs going to be able afford this test? I believe that this is an area where my gifts could be put to use. What is needed is a movement to address this kind of injustice which keeps the poorest in our society from receiving the basic education they need to improve their situations. What we need is direct action on behalf of church communities and grassroots organizations to address these problems. I believe that I have a unique ability to convince others of the injustice of certain practices in our society. And I believe that I can be a part of mobilizing church communities to meet the needs of these people who have been robbed by the system.
That was just one small example of what I learned during my time as an intern with Liberti Church. But I hope it gives you a clearer picture of just how much of an impact this internship has had on my life. As for all those in the Liberti community who made this internship possible, thank you for restoring my hope in the American Church.
Jackson grew up in Perry Hall, Maryland which is near Baltimore. He played the clarinet and guitar in high school, and is currently studying Theology at Eastern University, and might double major in Sociology. He participates in several campus ministries including a homeless ministry and concert band, and is the treasurer for the Eastern Theological society. In his free time, Jackson enjoys making music with his friends and am a member of an amateur band known as the Fridge Magnetiers and the Jackson Curator. He is very excited about this opportunity to serve the Philadelphia community.