Luke Aylen  and Bethany Abbott’s winning shot in our photography competition, ‘Capturing Rejection’.

“Just as I am – without one plea,
 But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!”

It may have been written the best part of 200 years ago, but this hymn by Charlotte Elliott sums things up pretty nicely. It’s why the one and only Billy Graham used it during the hundreds of altar calls at his crusades; the ones which saw thousands of broken people streaming down the aisles, making their way to the front where they were promised forgiveness, acceptance. Salvation.

In the salvation story of this hymn, the message is simple. Come as you are. Right now. No need to clean yourself up before you set out on the adventure that is this amazing relationship with Christ. Our Christian story is in its essence one of grace, of acceptance despite our mess and shortcomings. In this story God says: “Hey, my grace is enough for you. All you need to do is ask for it.”

But sometimes it feels like the Church didn’t get the memo.

Sometimes it seems like we forget.

Sure, we love to celebrate the Church being good news to society and welcoming people with open arms. We get stuck into the communities we’re in, feeding the homeless in soup kitchens, clothing those in poverty, counselling those dealing with all kinds of mental, physical and sexual issues. We might be tempted to give ourselves a pat on the back. Because we, the Church, are binding up the brokenhearted.

But what happens when the broken want to come inside? What happens when they want to join us just as they are? Or what happens when one of our own confesses something that makes us just a little bit too uncomfortable.

We need to face up to the fact that outside our doors, the Church has got a bad rep. It’s seen as the place you turn up to if you want a dose of judgment and rejection. Divorcees, gay people and strippers – just some of the people who can be expected to be turned away at the church door.

A quick search on the internet will show you that there are lots of people out there in the ether who are still carrying wounds of church rejection (check out Your Story My Story’s video if you want a challenge). They are still reeling from having the doors shut in their faces. It’s the reason why so many young people are saying no thanks to Christianity. A kind of counter-rejection. Nearly two thirds of Millennials in a study by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University cited Christianity as too judgmental, anti-gay and hypocritical. Not gracious, accepting and welcoming.

It’s this rejection and hypocrisy that Bethany Abbott, the creative director for the stunning photograph (at the top of the page), which took first place in our Capturing Rejection competition, wanted to portray.

“We wanted to capture how vulnerable some people feel in a church where everyone is perceived to be the perfect person and they come into church and feel exposed with all of their labels and insecurities and their demons on show while all of the other people look respectable and fully dressed,” she says.

Bethany and Luke Aylen, who won the photo competition, have set up Love Regardless, an organisation aimed at connecting the Church with the LGBT community through prayer, teaching and support.

Bethany says: “I think the Church does reject people sometimes from a place of fear. We are happy to be welcoming, but then it seems that we can only help up to a point. We often reject people because we haven’t yet thought through the issues that they’re dealing with.”

Bethany adds: “Part of the concept of the photo was done through the lighting as we wanted the light to come through the window and onto the man who’s naked in the middle. We wanted to show that that’s where God’s heart is. To show that the perfect people with their backs to the man in the middle are actually in darkness and you have to strain to see them a bit.”

There is a place for issues to be addressed in Church. When we come into relationship with Christ, every bit of us is supposed to be transformed. Inevitably, it’ll mean we change. Always for the better.

But ultimately the very foundation of our Christianity is that we’re all wrong. We are all – every one of us – hurting and broken. We do wrong things. We think wrong thoughts. It’s only in Him that we’re fixed. But none of us has got our act together. Not one.

If I reject another person, in that moment, I am casting myself as the judge in the scene. I have the power. I can reject because I feel superior to the other person. But we’ve been told that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. So who am I to judge? Who am I to reject you?

As Bethany said of the photograph: “The only difference between the fully clothed and the naked is that you can’t see what’s written underneath. I don’t think they’re any more sorted than the man on the floor.”

It seems that Jesus would have been on the side of the rejected. In the photograph scene, he would have been right there, helping the rejected man to his feet. After all, he experienced the ultimate rejection, didn’t he?:

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 15:3)

It’s not easy. We try and tread the line between hating sin and accepting people regardless of what they’ve done. Some Christians and churches do an amazing job of showing grace, of showing God’s face to anyone who wants to see it. But it’s a challenge to us all. And it’s in showing radical grace that the Church can step up to the plate and be accepting when the world assumes that we will reject.

As theologian Philip Yancey has said: “I rejected the Church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.” (What’s so amazing about grace?)

Classic rejection. Runner up, Alexander Baker’s entry

An interesting street shot from Josh Hales for our other runner up winner.

To see more of our favourite entries from the competition, check us out on Pinterest. 

Written by Chine McDonald // Follow Chine on  Twitter //  Am I Beautiful?

Chine McDonald is author of ‘Am I Beautiful?’ a book exploring body image and faith. She has been Head of Christian Influence & Engagement at WVUK since March 2017. Prior to that, she was Director of Communications & Membership at the Evangelical Alliance and part of the group that formed threads. Chine studied Theology & Religious Studies at Cambridge University before becoming a journalist. She is also a writer, speaker and broadcaster and a trustee of charities: Greenbelt, Church & Media Network, Greenbelt Festival and the Sophia Network, which equips women in leadership in the Church.

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