During a visit to see some friends and their new home, we drove by a massive concrete building that turned out to be a church.
Surprised and curious, my husband asked our friends what kind of a church it was. “Not sure,” our friend replied, “We just call it ‘Fort God.””
It’s one of those names that has stayed with us and taken on a life of its own. In our house, the phrase “Fort God” has become a kind of code for insularity and exclusion. When we sense that kind of belief or behavior in our own congregations, in others, or in the wider church, we claim that they are treating the church like it is “Fort God.” We have used it many times to describe congregations, buildings, committees, and attitudes. We have even christened churches with the moniker as we’ve driven by on vacation somewhere; one actually had a moat!
It is both surprising and sad how often we encounter the “Fort God” mindset. It’s as close as our own committees and teams, and as universal as bad signage. When others have overheard us use the phrase, it doesn’t take much explanation for them to understand exactly what we mean. Most people have had an encounter with a “Fort God” attitude, or at least a “Fort God” edifice. I would argue, in fact, that “Fort God” is the default concept for many, many people−both within and outside the church. Rather than the exception, it has been the rule.
If this is the case, then it is the daily calling of a church leader to resist and reshape the “Fort God” mindset into something that more closely resembles the Gospel. This will mean something different in every context, but it will no doubt mean something important. In everything from our publications to our Bible Studies, our nursery to our coffee stations, we send a message about the availability of God’s grace and those who are potential candidates to receive it. There is no better place to be clear about this concept than in the pulpit, speaking plainly about the free gift offered to all.