Photo by Jay Hagstrom
We are in this together
Laura Truax’s faith journey has included a punishing fundamentalism, a mind-opening exposure to Zen Buddhism and a Jesuit education. Now she is the senior pastor of an evangelical congregation with a mission to embrace the world.
May 4, 2010 | The Rev. Laura Truax first learned about LaSalle Street Church when her attorney husband represented a young man charged with murder.
Each day during the weeklong trial, Truax came to watch her husband, Terry, work. They both noticed the LaSalle Street Church congregants, who sat with the defendant’s mother during the trial, took her other kids to school and fed the family daily.
Upon seeing this outpouring, Truax thought to herself, “If I ever go to another church, that’s the kind of church I want to go to -- where the gospel looks like something.”
Today, after a faith journey that has included a punishing fundamentalism, a mind-opening exposure to Zen Buddhism and a Jesuit education, Truax is senior pastor of the nondenominational, evangelical congregation in Chicago.
As its leader, Truax makes sure that the gospel still “looks like something” at LaSalle Street Church.
This 48-year-old mother of three believes strongly in “living out Christ in the world” by reaching out to people who are hurting and who have been rejected and marginalized by society. Today, that is one of the most important messages of LaSalle Street Church: Everybody is welcome and everybody is a part of the story of Christ.
LaSalle Street Church is in the midst of a highly diverse socioeconomic community, where wealth meets poverty daily. Through a variety of ministries and partnerships -- ranging from child care services to a food program for the hungry -- the church reaches out to all members of its community. Providing opportunities for service is as important at LaSalle Street Church as offering help to the marginalized and oppressed.
“We are not God in here. We are God out there,” Truax said recently, circling her arms in a gesture that included both the church and the wider world.
Questions to consider:
- Imagine what your church or organization looks like to outsiders. Is it “a place where the gospel looks like something”?
- In what ways might God be “culturally mediated” for you? What cultural assumptions might you be making about God?
- The Rev. Laura Truax’s early church experience is an extreme example of a “cultlike” Christianity. In what ways might any church or organization become “cultlike,” focusing only on itself? What steps can help shift that focus outward to the needs of those outside the church?
- Faithful leadership requires paying “close attention to what people are thinking, talking and feeling.” What and to whom have you paid attention to in the past week? What have you learned?
Considering LaSalle Street Church’s unique geographical placement, with the wealthy Gold Coast on one side and Cabrini-Green -- one of the country’s most famous public housing complexes -- on another, it is fitting that Truax’s own parents, Bill and Lottie Sumner, came from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Bill’s grandparents migrated to Central Florida from a Georgia debtor’s prison, and Lottie’s family from Texas aristocracy.
Bill was a self-made businessman who had 11 cents in his pocket when he lied about his age to get into the Navy. His own father had died when Bill was only 10.
One of his greatest disappointments was when his daughter Laura, at 16, accepted Christ at a tent revival meeting.
“Dad knew one thing, and that was that he could only rely upon himself,” Truax said. Even today, tears fill her eyes when she recalls her father’s disappointment and the rift that was still unresolved when he died 10 years later.
She became the first of her five siblings to go to college, paying her own way with the help of a music scholarship. She said she was a “very zealous Christian” in those days, and her ministry was knocking on doors, inviting people to church and taking mission trips to the Florida beaches during spring break.
Around that time, she married a man who shared her zeal to eliminate sin from their lives. Their daily practices included strict adherence to a “sin chart” they kept on the refrigerator. The chart listed numerous sins and their corresponding punishments.
When the marriage failed, she left behind at 22 what she now describes as a “cultlike environment, … a whole subculture, which had been the only Christian environment I’d ever known.” Truax also left behind the only concept of God she had known, and she was filled with questions and disappointments.
She didn’t go to church for months, and then tried other, less strict churches. But it wasn’t until she married Terry Truax in 1987 that she began to regain a sense of God’s love for her.
“After I married Terry, I felt I learned more about what it means for God to love me than ever before. In a very powerful way, Terry just loved me,” Truax said. “I didn’t have to be good. I didn’t have to go to church. I didn’t have to do the right thing. He loved me, period. And I realized that’s how God loves us.”
A bigger God
The couple moved from North Carolina, where they had lived after marriage, to Chicago in 1988 for Terry’s work, and Truax pursued her career in public relations. Seven years later, Terry’s work provided a formative experience for Truax, when the family moved to Tokyo for 20 months.
“Once I got to Japan, I realized how white God had been, how male, how Western, how Republican, how capitalist. God had been so culturally mediated for me,” Truax said. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I am a Christian. I don’t know if I can be a Christian, because maybe Christ himself is all some kind of a cultural conception.’”