No matter what group of people I’m connecting with, EVERYONE has a ridiculous (or scandalous) story that comes to mind when this is brought up. A story where we or someone we love was hurt or done wrongly inside of church.
When the story is told, it’s just as fresh and raw as when it first happened.
Because enduring a wrong from someone who claims to represent God, just stings more. It cuts deeper. It goes into a mixed bag of potential fears about God, what he thinks of you, if he’s punishing you…the list of God-fear-wreckage goes on and on.
I listen as people recount the pain, heartbreak and at times trauma of what they went through.
I had a mantra I used to go into where I would say, Jesus isn’t like those people! He’s a safe place – all Christians don’t act that way!
But, throughout my career inside the church (not a particular building, but the church as a whole) I watched leaders and non-leaders alike, make a liar out of me as the same story play out.
It looks a bit like this:
You did/said something we disagree with + you no longer fit the mold/standards here = we push you out.
Whether the issue is tithing, parenting, divorce, politics, homosexuality, abortion, women in leadership, etc, it usually played out the same way.
I recently met with a precious woman who shared a story that fit into this all-too-familiar model.
It broke my heart.
I would normally put a conversation like that away in my lockbox (it’s like an internal file of intimate stories that I forever hold close) But, this time was different.
I couldn’t shake it.
Because, I’ve heard it too many times.
I’ve wiped too many tears.
I’ve tried to repair too many angry, bitter souls.
THERE ARE TOO MANY.
IT IS NOT OKAY.
I compared her story to countless others that horrify and anger me every time I remember them.
WHY DO THE PEOPLE WHO CLAIM TO LOVE JESUS DO THIS??
WHY HAS THIS BECOME SO NORMAL?????
It shouldn’t be normal.
It shouldn’t be okay.
I have many theories, but there is one core idea that I believe has infiltrated the church and religious institution at large.
One very simple, yet freakishly powerful, anthem that is responsible for the continuing piles of slaughtered hearts – many who vow to never cross the doors of a church again.
This core belief says: there are “them” and there are “us”.
This belief draws a line between the world and the church – the believers and the non-believers.
It decides who is out and who is in.
It disregards the concept of everyone being God’s child. It discounts the model that Jesus gave, where there is room for everyone at the table, where everyone is welcome and everyone is loved. It defies equality and instead pushes exclusivity.
It says: this is the club and we will decide if you are in or out.
Now, if you’re wondering what the deciding factors are, let me reassure you, I have this thing memorized. (After all, this has been my world and I know the rules quite well)
The rules to becoming one of the “us” group in the evangelical world (drumroll please):
- You must have a confession of faith ie: be “saved” (this doesn’t immediately get you in, but it’s a start. It gets your name on the radar of the church group you’re a part of)
- You must change your lifestyle to fit your church’s beliefs and accept their doctrine
- You must not openly “struggle” with anything, or you will be quickly debunked and have to start back at #1 again. (not become saved all over again, although some require that. Most of them just want to see a “rededication” of sorts)
I’m laughing a bit, because of the absolute ridiculousness of this. But, I understand that for many of you this is your reality and it’s a very real and present mountain that you are working your darndest to climb.
Because no one wants to be out.
Especially when you’re taught that being out has a ticket to hell attached to it (but that’s a whole other blog…I’m gonna tuck that one away for later)
A friend told me once about how she and her husband joined a small group for young marrieds at their church.
They had an open share time during the group and her husband opened up about his struggle with pornography.
The entire room fell silent.
Awkward tension filled the space.
But, in that brave moment of vulnerability, he fell from his status as one of “us” and quickly became one of “them”.
Meaning, he now is a project to be fixed. He’s no longer an equal who could be your friend, but is now in need of an accountability group, a recovery class and surely some pastoral counseling.
THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.
And we scratch our heads and wonder why Christians are so “fake”, “closed” and “don’t live in community with each other”??
We wonder why no one is vulnerable.
Pastors and leaders know that the lack of connection and intimacy within their churches is an issue.
So, they push small groups.
They pay guest speakers to teach workshops on vulnerability and the value of connection.
But they are only treating the symptoms while failing to treat the cause.
Brene’ Brown speaks to the topic of vulnerability beautifully. She says, “…true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…”
We will never be an authentic group of people, until we are able to rid ourselves of the belief that we are better and different than the rest of society.
Because here’s the deal: people “in the world” are just like most inside the church.
Most people in the world are looking at the same stuff online as people inside the church. Most people in the world are having the same fights at home, the same struggles at work and the same issues internally.
We are all insecure.
We all are fearful.
We are all trying to do the best that we can.
WE ARE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN TRYING TO FIGURE THIS THING OUT.
Yet, inside the church, there tends to be this standard of rules and expectations. And, by God, if you don’t hold fast to them or fully embrace/agree with every single one, often you are quickly put on the list as one of “those poor lost souls in need of Jesus”.
Again with the belief: there are “them” and there are “us”.
But here’s the truth:
There is no them and us.
There never has been.
We are all on one side and God is on the other.
There was a gap between heaven and us. That was the line. And God offered his beautiful son to be murdered to close that gap once and for all. Yet, we (Christians) continue to try to reinstitute that gap and recreate some imaginary line where we are heavenly and the rest are worldly.
BUT WE ARE ALL ON THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN – IN THE WORLD.
God sees us all as his children.
All the same filthy messes who he endearingly loves.
Jesus was an ambassador of that message.
The message that screams hope and smothers us with grace. The one that says, I will tear apart that which separates the clean from the unclean. I will smear the line between the holy and the unholy. I will lay my body between the two and build a bridge so that all may enter in.
FOR GOD SO LOVED ALL THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON…
Jesus was a revolutionary.
That was not rewarded inside the church back then and the story tends to be the same today.
But, I dream of a church where bravery, vulnerability, transparency, tenderness and revolutionaries are not rejected, but are embraced.
Where conformity, sameness, exclusivity and spiritual bullying not rewarded but where love stands firm in it’s place.
I believe this change can happen, but it begins with one revolutionary at a time.
One who dares to be different. Who instead of self-righteousness, stands for grace, love, mercy and forgiveness – just like our Jesus.
Go in love.
Go in peace.