I suppose I could have titled this Mea Culpa.
Why are people leaving the church? Why do we not have a presence in this world? Why aren’t we changing things in this world?
Why am I writing this? I don’t know. The part of me that likes to justify what I do suggests it’s because we have an epidemic. The one thing that shakes my faith in an all-knowing all-powerful loving God is when I look around and see who He’s chosen to represent Himself. And I know that’s arrogant and pretentious. But I look around and see how we hurt people and how we forget the real message of Jesus. We need to make a change.
The more honest part of me says I’m writing this because I’m hurt, because I’m frustrated, and I feel like I need to explain the things I’ve done. Maybe I could title this The Top 10 Reasons I Left the Church.
If we are going to show people that there’s a better way, then we need to show them that there’s a better way. The Good News is NOT that God hates you for what you’ve done and will condemn you to eternal fire if you don’t change today (some people really think that’s Good News). The Good News is that God loves you, he cares for you, and there’s a community of people that want to support you and love you and share God’s love with you. But this is not what we’re showing people.
I almost didn’t write this because of this blog post. We need to start repairing and not just tearing down. I recognize my own part of this conspiracy, but I really have to get this out.
I’ve recently had to make an agonizing decision. It’s been agonizing for myself, and for my family. I know that people are saying that I’m taking the easy way out, that I’m taking the broad road, but this has been hard. So this is my apology. Yes, in one sense, I scream “mea culpa”, but but that’s not what I mean by apology. Apologetics is about the why and so this is my why. Why I’ve left the church of Christ.
And to my surprise it’s not the legalism. Well in a sense it is – but not the doctrine of worship and the exclusiveness and that you have to get it right – in other words the fundamentalism. It wasn’t that drove me away. It’s really surprising that it wasn’t things like crazy notions like instrumental music in worship service is a sin, or women cannot be allowed to pass communion because it means they’re trying to take over from the man.
It was the fact that I couldn’t be part of such a small minded “faith” community that listed among it’s most horrible most unforgivable sins as (I think that this is even in the right order starting with the worst):
1. Saying that you are gay (particularly if you suggest that you cannot be “cured”). I’m sure I’ll be talking about this more here in the future. But regardless of the way we read the scriptures, we have to be treating everyone with love – without exception.
2. Swearing. Yes, I think this is #2. (I know people that will tell dirty jokes all day long, but if you drop F-bombs around them they look at you like their ears started bleeding.)
3. Getting a divorce without having a good reason. (Footnote: the only good reason is that your spouse had sex with another person (and you didn’t). If you’re divorced I know people that will actually come up to you and ask you if you had an affair or your spouse had an affair to ensure that the divorce was “Biblical”.)
4. Drinking a beer (I remember feeling stupid in health class in ninth grade when the teacher asked about a group of people that might be teetotalers and I said “clergy” and everybody laughed at me).
5. Missing a church service without a good reason; like having to work, being sick, or being out of town at an Alabama football game. Don’t get me wrong, I completely believe in the importance of having a faith community and attending it regularly. I love what David said about rejoicing when asked to go to the House of the Lord. But this is some kind of weird fanatical thing. You miss a midweek Bible study (Wednesday is the scriptural night) just because you wanted to spend it with your family, and people will act like you committed one of these seven deadly Sins. Or they’ll just assume that’s probably what you were doing that night anyway.
6. I was just going to do five but so this one will be a bonus. And that’s going to rated R movies. But there are a lot of different thoughts about this. Some will say that all rated R movies are bad. But lots of people like movies, so we try to finesse this sometimes. These get a bit confusing to me. I know people that will go to a film with a million swear words, but as soon as they walk out of it, if you say a four letter word they’re completely offended. I guess if it’s pretend – like a movie – it’s okay. And then there’s the argument that it’s okay to see violent rated R movies because we’re not likely to be tempted with violence, but it’s bad to see movies with sex (or crude jokes) because we can be tempted to Lust. (Which always makes me want to ask a question, if my temptation is violence, but not lust, then it must be okay for me to watch porn?)
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s not only that these are the most despicable things that a Christian can commit, as well as the most likely things that will keep them out of heaven. It’s the following things that seem to be okay, and even often sanctioned by church leadership.
1. Completely ignoring the greatest commands of Jesus. Maybe because we like to quantify and qualify things, and this is hard to define. I can define whether or not you’re drinking beer – if you have a beer in your hand. But it’s hard to define treating somebody unkindly or even ugly because you don’t like something about them. There are lots of ways to finesse around this and justify it. Often we say we do these things out of love.
2. Gossip. We’re allowed to talk about people all day long, as long as we say things like “I’m just trying to help them.” We can even have a whole meetings and talk about them without their knowledge, if we’re doing it for the “good of everyone involved.”
3. Hate. I’ve seen people’s lives all but ruined by the horrible way they’re treated by church people. I’ve seen people (figuratively) run screaming from church, never to be a part of an organization like that again, because of the ugly things that people say and do. And I’ve rarely seen leadership do anything about things like this. And we love to justify our hate. How many gay teens are homeless or have committed suicide because of the way we treat them? Political pseudo-Christian groups like Focus on the Family create PSA’s that are actually for anti-gay bullying (or at least pretend it doesn’t exist). This is quite literally the opposite of the love that Jesus showed the least of these.
4. Ignoring social justice. I know this is something that Glenn Beck says churches aren’t supposed to do. But how can we read Matthew 25 with Jesus saying that the way he’s going to separate followers of Jesus from those that don’t is whether not we helped and cared for other people? We get all wrapped up in our American capitalist values and say that people are poor because they choose to be, and ignore tragedies like the epidemic of generational poverty. We spend more time finding excuses not to help people than we do trying to find ways to try to help them.
I know that there is both good and bad in every church. But some of these things seem to symptoms of fundamentalism.
Maybe it sounds like I’m complaining. And maybe I am. And maybe it sounds like I’m airing dirty laundry. Or talking about the hidden secrets in churches. But I’ve got news for you. The problem is that people see this.This is what is driving people away from the love of God in droves. And we have to make a change.
Great, now I’ve got Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” in my head.
But I have to agree. I’ve got to be making changes. I need to be living out the life that Jesus showed us. As hard and as messy as that is. I only hope He gives me the strength.