After yesterday’s post (which came from a place of great frustration and anguish), I started thinking about what happens when the place we trust for healing is the place doing the hurting.
This can happen in a number of ways, but I think this is what is really at the heart of the exodus from traditional churches. I don’t mean just people who have been directly hurt by church members or leadership. Obviously, that is a factor as well. But nearly every reason I’ve seen listed for why people leave the church has to do with something hurtful. And while the methods of emotional (and sometimes physical) injury are different, they all have something in common.
Each and every one of the most frequently cited reasons for leaving has something to do with being told that we are not living up to the expectations of the church.
Everything, from the church being too political to rejecting science to the insistence on hell as a literal place of eternal conscious torment to the restrictions on women to the treatment of LGBT people falls into this category. It doesn’t require having church leadership say, “Your beliefs are stupid and wrong and you are an idiot.” All that’s needed is for the teaching from the pulpit on Sunday morning to reflect the idea that some people are better than others. And if it’s done using the Bible to back it up, then it can be claimed as truth.
Think about how each of these statements could make a person feel rejected at their core:
- Christians are better than other religious people, therefore those people are damned.
- Republicans are better than Democrats because Democrats don’t value the right things and don’t support “God’s ideals.”
- Men are better than women because God made them first and created women as “helpers.”
- Straight people are better than gays because gay people don’t use their genitals in the correct, Biblical way.
- Creationists are better than “secular” scientists because everyone knows that science lies and the Bible is the only book we need to explain everything.
Each and every statement has to do with a way in which a set of values, a set of beliefs, or even the very core of a person is held in higher esteem than someone else. Not only does this leave some people feeling directly rejected, it leaves those who love them feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Those who are highly empathetic, even if they’ve never felt personally rejected for who they are, leave because they can’t bear seeing it done to those they care about.
A gathering of Christians, people who profess to follow Jesus, should be a place of healing and hope. It should be a place where all the things outside that press on us, weigh us down, are a little lighter for being carried by our fellow Christians. It should be a place where loving one another isn’t about dictating our politics or our education, but about coming together to lift one another up. Sunday morning should be a way to prepare ourselves for the things we face “out there” each week.
It absolutely, definitely, unquestionably should not be a place of further hurt and shame.
So if the church is wondering just how we can stop the bleed, stop our young people and our old people and our middle-aged people and our men and our women and our children from leaving, we can start there. We can start by refusing to make preaching about shaming or belittling anyone for any reason. We start by tanking people up with love and encouragement, and giving us the tools we need to go out and make a difference beyond the church. And we can stop using our words and our interpretations of the Bible to wound those inside our walls.