Hello, my name is self-righteous

By Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States (Otter Lake, New York) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Warning: Long. Ranty. Contains mentions of abuse.

Over the weekend, I read Hello, My Name Is Church, a blog post helpfully shared with me by one of my Twitter friends.  It’s been ages since I almost injured myself from rolling my eyes so much, so I was grateful to be back in the game.  I won’t say this is the worst thing I’ve read so far this year (that prize now goes to another article on girls and modesty, which I may blog about later this week).  It is, however, the worst thing I read between New Year’s and Epiphany, so it’s still in contention for the Top Ten.  Hooray!

It’s hard to tell exactly what Unappreciated Pastor is going for here.  I can’t tell if he’s talking about people who walked away from Christian faith, from church attendance in general, or just from his specific congregation (wouldn’t be surprised, judging by the name he goes by).  It sounds like he’s conflating all of those things.  Let’s get to his “poem,” shall we?

He has some ideas about why people just avoid the whole scene:

Perhaps you have heard that I am…

Boring
Shallow
Cheap
A waste of time

You’ve heard that I am full of:

Hypocrites
Clowns
Greedy people
The self-righteous

So, these people have merely heard that those things are found in church.  Even in my days of poorly-orchestrated evangelism, I never once had anyone tell me they didn’t want to go to church because they’d caught rumors that it wasn’t all that great.  I think a lot of people don’t go because (gasp) they already have beliefs.  Shocking, I know.

Next, he has some words for people who showed up once and didn’t like it.

Maybe you have visited me before and discovered:

Horrible music
Passionless singing
Dry preaching
Rude congregants

Apparently those people were just attending the wrong church, because one visit and they never wanted to go back again owing to the off-key praise band or the pastor’s uninteresting sermon.  There are two wrong assumptions here.  First, how does Unappreciated Pastor know whether these people didn’t just find a church they liked better?  I mean, in my city, it’s not that hard.  We have several within five minutes of our house.  Second, he’s doing the same foolish thing entertainment-focused churches do in believing that superficial things are, in fact, what drive people away.  The only difference is that he makes it the fault of the visitor rather than the church.

Now we’re getting into the meat of the thing.  Here’s what he thinks of people who “needed” the church:

Maybe you needed me and I was:

Too busy
Too “righteous”
Too broke
Too blind

Yes.  Because no one should find it off-putting that we didn’t get help when we required it.  I think it’s a very strange thing indeed that conservatives often claim the local church should help “the poor” (or at least, the “deserving” poor) rather than the government stepping in.  Yet people should stick it out when they are in need, despite the fact that whatever church Unappreciated Pastor is referencing (hopefully not his own) isn’t coming through.  Also, what the hell does he mean by “too ‘righteous'” in this context?  Hm, maybe those two things are connected.

Up next, here’s what happens when you’re a disgruntled member:

Maybe you joined me and found I was:

Distant
Demanding
Dull
Preoccupied

Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by:

Business meetings
Committees
Teams
Bureaucracy

We’re back on the dull thing again.  It’s obviously a great filter, since we’ve already weeded out the people who only heard that it’s boring and the ones who showed up once and fell asleep during the sermon.  I wonder if that would work to get jackasses out of the congregation–bore them away.  You’d have to let the rest of the congregation in on the secret first, though, or you’ll lose them too.  And God knows members don’t have any other reasons for leaving the church, of course.  It’s all about how church isn’t entertaining.  No one ever leaves because they simply don’t believe anymore or because they were sick of the constant shaming or because women are considered lesser beings or because the church is vile toward LGBT people or because a person in authority violated them.  Nope.

So, what happens if you try to leave?

Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody:

Called
Cared
Noticed
Invited you back

He’s not serious, right?  Leaving church can be a scary thing indeed.  It would be a blessing for many to go without being hounded.  Also, the way that’s framed makes it sound like people walk away in hopes that someone will give them reason to stay.

Perhaps your experience has driven you to:

Speak negatively of me
Swear to never come back to me
Proclaim that no one needs me
Believe you’re better off without me

I have serious doubts that Unappreciated Pastor has actually tried to find out the real reasons people leave church.  I would venture a guess that he’s never sat down and listened to story after story of people who have been hurt.  Maybe he doesn’t see the pain in the eyes of people who want so desperately to experience the kind of love than many churches promise but only deliver to those deemed worthy.  If he had, he might have to acknowledge that some people have good reason to speak negatively of their experiences or step away and never look back.

If this is true, I have something to say to you:

I’m sorry
I was wrong
I blew it
I made a huge mistake

This would be a great place to stop.  Well, it might also help to recognize that boredom and committees are not what’s driving people away from the church.  Still, it’s nice to have an apology.

But remember, I never said my name was:

Perfect
Flawless
Complete
Arrived

Or not.

We get it.  Churches aren’t perfect.  People aren’t perfect.  And really, if the simplistic view of what’s wrong with the church as outlined above were true, then I could absolutely buy it that we need to be okay with imperfection.  In light of what actually happens, though, I’m pretty uncomfortable with this.

My name is church. I welcome the:

Hypocrite
Dry
Self-righteous
Shallow

I welcome the

Sincere
Passionate
Forgiving
Selfless

And if this were the only thing we needed to be concerned about, I’d be cool with that definition of “flawed.”

I cannot shut my doors to the people who make you:

Angry
Uncomfortable
Impatient
Self-conscious

Oh, really?  Because  I see the church do this all the time.  The trouble is, they’re usually so busy shutting the doors on those who make people angry or uncomfortable because of who the church perceives them to be that the church fails to shut the doors on abusers.

But I would remind you that we couldn’t always worship in the same room. In the Old Testament there was a division between the:

Gentile
Jew
Man
Woman

Your point being?  I’m not sure what parallel he’s trying to draw.

In order for us to all worship in the same room Christ was:

Shamed
Beaten
Killed
Resurrected

Er…okay.  Though Jesus broke a lot of barriers when he was alive, too.  Also, Unappreciated Pastor has obviously not been to a modern-day synagogue.  It’s been maybe twenty years since I attended services, but last time I was there, women and men were sitting right next to each other.  Fancy that.

Which is far worse than being:

Bored
Uncomfortable
Embarrassed
Ignored

Oh!  I get it now.  Jesus died, so how dare you not like church services?  Because you could not possibly have anything in your church experience that is as terrible as being dead.  No one’s ever actually died because of something inflicted on them by the church, right?  Oh.  Wait.

So why not come back to church and let all of these messed up people:

Challenge you
Sharpen you
Strengthen you
Humble you

Why not come back to church and let all these messed up people continue to harm you in exactly the same way they were doing before you left?  Sounds like a date!

I can’t promise you that the people will be great. This is church. It’s not:

Heaven
Paradise
Beulah Land
The Celestial city

Translation: “I can’t promise to protect you, and I might even try to excuse some of the things that are happening to you because I think it’s your fault.”

Come back.

God wants you here.
The body needs you here.
The world needs your witness here.
You belong here.

Hello, my name is church.

I miss you.

I love you.

I’m sorry.

Can’t wait to see you.

“I’m sorry.  It’ll never happen again.  I need you.  I can’t live without you.”  Heck, why not throw in a “No one will ever love you the way I do” for good measure?

If you’ve left regular church attendance or church membership or the Church or Christianity as a whole, you have good reason.  I’m sorry if I’ve ever dismissed you.  I’m sorry that people like Unappreciated Pastor have written whole pseudo-poems discounting your reasons for leaving.  You know what?  I’m even sorry that people think it’s their job to discern what a “good” reason is.  Who cares if you left because you were bored or people acted like ass-hats?  I don’t want to spend social time with a bunch of jerks, either (boy, do I have thoughts on forced friendships).

Hey, Unappreciated Pastor?  I’m sorry that people are leaving your church and you feel down about it.  That actually must suck.  Being a pastor isn’t easy.  May I suggest, though, that instead of writing passive-aggressive and dismissive poetry, you check out my friend Naked Pastor?  He’s been through it too, and maybe his wisdom and humor will help you get by.  Or maybe you’re ready to leave the church yourself, and this is your plea for help.  I’ll light a hope candle for you.

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13 thoughts on “Hello, my name is self-righteous

  1. When I first read it, something didn’t feel right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. You’ve shown brilliantly why it’s just pounding on people (or it would be pounding if it wasn’t dismissing them) I’m really struggling with church at the moment (something I’m hoping to write on but it sounds very self-pitying at the moment) and part of it is that no one is listening or wants to listen.

  2. Great close reading. Yeah, not a good tactic. Not a good poem. Not a good idea to blame your victim and then ask for them to come back for more. Happens all the time, but no good.

    Since leaving myself, I have seen how “nobody’s perfect” only works for a particular kind of “sinner” and “sin.” If I am judgmental, you can’t judge me for my sin! If I am gay…
    Sometimes the sin is too much.
    Sometimes a too much sin – an actual harm, like pedophilia, is covered up. It’s ridiculous.

  3. Enjoyed the rant … mostly. Here is a counter thought: Maybe this person is just a few steps behind where their thinking needs to be. Maybe they are not 180 degrees off but 90. Sometimes transformation happens in degrees. At least that is true for me.

    • Did you read my last paragraph? While I didn’t necessarily see it as being behind, I do think there is something going on at a personal level for the author of the piece. My view is that this is someone who really hasn’t (by choice or by chance) had the opportunity to sit down and hear people’s stories. Without that, it’s hard not to feel defensive about people leaving the church.

      • I did but I now re-read it again just to be sure I didn’t miss anything. I think that is it hard being a pastor. I have been one. In my experience there is often a gradual transformation from self-righteousness to self-pity to healthy self-examination. My opinion is that the author of that somewhat weird poem might be between self-pity and self-examination. I hope that makes sense.

        • It does make sense. And I hope that’s the case, because otherwise, this whole “poem” comes across as unaware of and unconcerned with the realities in some churches and with some theologies.

  4. I saw this “poem” on facebook earlier this week and couldn’t get all the way through it because I found the format annoying and the content unsettling. (Also, with regards to the format, it’s less poetry and more poorly written choose-your-own-adventure story. Or maybe one of those clever RSVP’s except not clever.) Great close reading, though. It was much easier to get through with your commentary interspersed!

  5. Reading the original “…my name is church” I felt like I was being gaslighted once again. Gaslighting = “A common form of brainwashing in which an abuser tries to falsely convince the victim that the victim is defective, for any purpose whatsoever, such as making the victim more pliable and easily controlled, or making the victim more emotional and therefore more needy and dependent.”

  6. I think you are right here, in one of your core points – that churches do not listen to people who don’t attend (who leave, or who have never been) to know why. If anything is said about it, normally it is the leavers issues, that they are “not signing up to Gods vision for us as a church” or similar BS.

    What the original seems to be saying is “we know we are boring, tedious, demanding, unpleasant, but that is just because we know we are not perfect.” That is so common – we won’t change, please just live with our imperfections. It is actually the arrogance of a monopoly, “If you want be in Gods Gang, you have to join us, even though it will ruin your life”. That is major level abuse.

  7. I popped over here from a link on “Defeating Dragons,” and I’ll be bookmarking you for sure! I hadn’t seen this article before, but your critique seems to be spot on. I didn’t leave the church or Christianity for any of the reasons the author listed, so I’m one of those “others” you mentioned. Thanks for speaking up and recognizing those of us who have more serious issues with church than “the music isn’t my favorite.”

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