There are problems with the Church, no doubt. More accurately, there are problems with churches. This is a blinding flash of the obvious. Churches are comprised of broken people in a broken world. Broken people do things that range from mildly annoying to downright evil. Your involvement with churches likely includes experiences across this spectrum. Many use church problems as their reason for avoiding church altogether, and people in the U.S. are avoiding church in record numbers. They’ve been hurt, burned, mistreated, offended, or generally irritated by the church, so they disassociate themselves from the institution entirely, either intentionally and explicitly, or unintentionally and implicitly by their lack of involvement. If you’ve been abused by a representative of the Church, I am certainly not going to try to minimize your pain or attempt to talk you out of your offense. Rather, I offer my sincere apology and affirm that victimization in the name of religion is evil. I suspect that most who have left the church, however, have done so for reasons far less severe than abuse. In any case, the question I want to ask here is this. Is it reasonable to leave the Church, and every expression of it, in response to an offense? Should you throw the baby out with the bathwater?

If you are involved with a church long enough, you will be offended, and you will offend. Such is the nature of human relationships. In fact, the more deeply you know someone, the more profoundly that person can hurt you. I can ignore a stranger’s insult. The same words spoken by my wife may wound deeply. But we do not necessarily denounce the institution of marriage in response to the insult or injury of a spouse. In a church, relationships center on something deeply personal and ultimately significant, one’s belief in and relationship to God. Genuine relationships of this sort leave one remarkably vulnerable, making offense inevitable, but also making healing and joy and growth and fulfillment possible. In other words, the conditions necessary for good create conditions that make evil possible. It is precisely because the Church can be such a powerful force for good in the world that it is capable of being such a source of evil.

We live in a throw-away society. If something breaks, we toss it and replace it. In a fractured and individualistic society, it is far easier to leave a community than to reconcile with it. Especially in the Bible belt, with churches on every corner, I can leave one congregation for another in an attempt to find the “right” church, one that makes me comfortable, where everyone shares my beliefs and values. If such a place were possible, and if I found such a place, I suspect that as I changed and the community changed we wouldn’t be perfectly compatible for long. At some point, I must acknowledge that if I choose to surround myself with only those people who agree with me, I have more or less become my own standard for life and truth. I have become my own God. I have created a world that revolves around me. If that is my goal, then I shouldn’t be surprised when a church, whose objective is to lead me to worship someone above and beyond me, rubs me the wrong way.

3 comments

  1. I have had periods in my life when I quit going to Church due to some really cruel folks. I’ve also been kicked out of Churches for different things, such as practicing the piano. Rarely have I found it to be the haven of peace that they so often purport to be. And some of the Churches that have been the nicest to me haven’t always been the ones aligned with evangelical beliefs. It makes for a confusing experience.

  2. I like the idea of considering the Church—in this context I am referring collectively to the little boxes with crosses on top where people meet most often on Sundays—itself just as much a mission field for preaching the Gospel as some stereotypical remote place in the bush in Africa where there are no little boxes with crosses on top. If people are hurt, they need healing. Period. Whether they are “inside” or “outside” those collective boxes. Jesus is for everybody.

  3. Ironically, I think when churches seek to become havens of peace, they typically become so inwardly focused that they fail both their mission and their people. When they focus on the needs of the world instead, perhaps they come closer to being what they should.

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