Why is it that we as Christians have this tendency to reject our own? Why do we think that criticism of another is the best path to God? Why do we assume that what God wants from us is to judge and push down/away those who are hurting? I’m really quite angry about this. Let me give you a bit of background…
I used to be a Youth Pastor in Colorado. It was a wonderful job in a lot of ways. I loved working with the students, I loved planning and acting with my team of youth workers, I loved many of the parents and invested adults in the Church. But lurking just in the shadows, at all times, was the group of those waiting and watching for failure. My failure, volunteer’s failure, students failure, it really didn’t seem to matter, they were there, always, looking for any perceived failure they could attach their anger and spite to.
Let me give you an example.
One of the volunteers in this group was bit of a wild card guy, he would say and do some pretty off the wall things, and his mannerisms rubbed several people the wrong way. But the reality was that he was a stand-up guy that the kids all loved. In my first year working for this Church they tried to get this volunteer removed from my team at least 5 times. Each time I would go to bat defending this guy and trying to understand what it was people were so upset by. Finally, one spring day, the senior pastor called me into his office and told me I needed to let the guy go, he just didn’t fit in our community. When I pressed him on his reasonings he gave me a lot of very difficult to understand references to the workers “mannerisms” and then finally said, “Have you seen his shirts? like the ones with skulls on them? It is simply unacceptable in a church context.” Now, lest you be confused thinking this is a reference to some bloody image of a freshly rotting skull, let me just tell you that the shirt my Pastor was referencing was this one….
Yeah, Marvel Comics Punisher, wear this to church and you’re fired.
Now, clearly this is an extreme version of this problem. But over the course of the next 5 years that I worked for this church it became clear to me that there was to be no grace for any perceived wrong doing. If you were disliked, made mistakes, or where simply immature, you needed to go. For a time, I thought this was unique to this dysfunctional little group and their highly dysfunctional leader. But as I have continued to move on and outward from that experience two things have happened.
First of all, as I reflected on my experiences growing up in Churches I realized that I had actually been seeing this type of behavior my whole life. I had just been convinced in each situation that this was what was best for the church and for the accused.
Second, I realized that it was happening in churches all around me, all the time.
Leap ahead to today. A good friend of mine is seeking to rejoin a church that he has spent a significant period of time away from. He did not leave because he was asked to, or because of sin, or because of hate or division. He left because he moved away from the city the church was in, and now he is moving back. Upon learning of his return to the city my friend received a letter from the leadership of this church letting him know that he would not be welcome there. Now, to be fair, the letter didn’t come out and say this, instead, the letter said that this man was sinful in some very off-putting ways to their fellowship, and that while they hoped he would still attend the church and support its leadership, he is not welcome to re-engage in any of the service he had been doing in or through the church prior to leaving.
Welcome back brother.
To me, this is akin to having a friend I have not seen in years tell me he is coming to visit, and before he enters the house, I kick him as hard as I can in the bean-bag with a steal toed boot.
And then offer him some tea, and ask he likes the new wallpaper.
Would you walk into that house? Neither would I.
And yet the reality is that this is the church today. This is the group struggling to find members and lamenting in elder-board meetings and from the pulpit at the sorry state of the world that has left their pews and coffers nearly empty.
Let me just help you out my dear evangelical friends (which I say genuinely, for I have many in these churches) It is not the world outside your doors that is the problem. It is that you are no longer a safe place from the atrocities of that world that is shaking your foundations. Jesus called the weary and burdened of the world to come to him and find rest. He said that only a brood of vipers as vile as the Pharisees would heap shame and guilt and works on the heads of these weary without lifting a finger to help them. And yet you stand here, claiming to represent The Christ in his mission of grace, but only doing that which he despised. I beg you, open your eyes, open your ears, hear the voice of your shepherd calling to you from a far and return to him. Leave behind you the arguments of the world and their evil ways of homosexuality and abortion, go home and deal with your own heart, at the feat of your own teacher.
I know that this all comes from a place of fear, and so I understand that many are afraid to return, others are afraid that if they leave the false hand they are holding they will never find another hand to guide them, and yet more are simply afraid to take any step at all.
When my pastor told me I needed to fire this worker I asked him why it was so important to remove this young man, He told me “we need to protect ourselves in case he does something to offend the parents or other church members.” This same need to protect themselves came through quite clearly in the letter my friend received as well.
It truly makes me sad.
The movement begun by those willing to defend the defenseless, right to the point of their own death; The movement headed by people that were willing to, and did lay down their lives for the sake of those they loved, for our sake even… Their movement has become one of self protection and fear. A movement that is more concerned with protecting itself from future liability, than it is with helping restore life and dignity to those in need around them.
And so they go, holding their papers of reproach in front of them and their treasures behind their backs as they slowly retreat from those in need of what they hold. The problem is, when they finally turn to run with their treasure, I think they will find it has turned to stone in their hands. That is the nature of the treasure of love, if it is hidden it decays and calcifies, until finally it is only an image of a thing once living.