I’ve avoided saying it out loud for a while now, especially to myself.
As long as I’ve been writing things critical of the church, I’ve been adding disclaimers:
“Please understand that we have only love for the Church, even if that love is sometimes clouded by hot tears of anger and hurt. Please know that we need the Church, all of us desperately need the church. We long for it to be the first glimpses of the Kingdom of God here on earth.”
I just don’t know if I can do it anymore.
I still long for SOMETHING to be a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here on earth, but I’m tired of hoping that any sort of thing labeled “Church” will actually be that thing.
They say that the Church is the Body of Christ.
They say that the Church is the bearer of Good News.
They say that the Church is the hands of feet of Jesus.
But over and over see the Church being only the opposite of that. And when we’ve recounted the ways the Church has broken and betrayed us in the name of Love, we sigh and add “But I guess I still love the Church, it’s just some people that hurt me…”
I wonder how long we have to keep trying to convince ourselves of this thing that feels constantly less than true?
This is what I see: Jesus came as God-in-human-flesh and offered humanity a radical way of interacting with one another and with the Divine. Two thousand years later, the Church claims to carry on the mission and teachings of Jesus, but:
By now it’s gone all so much to shit that it’s not only unrecognizable from what Jesus taught, it is often completely against the original Message.
What other conclusion can we reach?
When the Church, tasked with sharing the Gospel that sets us free from shame, instead becomes the importer and distributor of this same soul-crushing shame. When the Church, tasked with the liberation of the oppressed in God’s name, joins forces with the State and with Greed to oppress the poor and needy and stranger in God’s name. When the Church, tasked with spreading peace and salvation, instead becomes a co-signer of violence and war. When the Church, tasked with teaching us to walk by faith, instead burdens us with the soul-crushing lie of certainty. When the Church, tasked with bringing the hope of eternal life, instead peddles the fear of hell and death.
Jesus called all this shit. He talked about how the religious teachers were going to fuck it all up, how those most convinced that they understood it all had missed the point completely, how those who were supposed to offer life were instead dragging us down to hell, how those that appeared the most righteous were in fact rotting grave-holes.
And goddamn if we didn’t distill all of that into doctrines and memory verses and then promptly reproduce the same damn thing and slap his name on it all anyhow.
But how can you say you don’t love the Church? That’s the Bride of Christ! How do you think Jesus feels about you talking shit about His Bride?
Lets be honest for a second and admit that maybe the Church isn’t the Bride of Christ and instead is a zombified corpse-bride, rotten and crawling with death?
Damn. That’s dark.
Yes. But scroll up and re-read the part where Jesus called the religious of his day rotting grave-holes and tell me how what you see today is any different?
But Jesus instituted the Church! It was his idea!
Yes. And just between you and me, sometimes I wonder if it didn’t take. I wonder if Jesus’ experiment failed. I wonder if He looks at this clusterfuck happening in His name and says “I have no idea what in the hell they are doing.”
Or, to borrow from His own words: “I never knew you”.
(And if you think the idea of Jesus starting an ultimately-failing experiment is heretical, you need to revisit the premise of the Noah’s Ark story.)
Where does this leave us? I honestly have no idea.
This is the part where I’m supposed to be a good progressive Christian and quote Dorothy Day: “As to the Church, where else shall we go? … Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”
Nope. Not gonna do that.
Because I’ve tried over and over to reconcile “Church” with the life and teachings of Jesus and (though there are a few exceptions) I have more often than not found them to be undeniably at odds.
As to Church, where else shall we go? Though she claims to be our Mother, maybe she’s actually one of those imposter evil step-mothers from a dark fairy tale, the kind who claims to love you and then keeps you locked in a tower until she’s used you completely up.
Oh, I’ve tried to squirm away from this cognitive dissonance by parsing the definition of “Church” enough that I could keep the good and renounce the evil.
And I’ve listened over and over while my fellow Christians have wearied themselves trying to hold both the life offered by Jesus and the death dealt them by the Church.
I’ve heard every last one of your counter-arguments too — “Not all Churches”, “The Church is flawed because humans are flawed”, “It’s not the Church that let you down, it’s people”, “Churches do a lot of good too!” — and yet, find them insufficient to address the dissonance of trying to love the Church when it is so often counter to the teachings of Jesus.
A few months ago I asked a pastor-friend about this: “How can we keep looking at the Gospel of Jesus that brings life and this perverted gospel that brings death, pedaled under the same name of ‘Christianity’, and say that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ? How can we tell ourselves that these things that are opposites are variations of the same thing? How long can we pretend that they are in any way compatible?”
He didn’t give me an answer; he only encouraged me to sit with the question.
So I have, and I am, and now I think that maybe I don’t love the Church anymore.
If you do love the Church, I am happy for you. I hold no ill feelings toward you. (Unless you are a dick-bag in the name of Love.)
If you have experienced both — evil (let’s call it what it is) and love in the name of the Church — maybe it’s ok to admit that the Church fucked you right up and that the good and kind people you encountered along the way would have been good and kind with or without Church.
If you keep voicing your lament and grief over the evil (let’s call it what it is) done by the so-called Body of Christ and yet feel compelled to tie it up with an un-felt but necessary disclaimer about how the Church is still good or whatever, maybe it’s ok to just leave that last part off.
Maybe it’s ok to be honest with ourselves and say that the Body of Christ as we’ve experienced it is wholly incompatible with the Jesus we’ve come to love.
Maybe it’s ok to admit that this thing isn’t at all what God had in mind, and maybe we can stop trying to pretend that it is.
Maybe it’s ok to say that I don’t love the Church anymore.
Now I feel like the most honest thing I can do in this particular moment is pray. And the words in my chest are something like this:
Our Father who art in Heaven, what the fuck is happening in your name? This kingdom that’s come to pass on earth is nothing like what you said Love should be and I’m bone-tired of trying to reconcile what I hope for with what I see. Sometimes it seems like the daily bread offered as your body and blood is instead snakes and stones and not at all You. Forgive me if by voicing this I’m trespassing against you, you know I don’t mean to. I only mean to say that I wanted something that looked more like You. So if you can, will you deliver us from Evil (especially when the Evil is called “Church”)? Because I still believe that your Kingdom is out there somewhere (or maybe inside of me?) and I’d very much like to find my way there. For whatever it’s worth, amen.
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