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When We Criticize the Church

We were sold a package deal.

Truth and lies, hope and despair, real and fake – all tied up in a neat package with a bow and sold to us with the label of “Christianity”. The men in the suits with all the words told us that what they taught was true. They said it would fill the aching emptiness in our hearts, that it would get us into Heaven. They told us that it was the only way. We believed them because we were children, and because their voices were the only voices we’d ever heard. With piles of Bible verses and mountains of logic and waves of emotion, they constructed a package deal. And we bought it.

Then we grew up.

When we grew up, we stepped outside the doors of the churches where we had been sold “Christianity” and found that the package wasn’t enough. The neat answers and the principles and the trite songs and the out-of-context Bible verses were dissonant and flat in the world we discovered. Many of us have never set foot inside a church since then.

Some of us clung to the right answers, trying to “walk by faith”, trusting that “His ways are higher than our ways”. Ignoring the cognitive dissonance. Ignoring the unanswerable questions. Trying so desperately hard to please God. Trying so desperately hard to convince ourselves that this was “life more abundantly”. Always nagged by the thought that maybe we just weren’t trying hard enough. Nagged by the fear that the whole thing, the whole package deal named “Christianity”, was a lie.

Then somewhere between the aching loneliness and the lurking agnosticism, in the terrifying darkness, we saw a glimmer of hope. The voice of Jesus whispering above all the words we’d heard about Him. His love reaching past all we’d seen done in His name. His hands gently beginning to untie the neat bow that had tied up the package deal so cleanly and kept us so cruelly from freedom.

So we began, unconsciously, the process of deconstructing our “Christianity”. It’s a long and difficult journey, and often it feels like there’s no compass. See, we’d been taught the Bible was the source of all truth, and that whatever was footnoted with a Bible verse was true. We’d been told that there was only one way to interpret it, and that any other way was wrong and dangerous. Then we began to realize that many of those things so neatly footnoted with Bible verses were simply not true. Not because the Bible was not true, but because the hermeneutic was flawed. We realized that you could find a Bible verse to support any view, no matter how broken or twisted. And so the admonition to “just trust the Bible” held little comfort, because we were unable to read the Bible without hearing the words of all those men in suits selling us truth and lies mixed together.

With that package finally torn open and spilled out, we’re now analyzing it piece by piece:

Evangelism. Inspiration. Music. Evolution. Marriage. Politics. War. Gender roles. Denominations. Islam. Social justice. Eschatology. Capitalism. Abortion. Revelation. Feminism. Immigration. Youth group. Liturgy. Morality. The very nature of Jesus, and of God Himself. These are the things that had been all tied up in the package mislabeled “Christianity”, neatly with a bow on top.

We are an entire generation with the broken pieces of our religion scattered on the floor around us. Slowly, carefully, we are trying to separate the truth from the lies.

Sometimes with exuberant hope, at other times with tears and swear words. When we see our brothers and sisters being sold that same package deal that we bought, we raise our voices in protest. Not because we don’t love the Church, but because we love it too much to see it used as a platform for peddling a package deal of truth mixed with lies.

So when we criticize the Church, please, please listen.

When we criticize the Church, please understand our hearts. Most of us criticize the Church because it’s hurting our brothers and sisters the same way it hurt us. Because we love them too much to stay silent. Because we love the Church. Because what we’re saying matters. Please know that it’s easier to stay silent than to speak about the past. If we’ve worked up the courage to let our voices be heard, it must matter very, very much.

When we we criticize the Church, please remember that we’re not looking for an argument.

We’ve heard all the arguments and probably were on the other side of them not too long ago. If we’ve worked up the courage to let go of long-held beliefs that were our security, it hasn’t been lightly. It’s been with tears and prayers and the terrifying fear that we might be taking a brave step in the wrong direction.

When we criticize the Church, please understand that we’re not just looking for an excuse to sin.

We’re looking for freedom. When we sin, we do it without excuse because that’s the nature of sin. But we’ve been told all our lives that all sorts of things are sinful, with supporting verses and “the Bible clearly says.” Now we’re realizing that many of those “sins” simply weren’t. Remember that story in the Bible, when the Apostle Peter had been told all his life that eating unclean food was a sin, but then God told him to take it and eat it? That’s often how it is for us, except without a booming voice from heaven.

When we criticize the Church, please know that we aren’t ashamed of the Gospel.

We are probably just beginning to glimpse what the Gospel really is, and it’s better news than we had ever dreamed. So when we see a stale, moralistic religion marketed as the Gospel, strangled in tradition and politics, our hearts ache. We remember all too clearly the bondage of that false Gospel. And we are so desperately thirsty for the real one.

When we criticize the Church, please don’t suggest that we don’t value Scripture.

We do, and that’s why we’re determined to read and wrestle with its most difficult questions. For most of our lives the Scripture has been used as a weapon to keep us in bondage, instead of as Good News to set us free. Now we’re searching for life in its pages, and questioning much of what we’ve been taught. We’ll get some things wrong, for sure. But that’s not because we have “a low view of Scripture”; it’s because we still are looking through a glass darkly, and learning to read with eyes wide open.

When we criticize the Church please know that we don’t have all the answers.

We don’t think that we do. (We often value good questions over easy answers, because easy answers aren’t usually true.) We don’t think we’re the generation that will get it all right. All we know is that much of what we experienced isn’t right, and there’s got to be something more. Something better. For the sake of those who’ve grown up alongside us, for the sake of those coming after us, we want to do what we can to make the Church a place of love and truth and hope and righteousness and life.

When we criticize the Church, please allow us space to stumble.

With the loss of our broken “Christianity”, we’ve lost a bit of our identity. We try on different labels, hoping to find something that will fit. Our beliefs are often fluid, especially about the peripheral issues. We’re investigating the controversies and the heresies, the ideas that were always “off limits.” We’ll talk about these ideas, and write about them, and pray about them. Hoping to find something that resonates. Clinging to what is good. Struggling to deconstruct our broken religion and allow God to replace it with a holistic, beautiful, living faith. We’ll come to many different conclusions on the “issues”, but we have this struggle in common. In many ways, this struggle defines us.

When we criticize the Church and our words are reckless and stinging, please forgive us.

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. We long for the day when we can finally be free of that false “Christianity” , and run toward Jesus as He runs to meet us.

And until that day comes, we will not be silent.

This post is part of a synchroblog for Spiritual Abuse Awareness week.
To hear more stories from #ChurchSurvivors, click here.

[ image: AETN ]

published March 22, 2013

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