Last night I Facebook stalked someone we went to church with long, long ago.
“Did you know the Smiths* just sent their daughter to Holy Spirit Supernatural Gifts Camp* this summer.” I asked Chad. We were lying in bed after the kids had retired to their room, summer twilight still seeping through the shades. We were all beat.
I raced through my phone, this woman’s posts read like an anathema against everything from gay marriage to Obama’s “plan” and a manifesto for all things American and “biblical.” Plus she was bragging about sending her kid to some fringe Christian camp for a week that no doubt forced kids to speak in tongues and perform healing miracles.
He looked over at me. “I don’t know Sarah. All the crazy Pentecostal stuff just seems so odd to me now. I just can’t do it anymore.”
And he says that because we’ve lived among not just the normal signs gifts church-goers, but also the people that send their kids to Holy Ghost summer camps and force people to speak in tongues. And we’ve lived among equally as abusive church situations no where near the Pentecostal side. Church hurt and abuse happens everywhere, Pentecostal or not, Catholic or Baptist, Episcopal or Presbyterian.
Manipulation. Coercion. Verbal abuse. Shepherding. And worse.
I have a collection of stories from my growing up years, and if you were to sit down with my husband and a glass of single malt, he’ll tell you his stories too.
We’ve all been wounded by the church. God’s church.
God’s beautiful church.
Most of us have a story or two (or maybe we have a hundred) where somebody or some people or some group in the church takes a low blow at us, our hearts, our trust or our innocence.
We have choices to make: we can walk away. Or we don’t.
And because we’ve chosen to stick with church, I feel like I live in No-Man’s-Land.
So many people, I feel, are drawing lines and taking sides. It’s “okay” to either hate the church or to never see any fault at all with the church. I feel like I live in a place somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in a no-man’s land where I love the community of God’s people but I also know that at times it can be like navigating a minefield.
I love the church. I love the music and the gatherings and the food and the children. I love the at least once a week get-togethers and the love and life shared with the old and the young. I love being able to give back to families by loving their children and I love the public forum and the different personalities and the pastors and the friendships. I love the serve-days and the youth group bowling nights. I love the beauty of the bread and the cup and simplicity of coming to Jesus in front of an altar.
But I also hate the church. I hate the commercialism and the tie-a-bow-on-it mentality. I hate the way people can’t be honest with struggle and hide behind the I’m-Okays and the Don’t-Worry-About-Mes. I hate that the church is a breeding ground for manipulation and abuse and I hate that the church so often over-works it’s leaders in the name of Jesus. I hate the way the people beside whom you have served for so long can, on the turn of a dime, become an enemy. I hate they way that some preachers twist Jesus’ words to say what they think he said.
I love and I hate the church. Thus the no-man’s land.
Let me suggest this: that we all begin moving more toward the middle. If we land on closer to the love side, let us keep our eyes more open toward the ways in which the church needs some serious triage. She needs change and tolerance and more love. So much more love. And if we land closer to the hate side, let us open our hearts to see the immeasurable beauty in what Christ has rescued with His blood.
And maybe I need to stop the Facebook stalking and recognize that everyone, even our old church friends, has their own story filled with perhaps their own hurts and that they need just as much grace as I do.
Where do you fall? Do you love the church? Hate it? Are you somewhere in the middle?