I continue to be taken aback by how many folks are surprised to learn that faith, religion and Christianity in particular are not all about establishing and enforcing a hierarchy of moral behavior. To me this should be obvious, but apparently for most folks it simply isn’t yet.
I grew up in a household that was faithful and regular in participation while also open to the use of reason and thought in making the practice of faith come alive. For more than two decades I have embraced a tradition that places wisdom, discernment and reason at heart of the life of faith, often to the exclusion of “comfortable” ways of living that would proclaim, in one way or another, that the world revolves around me.
Here I have found my faith deepened, my love of God made more colorful, my life more joyful. There has been healing and maturing, as my mentors, pastors and friends have helped me to celebrate God’s presence while also encouraging me to take responsibility for my spiritual and emotional well-being.
Most of the church-dudes with whom I run (and this is hardly limited to fellow episcopersons) have had a similar experience faith: expansive, loving, encouraging, challenging, and above all nurturing.
And yet, over the past month I must have had a dozen or so conversations with folks are completely surprised to hear that such faith exists within the spectrum of Christianity. Whether posting my opposition to Amendment One on facebook, or preaching about John 3:16 (which I think offers a much greater depth of welcome and inclusion that the typical poster-board reading would allow), or simply wearing the clergy togs around town, I constantly hear surprise that the church is about healing and love, and not, in fact, a way of empowering those who claim the mantle of Christianity but whose words and actions are more self-aggrandizing than self-emptying or self-giving.
I’m sad to say it, but I think I may live in a kind of Christian bubble: that the more normative experience of Church is less than nurturing, and offers a choice of either following along as the path of least resistance, or simply running for the exits.
We (the church, which in our overlapping society must necessarily include just about everyone who defines themselves as Christian) have provided an abundance of clearly marked exits, while our doors of welcome are few and far between. To those who have already left by the exits at one point in their lives, our “entrances” might not look as warm as welcoming as we think they do.
Those of us in the church have our work cut out for us, but I think it helps to put this truth on the table: a great many people, many more than we might think, have been hurt by the church or by those who speak in its name.
Perhaps we can begin simply by being aware that those outside our walls see something very different than we do. Words that are comforting or familiar to us may need some explanation or even some rehabilitation for others.
But ultimately, I think that those who’ve been hurt by religious folks will only begin to find healing when the words of churches match the actions and lives of those within them.