Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Deep Sorrow and a Hollow Heart

Maybe it's from having just finished Ecclesiastes this morning that I find myself so burdened.  The heaviness in my heart is real, and how to proceed is abstract.  It's easy to look around and see the Church--that is the Bride of Christ, not the local building--failing in so many ways.  In a sample of a hundred churches, one hundred of them will be filled with problems.  Strife among brothers and sisters.  Gossiping.  Hatred.  Pride.  Lust.  These are to be expected, as we're all still human and not yet made perfect, but the fact that there doesn't seem to be any desire to change is sickening.

Last night I was involved in a regional church meeting.  Between the two counties involved, there were 56 churches represented, with 266 voters present.  The issue was to decide whether or not to kick a church (Journey Fellowship) out of the association.  Why?  Because their building is used by the local PFLAG group.  That's it.  There is no relationship between the church and PFLAG other than the fact that the church allows their facility to be open and available.  In effect, this church is saying Welcome, we love you, and we don't judge.  In fact, the church goes on to profess "radical unconditional acceptance," something that many churches look down on.

Considering that the meeting even took place, I felt like the situation was already lose-lose.  Instead of brothers and sisters of Jesus standing up and loving on one another, there was a meeting to disfellowship a church because they were loving on people.  So in a crowd of 350+ people, displayed to media from here to far, I watched the Church fight*.  It was civil, yes, but it felt to me an underlying wave of hatred and judgment.  Speakers voiced their affirmation of the motion (to remove the church) and then speakers voiced their opposition (to keep the church in).  Back and forth this went, passionate words flying from both sides, maintaining rules of order, borderline chaos, people "Amen-ing" and shaking their heads.

The call to vote came.  Oddly, in order to vote we had to vote whether or not we could even commence with voting.  Once that passed, someone called for secret ballot.  This vote failed, and we then proceeded to stand up and cast our votes publicly.  Of the 266 voters, 242 voted to disfellowship this church.  The only ones that voted to keep them in was the representatives from the accused church and four of us from my church (so the other four from my church either didn't vote or voted in favor). 

Then, awkwardly, the order of the meeting called for ballot tabulating time, because I suppose it was thought the vote would be secret ballot.  So during this time, we sat uncomfortably aware of the results while pretending that we didn't know.  A man led the congregation in a song, singing "People Need the Lord," and the words sounded hollow and fake.  People need the Lord unless you're gay.  People need the Lord but not all.  People need the Lord but find Him outside the church.  People need the Lord let's pretend like we love each other.  People need the Lord let's all judge our brothers.  People need the Lord....

The meeting adjourned soon after, people spreading like ants funneling through a crack in the wall.  We talked to the reps from the now disfellowshipped church, telling them we appreciated what they were doing, offering prayer and encouragement. 

This whole things is deeply disappointing on so many levels.  It shows how fragile our Church is.  It shows how far we've fallen.  The fact that a church cannot have a support group is ridiculous.  How is PFLAG any different than AA or any other accountability group**?  I'm of the opinion that people don't like it when sins are public.  We prefer keeping them to ourselves, sitting comfortably in our pews and silently looking down on everybody else.  We're a white, middle-classed church, born to outdated traditions and indoctrinated with prejudices.  We don't like it when our customs are rocked or when our cultures change.  Thus, we're a dying, stagnant Church.  We fail at reaching the lost because we can't get over their sins, all the while ignoring our own.  We don't reach out and help people because we're lazy, uncaring, and satisfied with our own salvation.  Last I checked, Jesus spent most of His time on earth with the less-than-reputable people, the whores and liars, the outcasts and abused.  Instead, we want air-conditioned buildings, thirty-minute sermons, and clean and fake members.  We don't want real.  We want facades.

This is the state of Christianity today.  It's to a point where a new word needs to be used for those of us that follow Jesus Christ and His teachings.  The Church is called to love everyone, to reach the unsaved, to make disciples, to spread God's Gospel to the ends of the earth.  How can we do that when our church's doors are closed?  When the doors of the church are closed, the hearts of its members are, too.  And if Christians are a close-hearted people, we've removed Jesus from our beliefs, and if that's the case, then I guess I'm not a Christian.


*I imagine the Bride as an abused, delusional, schizophrenic, bi-polar bigot that spreads Her legs for anyone other than Her Husband.  She's married to a Savior that died for everyone--chiefly Her--and yet She spends Her time with the World and Its thinking.  She has a Husband that embodies love, but She prefers a world that spits on Her and slaps Her around.

**Just because a church building is used by a group does not mean that the church adheres to the group's philosophy.  However, perception is everything, and people perceive that since Journey is allowing PFLAG to use its building that they believe all of PFLAG's tenets, regardless whether that's the case or not. 


Kristopher A. Denby said...


I don't think I'm going to offer anything up that is going to make you feel better. Probably if I went on the tear that I'd like to go on, you'd feel worse.

I will say this, though: I believe what I believe and I try to conduct my life in the most honest, good intentioned way possible. I rarely, rarely go to a church, because growing up I saw the types of things you're describing happening all around me, and I often found myself wondering why people who claim to be so Godly would conduct themselves in such despicable ways. So, I go my own way, and rarely look to other men to make me feel better about myself or to help me with issues of faith. We all have faults. We are all only people, and I'd argue that things have been this way since man began to organize himself into groups. But I would also argue that for every bad act you witness, there's at least one good act taking place somewhere else in the world.

But faith is about believing in something despite evidence to the contrary, and you can't let the actions of a few misguided souls turn you into a jaded cynic. I've been down that road, and it ain't fun, brother.

I hope you cheer up.


The Sound and Fury of Kristopher A Denby

Anonymous said...

I am saddened that you are witnessing and experiencing this; am also proud that you would stand up for your beliefs; even that you do feel the sorrow of religious-folk behaving badly--but I hope it will not keep you down for long, and I hope that Journey gets the support and comfort they need--and that some enlightenment will come out of all this, a re-evaluation of what being like Jesus means.


David Wagner said...

"...people spreading like ants funneling through a crack in the wall."

I liked that line.

Sorry, trying to find a silver lining in the post and/or experience. Sounds like a monumental bummer. Maybe it will stretch a part of you that needed stretching, or something. I don't know. I trust something good will come of it somehow, that's all.

Kristopher A. Denby said...

Yes! Yes! To David you listen!

*in best Yoda voice*

logankstewart said...

@Kris: "We all have faults. We are all only people..." Indeed, and that's the very reason why I try my hardest to reach out to these people and live my faith by my actions and love. My faults are no less sinful than others, but pride/bigotry is nauseating to be around, too. In short, I'm over it and actively seeking to live the best I can for Christ.

@L: "Religious" folk have behaved badly since "religion" came into being, I suppose. In the name of gods and idols people were persecuted and sacrificed, enslaved and abused, and Christianity stands right there with the rest. The problem with Christianity is, as I've mentioned, people taking their eyes off Jesus and living as they want and not as Christ did. Thanks for the encouragement.

@Dave: Heh, thanks. Bummer, yes, as this year seems to be filled with faith-challenging issues. There is good in these things, as they force me to depend on God more and seek Him more diligently. Who knows where it's all heading, eh?

Mattson Tomlin said...

Without getting too into it (you know the tone of my work, it reflects my general outlook on life occasionally) after witnessing church politics at a very young age, I sat my parents down at age six and said I wasn't going t go to church anymore. They were surprised at this statement, and asked me why. I remember very clearly responding, "after seeing the way people behave there, I don't think it's a place of spirituality. I think that there's a difference between religion and spirituality, and you can be spiritual without the confines of a building or a man telling you had to be spiritual." Keep in mind, this is a Unitarian church we're talking about, so in most peoples eyes, I'm already going to hell.

They didn't make me go to church again. I'm not sure how relevant this anecdote may be, and far be it from me to tell you to stop going, but your last line brings this story to mind- you seem to be very in touch with your own spirituality, and have built the tools to be able to find that within yourself. A building and a group of people might help you with those tools, but that spirituality will always come from within.