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Church issues,  Re-thinking theology,  The rebel Jesus way

A look at how Jesus treated the other – my journey of leaving the church

As many of you know, I was raised in church, have been in a Christian leadership role since my teens, started my own non-profit and eventually became a pastor. So, why would I buck the perfectly ordered system and walk away from church?

What many don’t know is that I was an undercover misfit long before I ever wore those colors publically.

Now, I could explain how my theology changed or how my distaste grew for the institutionalization of it all – I could do all those things. But, truthfully, the reason I walked away is far more simple than any of that.

So here it is in a nutshell:

I can’t stand the way Christians treat people.

WHAT. DID. SHE. JUST. SAY??

OMG. She’s attacking her own tribe.

Let me explain:

When I was in middle school (yes, we’re taking a trip back to the 90’s. Where CD collections were all the rage, Doc Martins were a must and bands like DC Talk were what good Christian girls dreamed about).

I be-friended an adorable guy in one of my classes. I grew to like this guy so much that I quickly labeled him my boyfriend (which at that time only meant that we sat together at lunch and talked on the phone until our parents made us eat dinner).

Like any good Christian girl, I invited him to youth group. I was so excited to introduce him to my “real” friends at church but was surprised when I was called into a meeting in the youth pastor’s office with my peers. I was explained to that we were “unequally yoked” and that I needed to end the relationship. (The relationship that consisted of phone conversations. Good Lord.)

Many reasons were brought up as to why we were unequally yoked: primarily that he hadn’t known God as long as I had – oh and the fact that he was black.

Yeah.

So much I could say right now.

It was absurd.

As impressionable as I was and as much as I wanted to please those inside that room, I knew that mindset was wrong. This is where the disconnect started for me.

Speed into adulthood where I am a mom at a Christian school.

Now the Christian moms at this school probably weren’t much different than any other group of Christian moms. They went to church together, got coffee together and (of course) spent a lot of time talking about other people (they don’t like to use the word gossip – they prefer saying things like “concerned for” or “need wisdom about” when discussing others).

This group invited me to hang out with them. I did.

But, of course, I continued to hang out with the moms on the outside as well. They included moms with tattoos. Moms who had been divorced. Moms who were  black. Moms who drank. Moms who cussed. Moms who didn’t enjoy belittling and judging others.

I honestly didn’t think much of being friends with both groups.

I thought maybe I could bridge the gap between them. But, over time, as I consistently watched one group exclude, gossip about and treat the “others” like complete outsiders, I slowly started to bow out.

I left the bigger group and stood with the smaller group on the outside.

As honorable as that move may sound, it landed me dodging arrows right along those on the outside. Moms who I had raised my kids with, went from inviting me and my family over weekly to acting like I was a complete stranger.

It was horrible.

Throughout my church career I watched this same pattern play out over and over again. Where one larger “more holy” group would exclude and ultimately crucify a perceived “less holy” group.

It begs the question: out of the two, who is actually behaving more holy?

Which opens the door to an even more important question: whose behavior more lines up with Jesus?

Jesus was born into a time where the idea of a large majority pushing out the smaller was widely popular. The Roman government was violently oppressive to many groups of marginalized people. Even the Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees) made a practice of excluding and judging those outside their faith.

You don’t have to look very far to see where Jesus fit in this mix – Jesus always stood with the outsider.

ALWAYS.

Over and over again, you see him standing with those who society pushed out.

The non-religious

The foreigners

The outsiders

The “others”

Unlike the behavior I witnessed during my church years, Jesus did not reprimand, attack or judge anyone on the outside. On the contrary, he did the exact opposite.

Jesus welcomed, embraced, loved, stood-up for and included.

But what about those living a sinful lifestyle? Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “I don’t condemn you”. He stood with her against those judging her. When Jesus met with the woman at the well, he did not reprimand her for her lifestyle choices. He talked to her (which was totally against social cues) as a peer.

But we can’t let outsiders in? They threaten our way of life! Jesus told an incredible story where a foreigner was beaten and left for dead. One by one, the Christians (eh, religious) saw him and ignored him. But, then a Samaritan man took him in – who was from a group that the religious frowned upon – he took care of the wounded man, clothed him and cared for him. Jesus says SO MUCH in this story simply by the groups he chose to represent in this parable.

Besides how Jesus repeatedly taught and modeled his life on this radical concept, I think it’s important to recognize what he didn’t do:

Jesus didn’t crucify anyone.

Jesus didn’t march against anyone.

Jesus didn’t exclude anyone.

Instead, he allowed the powerful majority to march against and ultimately crucify him.

THIS, my friends, is where Jesus is.

Jesus will stand with those being attacked, gossiped about, judged, oppressed and excluded. And until we are willing to be crucified alongside those groups of people, we should not call ourselves Jesus followers.

So, ultimately why did I leave the safety of the mothership known as mega-church American Christianity?

The same reason I left the Christian mommy group: I’m not at home there. I am at home standing on the outside with the misfits dodging arrows right next to them.

And as far as what church is to me now? Church is exactly what Jesus displayed: an open table. Sharing food, sharing life and always making room for one more.

Hugs,

Anna

PS: When faced with speaking your truth from that inner knowing or making a decision that poses potential rejection, anxiety and sleepless nights are ready companions. As one who has bucked the status quo most of my life, I SO GET IT. In my recent podcast episode offer 3 steps that I live by when faced with potential rejection that will bring relief, courage and much needed peace. Listen in here.

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Author. Blogger. Speaker. Momma to 4.

30 Comments

  • C Steen

    There are oh so many things we have in common here; two decades ago the Lord said to us “come out from among them and be separate” — it’s been a lonely existence for the most part and only a few brothers and sisters in the Lord accept it and us will meet and fellowship with us on “the outside”. They are the Includers who know us for who we are and that our hearts are to be Jesus to everyone.

    This is what I just finished reading before your blog popped into my Inbox:

    Matt 7:
    13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.
    15 “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

    20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name? ’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers! ’
    __________________

    We are to judge with righteous judgment and not according to appearance. (John 7:24)

    Keep seeking Jesus. 🙂

  • Dawn

    Anna, I’ve been a fan from a far and you did a great job of putting words to why I’ve been resisting going to church again. It’s been difficult to pinpoint the precise reason, but your post pretty accurately sums it up.

    Thank you

    • Kimberly Beasley

      Please don’t let this hold you back from going to church!! I ran into this at my church, too, and almost quit going for that very reason. But, I’m glad I didn’t!! I changed who I associated with–changed my Bible study group, etc. This is just another way the enemy keeps us away from serving and attending church! We need those connections, so please go back, keep your eyes and heart open and it’ll be okay!!@

      • neagrl

        Great response, Kimberly. I agree. Majority of believers I know have been hurt one way or another by the church- myself included. But a handful of things I know by experience:
        1. We are imperfect, fallible, sinful people who make up ‘the Body’. Which means we will constantly be stepping on each other’s toes as well as stepping on the toes of our brothers/sisters.
        2. We, as a whole, don’t accurately reflect the true nature of Christ ALL the time (Raise your hand if you’ve successfully skipped the sanctification process??)
        3. When we are keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit gives us wisdom and insight to see the people who hurt us with the very same forgiveness, love, mercy and grace that Christ gave us. Thereby enabling us to stay soft-hearted AND engaged toward/with them.
        4. By being able to stay soft-hearted and connected to the ‘Christians’ that outcast us (or others), we are actually reflecting what it truly means to be a follower of Christ.
        5. What if God has given you eyes to see the hypocrisy in the church that YOU might be the Light to those lost-believers?
        6. Part of our mandate as followers of Christ is to disciple others into close relationship with Christ- if we walk away from hypocrisy, are we also walking away from an opportunity to disciple a brother/sister? What was the purpose of the prophets in the OT? Where they sent to the non-believers? No, they were sent to the believers who had lost sight of the way. In the same way, we build up the body with our gift of insight into the areas where the body is malfunctioning.
        7. By showing inclusivity and godly love to those ‘mainstream’ brothers and sisters, our own character is being shaped to become more Christ-like. We’re being given opportunities to Love the unlovable, Forgive the unforgivable, etc.

        One things I’ve come to experience (and witness) over and over again is the when God has a lesson for someone, He usually has a lesson for all parties involved. Because at the end of the day, no one is righteous, not one, no one who always does good and never sins. This I completely know for myself as well. I’m very much aware of the ugly that dwells (sometimes dormant, sometimes active) in my heart. But all the more thankful that Jesus rescued me, even when He saw me like this.
        God bless, friends.

  • Lynn Masters

    Hi Anna!
    I don’t always get to read your blog but for some reason, this one today “jumped out” to me. As a Christian for over 50 years (I came to know Christ as a child) and being a pastor’s wife/pastor for over 40 years I definitely have seen the good the bad and the ugly in the church world! Here is my take on the “church”. First, the true church is the Bride of Christ and when we accept Jesus as our personal Savoir and Redeemer we become part of His Church, His Bride. What has evolved since He was here on earth is what I call “organized religion” and not necessarily the real Church. Often organized religion calls itself the church and may very well exhibit the characteristics that Jesus wants in His Church/Bride. And then there are those that have veered very far from Jesus’ teachings! Because I believe that I am part of His church, that also means I have the responsibility and yes even the command to go to all people and teach them to observe what Jesus taught. Sometimes this is outside the four walls of an organized church building and sometimes it means I need to teach those who have attend those “organized religious institutions” what Jesus wanted His Church to be. One thing I remind myself when I am in the midst of unChristlike situation in the little church I attend or the larger church I work for is that Christ died for everyone and that no matter where we are we are called to be the Church/Bride of Christ!

  • Alecia Kraus

    Thank you so much for your bravery and speaking out in the raw honest way that you do. So much of this resonates with me. I love Jesus and I know there are some incredible people within the Catholic church and many other churches. Like you, I struggle with all the judgment and arrogance that happens in Jesus’ name. I feel that some of what happens is exactly what he was speaking against but I don’t know the Bible like you do. It’s just something I feel and know to be true. So thank you for being so honest.

  • Glenn

    This sounds so familiar because i hear this from a lot of different types of people. As a pastor it makes me angry when people are judged and condemned by the “church”. Let me encourage you to don’t give up on attending worship gatherings on Sunday. Notice i did not call it church because the church is the people who truly follow Christ. I believe there are churches out there that still love a person just because they are created in the image of God. We need to remember a children’s song we used to sing. “Jesus loves the little children all the children of the world. Red and yellow black and white”… You know. I am a pastor of a Southern Baptist church in a rural community and our church family is loving, accepting and welcoming of any and every one. We need an AWAKING in America of God’s people.

    • Anna Dimmel

      Bless you for loving, accepting and welcoming everyone. Thank you for showing the love of Jesus. Hugs to you!

  • Carol

    Hi Anna. You are definitely transparent, and I Love that! I Love Jesus with everything in me. I am so sorry that you are going through this. Mahatma Gandhi said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christian”. It shows that Christians have been unJesus like for awhile. I would highly recommend a book for you. It is by Ravi Zacharias called “Has Christianity failed you.” Ravi Zacharias has a ministry called RZIM; the main focus is the yout….He has many you tube lectures with questions and answers. I have heard from a few people that the church has hurt them, so they no longer attend church.. For me the answer was to give All of myself to Christ, Die to myself, Look to Jesus….not people. To Love Jesus.. Nothing… comes close to knowing Him ✝️💜

  • Kimberly Beasley

    Good afternoon!! Nothing is more refreshing that a good dose of TRUTH!! This is a great post that everyone, especially the younger folks need to read. I learned the hard way and I suppose everybody does or will: if you’re on the outside looking in, that’s probably a good thing! It doesn’t feel good when it happens, but God has a way of opening our eyes and moving us away from people/groups we don’t need to be with. And it can really hurt! But, focus on the love God has for you by getting you away from those groups and why He does it–so, you can grow and be more like Jesus. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you!!

  • Sarah Addison-Fox

    Thank you so much for this! I recently started speaking publically about contentious issues and thought I was alone. To read this has solidified my resolve to keep on doing so. I started a Misfits, truth seekers and non conformists group on Facebook attached to my author page which is a huge risk. I wanted to create a haven for like minded Christians who refuse to be categorized. Thank you again. Greatly encouraged. Much love.

  • Sally

    This has been precisely my story as well. It has deeply grieved my heart to find more comfort outside than in. Only Jesus. He is my core… your post resonates the inner chambers of my heart… I love you!

  • Lori

    Oh, dear Anna. Every time I read one of your blogs I want to sit and talk face to face. You do write honestly and you represent the feelings and experiences of many. However, although you can’t see it now, perhaps when many years have passed and you go back and read how you’ve felt and responded, you’ll see – you’re working so hard to defend your attitudes and perspective. Because others can relate, you are taking them along with you. I must ask you, though, are your thoughts, desires and reactions biblical? Are YOU reflecting Christ?

    This entire post was an attack on the Christian church and Christian moms. Where is the acceptance from you toward them that you feel they didn’t give others not like them? Then others comment and ‘pile on’ , totally criticizing churches and the people in them. Is this like Jesus?

    Yes, we are ALL in need of a Saviour- those both inside and outside of the church. We ALL sin daily, need to repent, and ask for Him to lead our lives.

    Anna, if you truly asked Jesus to be your Lord and Master, please humble yourself and open your heart and ears to what He tells you. Most of what I’ve read in your post is about you- your experiences, your feelings, your being wronged or ‘judged’. When you realize and acknowledge your rebellion (ALL of us are rebellious in our hearts) of wanting things your way, and the Holy Spirit changes your view and attitudes, you begin to see people and situations from His perspective.

    His purpose for believers is to yield ourselves to Him – totally, daily; Our desire should be to reflect Jesus, who was a complete reflection of the Father. We are to point others to His love for them, tell them of His sacrifice which makes it possible for us to have a relationship with the Living God!

    You have established a platform, Anna. People are listening to you. Are your pointing them in the right direction? You will be held accountable.

  • Anna Dimmel

    Thank you for taking the time to post your comment. My post was not attacking Christians or Christian moms – in fact, the “outsiders” I referenced are just that: Jesus followers. Just not the kind that the majority of Christians would welcome. However, I equally would stand on the outside (and have) with those who do not profess to be Jesus followers. I will dodge bullets with them right along with them from those claiming to follow God. Why? Because that’s what Jesus did.

    You are correct in that I share my experiences here. I am vulnerable, honest and straightforward – I have found that is exactly where the spirit has led me to be. And, you’re right, it does resonate with many people – because there are a lot of us out there who have felt these things which is all the more reason why I am so open. Freedom is found when we bring things out into the light – not when we hide them in the dark.

    As for whether or I not I am being Christ-like in my view towards their behavior? Well, take a brief look into the gospels and see how Jesus openly reprimanded the church. He had zero tolerance for their exclusive, condemning behavior. So, if I’m ruffling a few feathers by calling out that same behavior, I think I’m in welcome company.

    As for listening to the voice of the Spirit, I have been listening to that still, small voice since I was young – I know it well. And it is exactly what moves me to write and speak the way that I do.

    Blessings and peace,
    Anna

  • Sonny

    Paul outlines, as a Church, we are given a ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness. Called not to count the world’s sins against them but to proclaim the acceptance of God. He goes as far to say we cannot look at anyone according to their physical acts but simply see them in Christ. Be the Church, love your neighbors, forgive your enemies, be salt, shine the light, wash the feet of your brothers and sisters. Jesus is Love!

  • Michelle

    This is a great post. I love when people tell you return to church. There are other things within the church that are corrupt besides Christians being judgmental. I think the entire system is flawed from the top down. You nailed it though. The outside group–the ones no one cares for–that’s who Jesus came to save. Not the people who thought they knew everything and had the answers.

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