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