“The world will not chew you up and spit you out. The church will. It did me.”
Last week, a really close friend of mine ripped his heart out of his chest and served it up to the masses. By that, I mean he emptied his heart out in a very candid blog post that I highly recommend you read here. I won’t share all the details, but I wanted to address some of the things that I read. First of all, even though I already knew most of his story, something about reading his words on the screen made it sink in on a deeper level. He talks about growing up in the church and how the experience left him feeling broken. Even worse, it left him feeling invisible and, in a way, he still does. He acknowledges that the churches he grew up around valued people, very much so.
That wasn’t the problem.
The problem was they only seemed to value certain people, those with talent and charisma. The pretty girls with Whitney hot vocals and the studs with tailored suits and make-em-shout sermons. It’s like every cheese-pop teen movie you’ve seen. The elite laugh it up at the cool table while the nerd herd sits in the corner drifting into social obscurity.
At youth camps, many sermons were aimed at those “called to preach” and to “sing for Jesus, not worldly fame.” My friend doesn’t sing. I’ve never heard him preach, though he had the suit part down famously. He didn’t register on the anoint-o-meter, so he felt like he didn’t matter. His self-esteem went into hiding somewhere with his self-worth and sense of identity. He spent his teenage years just trying to matter, trying to be heard, noticed. He wasn’t.
“The world will not chew you up and spit you out. The church will. It did me.“
This is where I would love to step in and correct his faulty perception. I’d like to tell him that he is mistaken, that church people don’t act that way. Church people welcome everyone, regardless of social class, color, or creed. Unfortunately, I can’t. Not completely, anyway. See, while I think his assessment—the world is safe, it’s the church we have to worry about—is completely off, I would be lying if I denied some of his claims. I have experienced the hierarchy mentality that seems to plague many churches.
I’ve sat on both sides of the lunchroom, both as the nerd and the cool kid. I know the power that the right last name can bring. “Your Dad’s Pastor X? Well, have you met my daughter?” It’s laughable. It didn’t matter that their prayer life could be summarized with “Bless this food. Amen.” And then there’s the old blind eye routine. “Who cares what you did Saturday night? It’s Sunday morning and we need a tenor.” The talented ones somehow get a pass. Trust me. I’ve been guilty myself.
So, what about the ones that don’t make the cover of Gospel GQ? What do we do with those who should never even touch a microphone, or don’t feel called to teach?
That is a question that has gone unanswered in many church circles. In large part, it has been about what people can offer the church instead of what the church can offer the people. Of course, it hasn’t been preached that way. It has just crept subtly into the culture. This has to stop. Christ came to seek and save the lost. That’s it. So let’s take a look at those requirements:
- You must have a pulse.
- You must be wicked and depraved.
And, guess what? You qualify. We all do. Christians should care for the same people Christ cares for. Period.
My friend’s post received quite a lot of attention. Some people thanked him for being candid and admitted to feeling the same sense of not belonging. Many of them have since parted ways with the hypocritical, evil institution of religion. Others felt he completely misrepresented the church and took no responsibility for his own faults, that he should be ashamed of himself.
I think both sides need a reality check.
It’s time to admit failure. Christians, we need to step back and realize that our hands are not clean here. Maybe you have never treated someone this way personally, but it has happened time and time again. Getting mad is pointless. Throughout the centuries, the church has made mistakes, some disastrous. This does not take God off the throne. It means the church is made up of imperfect people who still deal with sinful natures. Still, there is no excuse for wrong doing. Maybe so many people blast the church for failing because we put so much effort into pretending we don’t. There are hurting people in need of true love and genuine acceptance. Let’s get over ourselves and strive for transparency, shall we?
You can’t be serious. Critics, do you like sandwiches? I do. If you caught a Jimmy John’s worker spitting in your #11 would flip out and boycott Jimmy John’s nationwide? No, right? You would probably address the jerk that ruined lunch and then talk to management. If they high-fived their employee and then went back to work, you would probably just avoid that location from then on. Would it be logical to contact CNN about the evil Jimmy John’s corporation? Of course not. Why then does it make sense to label all Christians “jerks” and shun religion altogether? You can’t blame Jesus. He hung with the people who everyone else shunned and commanded us to follow suit. For every rude, hateful “Christian” there is a true believer that authentically strives to be like Christ.
The world outside of Christianity is full of judgment. You don’t have to look farther than the magazine aisle at your grocery store to discover that. The shelves are lined with beauty requirements and tips on maintaining status quo. Marginalization is all over the place. No, it should not be in the church. Shame on us for allowing it, for fueling it. But let’s not pretend that Hollywood is a safe place. I think we all need a better mirror.