“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:

  1. You must have a pulse.
  2. 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.

How about you? 

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2 responses to ““The world will not chew you up and spit you out. The church will. It did me.””

  1. Glen says :

    Ant,

    First let me say thank you. This response is eloquent, well put, accurate and needed. My post showed people the church through the lens of someone jaded. Yours presented it through the lens of someone with faith, who sees something broken that needs to be fixed and believes it can be. Unfortunately for me I’ve lost faith that it can be healed. I know you well, and you have consistently been one of the most, if not the absolute most, positive influence in my life.
    I agree with your assessments and I will recommend this to anyone who has read or will read my blog.
    The small I disagreed slightly with were the assessment that I gave up on religion because I had experienced a small group of bad people or bad situations. Not to say that the majority of the problems I have aren’t with a select few, but growing up I went to state and national conventions. I lived for Music Fest (*shudder*), Youth Congress, General Conference, Rallies, etc. I could easily launch into a tirade depicting these events and the people that attend them but I don’t care anymore.
    I have encountered both good Apostolics and bad. About 90% bad and 10% good. I have great pastors (Steve, Jeffrey, Robby) that deserve as much respect as a person can give. My pastor growing up is a good man, who loves people genuinely and only wants the best for them. I have friends like you, who are examples of Christian love to the fullest.
    However for everyone of them there were 10 horrible ones, in my experience growing up in the movement. So, based on my experience, the majority is bad, and that is why I dismiss it.

    The other point I want to make is that my own language in my blog buried me. I in no way meant to imply that ‘the world’ is inherently good and safe and always better. What I meant was that growing up I had a very vivid picture of ‘the world’ painted for me. It’s this dead, dark place where everyone is sad and depressed and longing for something they don’t have. They all have lives but they’re conscious that something is missing. They’re devoid of morals, value, happiness, etc. If you engage in anything in ‘the world’ you’ll become addicted and begin a downward spiral into substance abuse, sickness, sadness, depression etc. I could go on and on..
    But what I’ve actually found (in my experience, others may vary) is worth, love, value, and even ‘abundant life’. I don’t get judged. I don’t get made fun of. I don’t feel like something is missing. I sang songs and danced about ‘freedom’ in the church, but it’s been since I left that I truly feel free. I don’t feel bound and shackled anymore. Leaving the Apostolic movement has been the most rewarding, fulfilling, empowering, liberating things I could ever do. It’s like everything I was ever told about the world existed in church and everything I was supposed to feel in church I feel outside of it. I’m not saying that ‘the world’ doesn’t value the wrong things and hurt people as well, but it doesn’t do it in the name of God. I can accept that bad things happen in the world when people are only looking out for their own self interest. What I can’t accept is going to a place to find healing, rest, life and love only to be hurt, cast down and bound in the name of ‘God’. In my experience, the church simply markets one thing and sells something completely different.
    I’ve felt unconditional love outside of church. I’ve found people who really, truly care for me. Instead of an empty void, I feel I’ve removed something that wasn’t supposed to be there. NOW I can enjoy life. I live for me. This life is all I have. Just another few short years. It’s exhilarating. I want to make the most of it. I want to make it count. I now have purpose, something I never knew before.

    But, Anthony, I love you, like a brother, and your blog is amazing. For those who chose the church path I hope they can live it. I hope they can live like you. If people hear it and follow your example there may be hope for religion after all. Thank you!!

    “Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

    -Hitchens

  2. K says :

    So…I read both of your blogs, and being a nobody from nowhere with nothing and going to the same camps and conferences as you(and you both don’t know me )…I still agree with this one. Your points are valid, Glenn pointed out some issues that we all need to keep in mind, “Love your neighbor” but did so tainted.
    We don’t get to choose the parents we are born to, or the atmosphere of our surroundings, but when we reach ‘that age’ we get to choose how we react to our surroundings. We can be prisoners of our past, or we can forgive those who have wronged us. We choose. Our life, our choice. Blaming an organization, a religion, or even God for the actions of others, is irrational. I detest stereotypes of any kind.
    I type this with no malace…or righteous indignation, just thought it should be said.

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    __Marianna Williamson

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