I am a Christian and an outspoken one. I am proud of my faith and I am open about it with people I meet without shoving it down their throats. I don’t expect everyone to believe what I believe or follow my faith and I won’t make you listen to what I believe if you don’t want to. But my faith is part of who I am and I am not embarrassed or ashamed of it. I also love the church as the embodiment of what I believe. I think it is an amazing community of people worldwide who (most of the time) genuinely seek truth and love with all of their hearts.
However, I do have something that is really bugging me.
Today I was hanging out with three new friends who are all non-religious. They all grew up in religious households and they have all fallen away from faith. Why? Because they were hurt and rejected by people who call themselves Christian. Every single one of them had experienced hate and hurt because of ‘rules’ that were pushed on them. When they didn’t conform to those rules they were pushed out of the community of faith.
I wish this was an isolated incident. I wish I could say that they were the only three people I had ever met who were surprised that I was Christian because I was so “nice” and “non-judgemental”. But they aren’t, not by a long shot. Pretty much every single friend of mine who isn’t a Christian has a story of being hurt by people in the church. I have gay friends who have been told they aren’t welcome as they are. I know non-married mothers who have faced rejection. I know too many people who failed to live up to the standards of the church they grew up in/visited/their parents are involved in and still carry pain from how they were treated.
This is a story I have heard repeated so many times that I am weary of it. I am weary that there are so many people out there who have only experienced hurt, rejection, pain, hate and rules at the hands of people who preach love, peace and acceptance.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a liberal Christian. I do believe that there are things that are wrong and that there is truth to be known. But, as a very wise man called Paul once said (though I paraphrase), I can know truth and I can know what is right and wrong, but if I do not have love then it means jack all.
Where are the stories of people who have been transformed by the love their local Christians showed them? Where are the people who say “oh, you are so loving, you must be a Christian”? Why do I feel like I have to do so much damage control when I meet non-Christians and they find out that I have faith?
This shouldn’t be the case. The church should be the first place people think of when they want help, want company, want to be included. It shouldn’t matter if they are a teenage mum, an addict, a homosexual. It shouldn’t matter that they don’t conform to a certain image - they should still know that the place to find love and acceptance as a human being is in a church.
We preach love. We preach that God has given grace to all people. We preach forgiveness. We preach about helping others. We preach about giving all we can. I so rarely actually see this happen. I hardly ever hear non-Christians talk about the help they have received from churches, the love they find in their Christian friends, or the grace they find in being accepted for where they are at.
What I see is Christians who have all Christian friends. I see them at Christian coffee groups and Christian outings. And while these are not bad (hey, I have Christian friends and do things with them!), and in fact I would say this is necessary to lifting each other up, this shouldn’t be our whole life. We should be taking all that stuff we know and love out to the people who don’t know the love and acceptance we do. If we go to church on Sunday and then spend the rest of the week with Christians, then when are we showing love to those who have been hurt? When are we helping heal the wounds others have created? When are we showing the love that we preach?
Otherwise what is the point of it all?
We are better than this. I know we are. I know so many amazing Christians who have so much love and compassion. I know people who would go miles out of their way to help someone. Are we simply not telling people that we are believers so they don’t know that the church loves them? Are we too ashamed of the pain that has been caused that we don’t even want to associate ourselves with helping heal that pain? Are we too afraid to face people and accept that the church has made mistakes that we don’t want to admit we are part of that same church?
I love the church. I love the people in it. I love that it is made up of broken people who have been made whole through our faith and in our communities. I love that we have such a history of believers that came before us. But we have to face up to the fact that that history is not always pretty, that we have done some terrible things in the name of God, and that we continue to do so. We can change this! We can be the people who start to mend hearts and change the story.
We can be love.
Note: I know many good people who do a lot for their communities and who are passionate about loving those outside of church communities. I am not saying all churches or Christians are like this. I am simply pointing out that, in my experience, there is a heck of a lot more hurt out there from churches than there is a knowledge that Christians are loving and graceful (and grace filled) people.
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