It’s interesting how we judge the church. Not just as non-Christians or former Christians, but as fellow Christians. Everyone hates being judged and held to a perfect standard — but that doesn’t fight hypocrisy. It fuels hypocrisy. It’s how we justify our own judgmental, high standards.
Before I list some examples, let me be clear: I know there are a lot of people in the church who do need to change their attitude. I’m not defending cruel behavior. If you’ve been hurt by the church or by church people, you go ahead and feel hurt. The problem I have with this situation is what we end up doing with that pain.
A member of my family is struggling to free herself from prescription drugs. Ages ago, after finally returning to church with us, she stopped the reverend and told him about her problem. “He didn’t do anything,” she complained to us later. “I never want to go back there again.”
My husband and I were speechless — sympathetic and flabbergasted. We hadn’t stayed long after the service ended, which means she’d approached him during the meet-and-greet, when everyone files out and shakes hands with the preacher (or in our case, gets a hug from the preacher). Did she just walk up to him and say something like, “I have a pill addiction”? Talk about awkward! What was he supposed to do?
"That’s what office hours are for," my husband vented to me privately. It’s hard for him to see her struggling with this. I agreed that she definitely should have told the reverend about her problem in private, when he wasn’t being assailed by every person in the building. But how could we point this out to her while assuring her that we were on her side?
That’s the funny thing about being “on someone’s side.” A lot of people seem to think you’re obligated to nod and tell them, “You’re right, that person is ridiculous, there’s nothing wrong with you.” It’s what they expect. And if the situation is more complicated than that… well, you must be the enemy, too.
Just last Wednesday, I found the same reverend walking energetically through the fellowship hall. He’s a tall guy with a big white beard, soft-spoken and cheerful. He was wearing a red sweatshirt with Snoopy and Woodstock in Santa hats. “A visitor asked me to pray for his mother,” he told me. “I hope they didn’t leave.”
I envisioned them going home in a huff, complaining to themselves how no one in that church had showed any concern for them. How dare that man call himself a reverend! He said he would pray for them! He doesn’t even care!
A while back, while researching acephaly, I stumbled upon the blog of a woman who was coping with the loss of her son. She explained that going to church was hard for her — after the child’s death, she had made it clear to everyone in her church that she wanted her privacy. She wanted to mourn in peace. “But I didn’t mean like this,” she complained. She was angry that no one had sent cards or asked how she was.
It’s alright to feel angry. Especially if you’re going through an ordeal. But what I couldn’t help wondering was, What were they supposed to do? She’d asked them to leave her alone. They had left her alone. And now she was judging them for it.
Another family member once made it clear that he still considered himself a Christian, but he was “done” with church. You’ve all heard this one. Sick of the drama. Sick of the politics. So many intelligent, compassionate Christians disconnect themselves from the “body” for that reason — but that isn’t an excuse not to help. It sounds like a reason to help. If you’re a rational person, you have an obligation to keep other Christians in check. Especially if you think you’re one of the only ones! You’re someone we need in church most!
A few months ago, a new family left our church and said they weren’t coming back. The reverend, with unusual irritability, explained from the pulpit that a few folks had been gossiping about the newcomers. “If you can’t provide a welcoming environment,” he suddenly shouted, “maybe you need to leave!”
I disagreed with that conclusion. If the church is a hospital for sick souls, then we need to admit not just the people who have doubt or depression, but the people who are cranky and gossipy, unfriendly and judgmental, too — those, also, are legitimate problems. Cutting these people off from fellowship is perpetuating the same problem, “burning the bridge over which we must cross.”
Church isn’t about you, and it isn’t about me. Church is about us. If everyone attends with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, we aren’t going to get anywhere. We are here to serve each other, even if the people we’re serving are making us look bad. Jesus didn’t only reach out to prostitutes and tax collectors. He also met with Pharisees. It was a Pharisee who first heard John 3:16.
Just as church isn’t about you and me, Christianity isn’t about you and me. It’s about Christ, who made Himself a servant to people who hated Him, and to all who definitely deserved His wrath and judgment. If we can’t do the same, then we aren’t Christians.
I’m sorry that so many people are people. I really am sorry about all the unfair expectations, the unfair assumptions, the mistakes, the frustrations. But that’s life with humans, and we still need each other. And if you really are above all that — if you know how to help someone with an addiction, how to comfort someone in loss, how to make someone feel welcome — then for Christ’s sake, stay in the church!
Related: You Don’t Fight a Fire with Gasoline