Hey dear friend, I’m hurting along with you. It grieves me to see self-righteous brothers and sisters who claim the name of Christ and continue to morally suffocate others into a neurotic, twitchy, self-condemning mess. I’ve been a victim of it, and it still hurts.
Here’s the thing. I don’t want to make excuses for the overly religious Pharisee: but I also can’t demonize them either. They need grace, too. I think the church fluctuates wildly between uptight, legalistic Bible-thumper to laidback, relevant, smoothly spiritual hipster, and while both sides sneer at each other, there are hurting people caught in the crossfire. Hyper-grace is no better than hyper-law. A knee-jerk reaction to one type of religion will only imprison us further.
Hating on the Westboro folks or fundie televangelists is easy mode. Anyone can do that. It’s easy to say “I’m not like those other Christians.” What’s hard is transcending such pigeon-holed categories like Jesus did, who extended his hands on a cross for both the running prodigal and the angry preacher. What’s hard is reaching across every divide, from pimps and politicians to aristocrats and blind beggars. What’s hard is not perpetuating the cycle of hurt that you’ve been plunged into, and instead looking forward and above.
This doesn’t excuse the reprehensible hate speech from so-called Christian groups. But who will show them a better way? Who will react to hurt with healing? The way of the flesh says to hurt people who hurt you. But the way of Christ on a cross is to boldly speak life where there’s death, not to prove a point or to look polite, but because grace in the face of hate is the only power that can heal.
It’s hard not to get bitter. I think many prodigals who left the church had every reason to leave. I don’t deny the massive hurts the church has caused. It’s a scary thing to open up to a church and intertwine with such vulnerability. I only hope that we recognize Jesus was dismissed by his own church, too, and he still jumped out of a grave to go back for the very people who left him to die. Maybe the irony is that Jesus empowers us to forgive and live with the very same people who killed him. If we’re mad at legalists, God has a right to be even more mad: yet as a loving Father, He wants His kids to get along.
I can suggest two things. One is to find the appropriate church. It’s almost like finding the right spouse: it takes time, and it’s implausible to expect perfection. The second is to forgive those who are blinded by their own crushing morality. If you fight hate with more division, there’s a zero percent chance that anyone will change their ways. But if you fight hate with self-sacrificial grace, there’s a one percent chance that change can happen. That’s what love does. It’s the same risk that Jesus took for us. It’s the same risk I’ll take too. The Pharisees killed Jesus for it, but that says more about Jesus than us: and I want to be where he is.