Tuesday, February 3, 2015

We the black sheep | The reasons why I've begun to resent the church

Black sheep stick out because of their wool, but they're the same as everyone else on the inside.

I've noticed an interesting thought in my head recently, and one which continues to pop up more and more frequently. Though I've wanted to write about it for some time now, I've always hesitated because of how it might come off.

The reason? I've begun to resent the church for the way it treats black sheep.

Looking back at my childhood and relatively isolated upbringing, there are so many positives from how I was raised that have helped to mold me into the believer I am today. I understand the value of small-church community, and I've been helped along by the people from the body I've spent most of my life participating in.

But having made my fair share of mistakes and drifted more often than I'd like to admit, I can't help but look back at my old viewpoint on sin and wish I had learned to approach righteousness differently.

Example: When I was relatively young, I got mad at my older sister and I felt so badly about being angry I apologized through tears. I might have been seven or eight, and things like being angry, telling fibs or staying up late to read after my parents had put me to bed was the worst offenses I'd ever committed. I was destroyed at the prospect of having done something so wrong.

An earlier draft of this post skipped this next thought and moved on to slamming people for not reaching out to those who didn't have clean wool like they did. But after a fair amount of thought, I've realized that a large reason I reacted the way I did when I made mistakes or sinned as a youngster was out of a fear that I would be caught. Embarrassment plays a major role, and I would rather waste away than be vulnerable and admit my wrongdoings.

The next paragraph of the old post talked about how I sometimes missed the old standard, and how I'd gained perspective as I'd grown up. What I've come to understand, though, is that my fear of being discovered has led to my spiritual isolation from fellow believers. Instead, I learned to accept and befriend people as broken and twisted as myself, and along the way I think I've somehow become desensitized to the horror of sin.

I understand that there is a trade off; a compromise, I suppose. I'm not so horrified by the front they face to the world that I can't love people IN the world, but I've flown close enough to the sun to get burned, and I have scars that only Jesus himself can make new. He takes me in his arms daily for that purpose. I am well cared for.

Now to the meat of my resentment: Why was I — am I — afraid to be transparent with my own church? Is it because I grew up thinking I needed to look the right way and do the right things in order to be accepted? Is it pride? Probably. I've written about that particular issue before. But I think there's a larger component based on what I see around me. And as a disclaimer, this isn't directed at the church I attend. It's directed at THE Church as a whole.

I've seen the silent look of pity; the disapproving look Jesus describes in Luke 18. He tells of a pharisee who went to pray at the temple alongside a tax collector. The pharisee prays and thanks the Lord that he is not like the tax collector, that he prays and fasts as he should, and he's not caught up in sin — he's not "dirty."

If I carried all my sins up in front of MY church, would they look at ME that way? Why does a man who is openly gay, someone battling drugs or a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock get treated as repugnant in this church of Christ? Does the parable of the good Samaritan mean nothing? And what of Jesus' life example: he chose to spend his time with tax collectors, was heralded by shepherds and showed love and acceptance to whores.

So much for the current standard, right? While you bitch and moan about having a problem with swearing -- oops, did I say that? -- I'll sit and silently decide not to bring up the hit I'd taken in the parking lot earlier, or the person I'd slept with the previous night.

I've made mistakes. I've had some really dark stretches in my life, and I've never brought that to the church asking for help. Why would I? I know what to expect: the look and "Oh... wow. Well, I'll be praying for you, man."

Here's another excerpt from the first edition that I'll include because I feel like it captures the resentment, anger and fear I feel from people who have chosen to stay away from the church rather than face judgement from fellow believers: "I can hear the words coming out of someones mouth, and they make my blood boil. This world isn't all puppies and rainbows, my friend, and if you can't handle anything juicer than being late to book club, I've obviously chosen the wrong place to be transparent."

It makes non believers afraid to walk in the door. They know what awaits them. That young pregnant girl already sees it daily at the coffee shop. It makes wayward believers afraid to return and ask for support. They've seen it too, on the faces of their former friends or relatives before they fell away.
And lastly -- and this is the worst poison -- it keeps believers who struggle with unsavory sins from being real, honest and open with their fellow believers. I count myself in this group, and I've begun to resent the "oh poor me, I lied once this week" crowd.

If that's the worst you've done, praise Jesus. You're further along the path to sanctification than I am, but I'm willing to bet there's something a little darker under the surface. If not, you have something invaluable.

We the black sheep -- weather we're open about our struggles or not -- don't need your pity. We don't need your self-righteous "come to Jesus" speech, and we definitely don't need your judgement. We don't even need your religion.

We need your love. And love knows no boundaries. It is patient and kind and accepting. It doesn't judge, and it doesn't compare. It leaves the fixing to the Lord and trusts in His timeline to do so.

There's nothing wrong with long hair. There's nothing wrong with tattoos. Jesus' example of the pharisee and the tax collector actually ends with the tax collector beating his chest, humbling himself and walking away justified before God. There's nothing that should keep you from showering love and support on anyone who walks through those doors -- harlot or pastor. The sacrifice of the Cross applies to them equally.

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