Three times recently I’ve tried to write from my heart about religious people and what I think about them.
My first try was an open letter to all religious people who don’t act like Christians. I told them they should be ashamed of themselves. I told them they were being used by the devil. It was a strange hybrid of Matthew 23 and Johnny Cash’s, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” and a work of bitter art. I secretly wonder what would happen if I actually mailed it to all the people I had in mind when I wrote it. The pen is pretty mighty, indeed.
My second try was slightly more mature, but not really. It was my explanation of why sometimes religious people don’t act like Christians. Why all that awful stuff is out there in the world and what our response should be. I don’t think I actually said anything wrong in it, but you and I both know in difficult situations, we need more than intellect and a good sermon.
Right now I’m done with anger.
I’m done with theories and explanations.
I’m done with the shoulds.
I’ve gotten sick of telling myself what I should feel and how I should respond, when, just a few weeks ago, I was kind of punched in the gut. I’ve been reeling from everything that’s happened and I’ve been spinning back and forth with anger, indignation, callousness, peace, hurt, grace and justice.
I’ve had a super Christian background. My dad has held ministry jobs since I was born and among my family, we’ve had a double-digit number of jobs with different churches and ministries. I’ve seen the inside of a lot of churches and organizations. I’ve seen great things happen. But I’ve also seen hurt and hypocrisy. I’ve seen hate and deliberate unkindness directed at me and at those I dearly love.
And just a few weeks ago, I was punched in the gut again, and it was hard.
I’m fed up with trying to figure out how I should feel about it. I want to be a little Davidic for once and talk about what I’m feeling right now and what I have felt several times in the past. I could write pages and pages on it, but I can also sum it up in one word.
Over and over and over again. Disappointment.
I can’t and won’t pretend that all the church has ever done is disappoint me. That would be a huge lie. For the most part, my church/ministry/religious/Spiritual experiences have been positive. But I have experienced an enormous amount of disappointment at the hands of other “brothers and sisters in Christ.” Politicians, businesses and teachers readily disappoint you. Churches, Pastors, Deacons, Seminary Professors and ministry leaders should not.
But sometimes they do. Purposefully, pointedly; beyond simply having a sinful moment or faltering momentarily, there have been huge hurts endured by myself and plenty of other Christians by people “following God”. And it hurts just as bad every single time you see a different leader, “man of God” or mentor tumble. It hurts when you see someone you respect and admire, lie and manipulate and hurt people.
I keep asking God questions.
How can these people do great things in Your name but have such un-Christlike personalities?
Why does the truth never, ever, ever come out?
Why do they get to keep on lying and hurting people?
But the worst question, the one that I can hardly bear to go unanswered is: God, You see when religious people act this way, earnest and seeking people get jaded toward You and toward Your truth & grace. WHY DO YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?
These are questions I tried to answer in the first two drafts of this post, and while I may have touched on a couple of right ideas, I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that no one really knows.
If I ever wanted to leave the church, turn my back on “religion” and “Christianity,” I could play the role of a wounded Pastor’s Kid, hurt by the hypocrisy and jaded because of all the lies. Because I really do deeply hurt every single time. And I keep waiting to feel the second part, the jaded towards God part … and it never happens.
Don’t judge me for sounding like a Jesus-juker here, but I have found my faith in God strengthened every single time I’m hurt by a religious person. And as strange as it sounds, I’m more surprised than anyone to find myself acting so … unlike myself.
I have fought the ending to this post so much, because I don’t want to feel the pressure to end on a happy and resolved note. I don’t want to feel I’m giving in to the need to wrap everything up with a neat little bow. Things are not wrapped up in a bow right now, but I can’t help but share my whole experience here. And while I’ve experienced a lot of disappointment and hypocrisy, I’ve also experienced God, the way He really is.
I’ve found that when someone wears God’s name tag and has no business to, God’s voice and character and self shine that much brighter and I remember a couple of things.
Those characteristics aren’t of God. Hypocrites, liars, cult leaders, power-hungry ministers. They may be religious people, they may claim the name of God, but that doesn’t mean they are following Him. God is God. No one else is. He gets to decide Who He is and what He’s about. No one else can do that no matter how eloquent, or gifted, or effective they are. And when we’re hurt by religious people, God is the only One who can heal us and comfort us. In fact, God is the only one who made a way for us to get out of this crazy religious system. That’s God.
He hates it too. Every time I’ve been hurt by a “godly person,” every time I see a church split apart, every time I see the pain in someone else, every time I read another headline about what horrible thing some religious person has done, I overwhelmingly hear one thing from God: I hate it too. Knowing that side of God has possibly been what has kept me from jumping ship every time. He hates injustice and hurt and hypocrisy. He hates it.
But He also loves His people. And that is one reason, in the midst of the hurt and disappointment from others, I also understand I have undoubtedly been that person … and that’s why we need Him.
For the rest of my life I will probably drive myself crazy asking, “Why don’t You do something about it all?” and I’ll probably keep getting glimpses of the answer, but I’m pretty positive I will never know it in full. The crazy thing is that I believe there is an answer, even though I don’t know it.
I’m disappointed in some people at the moment. I’m hurt and terribly upset by religious people, but I don’t have to resolve that all right now, I don’t have to know the answers, and I don’t have to deny my emotions or the awfulness of it all to confess that I still trust God and I still believe that He is good.
*photo courtesy: britney @baretribeblog.blogspot.com