There will be no clever intro. No easing into the subject with a gentle and mildly amusing anecdote. I will get straight to the point: If I have to read one more “Down with the Church” Facebook post by someone calling him/herself a Christian, I am going to beat myself to death with a hymnal. I refuse to read another hypercritical expose on how discussions of modesty are wrong or how those who hold a traditional view of homosexuality are evil. I don’t want to read another story about the “angry modesty police who escort the scantily clad from church buildings waving pitch forks and New King James Bibles.” No more “If you believe you should love the sinner but hate the sin, you are a homophobic bigot who should be burned at the stake.” Perhaps I exaggerate but seriously, people, enough already.
Now before you spit out your no-fat, fair trade latte in disgust, screaming about the need for reform and open-mindedness, I am not talking about genuine critique, based on love and concern for the future of the Body. To use a bit of the language I often hear thrown about in these Facebook firebombs against Christians, the Church is made up of broken individuals; flawed sinners. There is always going to be a need for correctives and those criticisms should be heard and if necessary, adhered to. What I am talking about is Christians throwing fellow Christians under the bus. Which seems a bit ironic, given that those doing the throwing are supposedly all about tolerance and hope for the lost.
So here’s my criticism: if the Church is for the lost, why don’t you love the lost after they are found? Say I come to church fleeing a life of drugs and prostitution. And you welcome me with open arms. Yay for you. That’s what Jesus would do, right? Sure. But let’s say it’s ten years down the road. Drugs and prostitution have been kicked and my tramp stamp tattoo is now concealed by modest capris and a kid on each hip. I volunteer in the nursery and sing in the praise band. Am I suddenly the enemy? Isn’t the Church about being engrafted into the body of believers? I am still a sinner. Still in need of grace and acceptance. What if I never left the fold in the first place? What if I have been a good girl all my life? That doesn’t make me better than anyone else but I am pretty sure it doesn’t make me worse either.
The church is supposed to be a place of love and acceptance. But in some cases, to love is not to accept. To love is to challenge and rebuke, with respect and kindness but nonetheless, love doesn’t sit on it’s behind while people destroy their lives, poison their minds and neglect the life of obedience we are called to. What kind of sins should we be rebuking within the church? All kinds. Greed, self-righteousness, and unkindness. But also lust, immodesty and vulgarity.
I am sure there are many Christians and non-believers who have experienced harsh and demeaning treatment at the hands of people in the church. But don’t those harsh and demeaning people deserve forgiveness and grace as well? It’s as if the only ones deserving of God’s mercy are those outside of the church. How did we come to the place in the American evangelical church where the only time it is “appropriate” to shame people is when they are part of the church? And where are all the stories celebrating the experiences of healing and comfort brought about by the church?
We as a church have been judgmental and self-righteous in the past, but what do you expect from a bunch of sinners? The failures of the church to live up to Christ’s standard don’t condemn her as hypocritical but rather confirm some of her core doctrines and beliefs. The errors of our past (and present) should bring us shame, but that shame should bring repentance and that repentance should bring us to the Cross. If Jesus will accept the church as His bride then I guess she ought to be good enough for the rest of us—warts, failures, tramp stamps and all. If you can’t accept her with her flaws, when then that’s a real shame.