Not long ago, I left my church. I struggled with the decision for quite awhile before leaving. Several things pushed me to the final decision, but one in particular prompted an immediate move.
Since leaving, I have wavered a bit a few times. It was difficult to tell a few people I was quitting, especially since I still believe most of the fundamental doctrines of the group I was part of for so long. It’s also been difficult to talk with a few of them since then, when they asked me to come back. There are things that I miss about church, enjoyable things that have quite a pull for me. And I feel badly for dropping my obligations to certain people and activities. Some people are very hurt and sad that I’m gone, and that is hard, too.
Since leaving, I’ve been able to look at the situation from a few steps away. There were good things about that church. Friends and activities that I miss.
Last night I read something, and my reaction surprised me. It was a list of warning signs that a person might be in a potentially abusive environment. I had read the list before, and thought there were a few things that might fit my experience, but… Last night I reread the list, and was shocked.
I haven’t been thinking much about what happened there lately. I’ve needed to focus on gaining strength and healing and looking back wouldn’t have done that. Last night, reading that list, I realized how many excuses I had made for certain actions and attitudes I’d faced. Guess I just caught it at the right time. I’d read one point, and start thinking, “yeah, they do that, but it’s just because…” and would catch myself doing it. Then I would consider what I’ve learned of grace and love since then, and realize there is simply no valid excuse for lying, vainglory, backbiting, gossip, favoritism, authoritarianism, putting others down, or cutting others off.
I knew those things happened long before I left. But they were really little things, opposed to “staying in THE truth.” Surely I could overlook the constant bragging from the pulpit. I could forgive the liars and backbiters and gossips for the harsh things they said, and I could forget the horrible rebukes of the pastor (without giving me a chance to explain) because surely he was just frustrated by something else. Maybe by being the scapegoat I was helping- I could take the rebukes, while someone else might backslide over being called those awful names and being misjudged. People who were shunned surely deserved shunning, and it must be for their good… even when it was me and I knew I’d done nothing wrong. Maybe God knew something about me that I didn’t. Maybe if I went through this one more thing, I’d finally be accepted and loved, too. And if I could finally gain the pastor’s affection, perhaps I could someday hope God would really love me, too.
Over time, I came to the realization that the Bible clearly speaks against most of these things. But still, it was “THE truth”… Only after stepping away and looking back at it, could I realize that those behaviors are never acceptable. If the pastor is a “man of God,” still, by the same or better token, that makes me a “child of God.” God’s love is unconditional. I’m not sure how far to take that concept yet, but I do know that God doesn’t stop loving a person when they walk out the doors of a church. We should praise Him, and not praise the pastor or any other leader more. Being in church doesn’t show our Christianity. We are not known as Christians for our attendance at a certain place or our dress or our ability to overlook negative situations, but, as Jesus said, John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
If there is no love in a church, or if there is little love there, and God is love (1 John 4:7-8) then, no matter how much shouting and dancing and running is happening, there is, by finishing the equation, not much God there. Beloved, let us love one another. (1 Jn 4:7)