Dear Church, here is where you lose me

Dear Church,

We used to have such a great relationship. I’d like to think we still do, it’s just strained a little bit – like all relationships at some point or another. The truth is, I’d really like to continue making this work. It’s through you I’ve found security, encouragement, and hope: important ingredients for a healthy, purposeful life. So I hope you listen to what I’m about to say here.

At first, I was taught that a relationship with God – and by extension, with you, Church – started with Jesus Christ: believing the Gospel message that he came and died to redeem the world of its sins through death on the cross. Believing this wasn’t the hard part, but rather what happened after that.

I became active in small groups that ended up debating issues such as evolution and its conflict with the creation narrative in Genesis. Considering that I was not raised in church and became a Christian in college, evolution was no conflict for me. But according to this small group, it “wasn’t Christian” to believe the world was not created in six literal days. Apparently, if the Genesis story fails, it undoes the entire arc of the Christian story.

Church, this was not part of the agreement plan I was originally told. I was taught Jesus – that’s it.

And then there’s the issue of homosexuality. I’m sorry, Church, but I just don’t understand what’s wrong with two consenting adults being in a loving, committed relationship who also happen to be of the same sex. I don’t understand how that hurts anyone. Sometimes you threw a bunch of Bible verses at me and said, “There, that’s why.” But I still had more questions, Church, and you started to doubt the sincerity of my faith because “The Bible said so” wasn’t clicking like you thought it should.

I also struggle with the doctrine of hell, Church. Oh, do I struggle – this, more than anything else, has the power to make or break my membership. I have so many more questions about this that, again, have been continually answered with clobber verse after clobber verse that still don’t get to the heart of my doubts. “People go to hell because they have unrepentant sins.” Okay, but if it pains God so much that his children go there, why not find another way? Why not find another system of justice? I’ve tried to ask these questions, Church, and got told to keep praying about it, because God is God and I’m not to question him. Except, you also told me that God wants to be known by his creation. If that’s true, why are my questions unacceptable?

It’s other things, too, Church. Just when I think I figured out how to live this Christian life correctly, I find there’s something else I’m doing wrong. I’m not evangelizing enough. I take birth control; I don’t even want kids. I don’t read the Bible as often as I should and I still don’t quite understand tithing, so when the plate comes around I let it pass. I take medication for my depression instead of simply praying it away. I have tattoos, I curse sometimes, I’m a frequent social drinker. I didn’t ‘save myself’ until marriage. I’m a feminist, can’t be paid enough to ever vote Republican (except that one time, but never again – don’t tell my father), I have no desire to make America a theocracy. I’m a perpetual heretic by someone’s definition, somewhere: my question is, whose interpretation is the ‘correct’ one? They all come from the same book.

It just seems like there’s always something I’m missing or doing wrong; always someone in the crowd waiting to call me out on it. Whether they mean to make me feel guilty or not, that’s what I feel. And it’s crippling my faith.

Church, this is where you’re starting to lose me. You say it’s about Jesus, but that’s not quite the truth, is it? If it is, why are so many people leaving you when a pastor says he’s voting in favor of gay marriage? Why do so many people leave you if they discover you’re lead by a woman? There are so many stipulations involved, and I’m losing count. I just don’t know how I can continue to keep up with your demands anymore.

In Judaism, you’re Jewish if you’re born to Jewish parents. That’s it. I so miss that simplicity, the utter lack of pressure to believe things a certain way.

I’m not going to quit yet, Church. I don’t want to quit – I want to rediscover the same passion and fervor I had when I first discovered you. I used to feel secure. I used to feel confident. I used to feel enough.

Here’s my fear, Church: If I don’t make the right choices based on information that is maddeningly difficult to discern, my eternal soul could suffer. How is that fair or loving?

I don’t know what’s happening, Church. All I ask from you is that you show me compassion as I continue to grapple and seek answers. Please don’t condemn me, or rest assured, you will lose me.

Still hanging,

SB

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
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27 Responses to Dear Church, here is where you lose me

  1. Eric says:

    Sorry about that last statement that was slightly insensitive it was not intended to be angry or dismissive remark.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      I think it could become a salvation issue for some Christians if there’s willful disobedience against what they interpret to be God’s orders. Like homosexuals who marry their same-sex partners: that would be seen as living in unrepentant sin, which would indicate to them that the person isn’t really saved.

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  2. Sam the dude says:

    Beth

    Ahhh: the dude hits his head on keyboard. I have alas lost my brilliant and in no way shape or form rambling 5,500 word musings, so the short, short version will have to do [of which I would add the disqus system is much better for comments].

    This is my Hashkafa on the various matters you raise:

    1.I don’t have a issue with science or the bible’s poetry on creation and neither did Chazal or Rambam or most other [Sephardic] Rabbis. Indeed the Rambam said there if science and Torah were misaligned, it was either because science was not understood or the Torah was misinterpreted and on Genesis : “the account given in scripture is not, as is generally believed, intended to be in all its parts literal.”

    2. My sister is gay and is loved by God. It is not my business to get involved in her love life and her partner is a lovely woman who has made her very happy . Indeed if one wishes to take Leviticus literally one has to concede that it doesn’t attack homosexuality because it referes to men only -assuming one interprets the Hebrew in a particular way -but it is clear that lesbianism isn’t prohibited in the written Torah.[ The oral Torah does mention lesbianism, but as Christians dismiss the Talmud it is a moot point as far as Christianity’s, as opposed to the Jewish views on this is concerned].

    3. I don’t believe in the Christian hell, but Gehenna[a place of reflection and spiritual cleansing] where most of us will go, except the most evil of people, after no more than 12 months to Gan Eden, which is likened to the feeling of the warm sun on your back.

    4. I socially drink ,e.g. for every Sabbath meal, at Purim it is a mitzvah to drink,at Passover we drink 4 cups of wine and the after service kiddush there is always wine and whiskey served. Of course this doesn’t mean we are not to address the issues of alcoholism.

    5.The cult of being a virgin is somewhat strange. I’m not married nor a virgin. But that’s no-one’s business except for I and the person involved. I think being told one minute consenting and safe sexual intercourse is a wicked sin one moment, but once you are married something you have to do, for procreation can lead to difficulties.

    6. I’m a feminist (whatever this really means?).

    7.I do vote conservative, but the British Conservative party would probably be seen to American eyes as to the left of the Democratic party on many issues (gun control, publicly funded healthcare, gay marriage) .

    8. I think challenging God is part of the Jewish traditions and I wouldn’t want to live in a “celestial north Korea ” either.

    Finally, I’m reminded of Rabbi Hillel:

    “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” Shabbat 31 a

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  3. Kaite Marshall says:

    I love this. Let me tell you, as someone who has grown up in church, I’m an expert at being in church and completely avoiding alllllllllLLLllllllLLLlllll that. It’s completely frustrating and pointless to me. When any of that gets in the way of the gospel, then it’s not just pointless, it’s harmful. Soooooo yeah major avoider here!

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      That was me all through college. But now it’s harder to sit in church listening to songs and sermons about how great God is when I have so many questions about the things he says are just :/ Funny though, I’ve never sincerely doubted God’s existence, because to me it makes no sense that the entire universe came from nothing. My dilemma is trusting that the Christian God is good.

      I’d be interested in what your dad thinks of all this.

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  4. Sam the dude says:

    Beth

    I will confess I had to look up why you address this to the church, as I assumed this was the building, but I understand church is also the word for the worldwide Christian community? From my googling ,I find It’s ironic or a tragedy that the protestant evangelical church has a notion of the priesthood of believers -that’s why the bible was translated into English or French etc, so the lay people could read and interpret the bible for themselves and not via the church hierarchy-yet it seems that this denomination wants to impose uniformity and dogma into its own members?

    As for the bulk of this post, I did write a few notes down but it became a mini essay, so I shall have to edit a bit before publishing.

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  5. Eric says:

    I see. I went through that a while back. Well even so if anyone ever says to you that you’re not a Christian and they can’t back It up with the Bible then you don’t have to listen to them. Since you said most of what you get isn’t people using the Bible just what they think is the case and they just assume “Everyone knew this”.

    I wouldn’t think of it as a “condition” since there isn’t anything wrong with doubting your salvation (As in there isn’t anything abnormal about it). I know you use the term loosely but just trying to drive home the point that this is normal.

    I know these may be answers to the “Logical” aspect of your situation but of course they don’t take care of the emotional aspect of the situation. For that I honestly wish I could be more helpful but I will say that so long as it is within my power I will help in any way I can.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      Many people do use the Bible to back up what they’re saying. The problem comes when the verses they’re using are interpreted in contradictory ways by multiple denominations.

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      • Eric says:

        Which verses are you talking about? What verses they use on the subjects you were worried about in this issue.

        If it’s not a salvific issue then, who cares?

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  6. Eric says:

    Ugh situations like these make me want to break things.

    However, if you ever get stressed about stupid Christians think of Kitties:
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nothing-but-Kitty-CATS/363343093760736

    Whether they are God’s Creation by 6 day Creation, Old Earth Creation or evolution they are wonderful and they make things better. 🙂

    In all seriousness though I will ask something about the issues you address.

    “I’m not evangelizing enough. I take birth control; I don’t even want kids. I don’t read the Bible as often as I should and I still don’t quite understand tithing, so when the plate comes around I let it pass. I take medication for my depression instead of simply praying it away. I have tattoos, I curse sometimes, I’m a frequent social drinker. I didn’t ‘save myself’ until marriage. I’m a feminist, can’t be paid enough to ever vote Republican (except that one time, but never again – don’t tell my father), I have no desire to make America a theocracy.”

    What verses did they use to support that you weren’t a Christian anymore? I see Bible verses that speak about these things in the Bible but I don’t know of any verses that speak about losing Salvation because of these things.

    If anyone tries to discourage you because of some beliefs you have on the subjects mentioned above well…they’re douchebags 🙂 They’re still Christians but they’re stupid. There is a reason why Paul writes on justification by faith so often. People constantly rule out each other and want to add other requirements (Doctrine in particular). Just keep in mind that people are contentious and if it ruins your fellowship at your church try to find a different church (Try to remember the “Church” isn’t just one monolithic entity).

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      Some of the “You’re not Christian if…” comments were heard in discussion groups, but I see most of them on Facebook, most recently when a seminary friend posted an article about Rob Bell with the commentary “Well that’s it, I’m done following anyone who promotes heresy” after he told Oprah that the Church is thisclose to accepting gay marriage. But it’s not just her and it’s not just about gay marriage. I see this rhetoric applied to all kinds of issues, simply by saying “It’s not Christian.” It’s not Christian to NOT do an awful lot of things more than it is to ACTUALLY do something. And there aren’t bible verses used so much as the mindset “I thought everyone knew this!”

      And yes, kittens make the world a better place. I have two of them 🙂

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      • Eric says:

        Hmm, well that makes it even more difficult. Honestly though Facebook comment sections are the intellectual sewage pits of our society and to top it off people act like complete morons online all the time. I know this easier said than done but try not to put too much stock into what they are saying online.

        If they can’t back it up with the Bible then they’ve got nothing to stand on and you can dismiss it out of hand. (At least in matters of Christian living).

        But you are right, the world constantly hears about what Christians are against rather than what we are for. I would suggest that maybe you can look into testimonials of Missionaries or seek out stories of Christians doing good. Since the News Media isn’t nearly as likely to show those because they won’t get nearly as much attention.

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  7. What matters is that Jesus came to make the world anew, and show the Love of God.

    Homosexuality, or complementarianism, leave alone creationism, are far less important.

    We do not have to agree about everything to worship together. The Bible itself disagrees: it is a patchwork of different views of God.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Doug Daniel says:

    Beth– I don’t want to come off sounding harsh here, please forgive me if I do, but it sounds very much as if you’ve had a very narrow experience with the Church. In the greater body of Christ, there is a wide variety of opinion on every point you’ve touched on, every question you’ve raised. There are many, many ways to be a Christian. I think God is far less concerned about particular interpretations and forms of worship than people are.

    And nobody– nobody– has the right to question the validity or depth your faith because you don’t subscribe to the same biblical interpretation they do, or because you have questions. That’s not Christian, that’s controlling.

    I’ll be praying for you, too. Hang in there.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. joe karam says:

    Beth, I love this. I, too, struggled with the idea of Hell (and most of the other conflicting views that you’ve presented) for a LONG time. I can remember several years ago attending a church service at which dozens of children from the ages of about 3-6 years old were singing worship songs in a choir. They all sounded and looked so innocent and beautiful and I thought ‘this is great’. Then the thought occurred to me – it was very likely that some of these children might someday deny their faith. And what about those children who had never even heard of Christ before? They surely looked and sounded just as innocent and beautiful as these. How could it be possible that an all-loving and all-powerful God would just let these children (after growing into adults and eventually passing) go to Hell? I had to leave the service because I began weaping uncontrollably. I spoke to God about it. How could you do this? Please tell me that you will not do this. How does it make sense? Can’t you keep them? Are you evil? If you can do this, then I don’t even know what the word ‘love’ means.

    It has been several years since that time and God, through scripture and teachers in the Church, has taught me so much. It isn’t as though I like the idea of Hell now. God doesn’t like the idea of Hell. He takes no pleasure in judging sinners (all of us). I’ve come to peace with it. When you read scripture and make a genuine attempt at discerning what it is trying to TEACH (not simply what it says, but what it’s actually trying to teach) it sheds light on issues that were once so unclear (or perhaps seemed clear at one point, but were in fact unclear). I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the Bible does not make salvation and judgement as simple as ‘you either believe in Jesus or you go to Hell’. While the Bible is clear that the only way to the Father is through Christ, it is not as simple as ‘therefore, if you don’t believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of your sins, then you’re going to Hell’.

    I’ve come to the same peace regarding issues like homosexuality, why do we even pray abou the future when God knows the future already?, If God knows the future, do we even have free will? If we DON’T have free will, doesn’t that mean that God himself is causing me to sin? Then did Jesus save us from Himself?

    There are answers. Keep looking. Keep questioning.

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  10. Pingback: Scattered Ramblings on Three Posts, and Small Groups That Have Different People | James' Ramblings

  11. ramonawray says:

    Beth, if I may… Have you tried standing back a little instead of peering intently at things? I’m not saying it’s a solution or that it provides any answers, but it makes it easier for me to reconcile things. Maybe I’m just kidding myself, I’m not sure, but I go to sleep at night with a light heart. And that’s just perfect for me. Love your post. Your writing thrums with powerful energy 🙂

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  12. Jamie Carter says:

    The church has to cling tightly to Genesis to prove that marriage was one man and one woman from the beginning. If God didn’t make the Earth in six twenty-four hour days, that throws the Garden of Eden into doubt and they can’t preach that men are the head of women (1 corinthians 11) and then they might have to accept that women can be pastors and their argument against homosexaulity doesn’t hold as much water as they say it does. It is not just the original sin they are defending, but a complicated theology about the roles of men and women, the nature of marriage, and family life within the church and home. Fortunately, Christians for Biblical Equality have found another interpretation based on “in Christ there is no male and female …” and they teach that women and men are equal and can be pastors. I know of another group that has looked into the Bible in the Greek to understand what the Bible originally said about homosexuality, but I do not know what they concluded. Trust me though, the church looses thousands because of gender roles teachings.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      I am a fan of CBE. Their interpretation of gender roles today is that men and women were supposed to be equal partners, and it was only after the Fall that one gender became dominant over another. Makes you wonder who is interpreting with an answer already set out to prove, though. I think to an extent we all do that.

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      • Jamie Carter says:

        It just bothers me to know that complementarianism is “Bible teaching” and egalitarianism is the “other teaching.” I live where people don’t know it is called complementarianism, but they really believe in it, live according to it, and defend it. It is not a coincidence that the ESV is their favorite translation, all the translators were guys, and some of them are in charge of CBMW. I’m more worried about the youth who have grown up under these teachings, I was trained by my church to defend creationism. I know how difficult it can be to question teachings that were supposed to be true. I think that is what has gone wrong, creationism, gender roles, etc. Are now as important as salvation and the cross and too many Christians can’t question creationism because that is like questioning the cross. If they have doubts, then their faith is at risk. So they don’t question, they don’t think, they don’t devote time to study these things, and they accept the interpretations of Sunday School leaders and pastors trusting that they will always be right. While the rest of us are Bereans, always testing to see if teachings are sound. Because questions have answers for us to seek out. We’re just too spiritually mature for our own good.

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  13. Michael Snow says:

    These hard questions are difficult to discuss until we untangle the basics from the world’s web.https://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/love-basics-heresies-divorce-homosexuality-church/

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  14. lovessiamese says:

    Hi, Beth. I read this because I don’t want the church to lose you. I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m willing to help you discover them. And the answers don’t all come at once. We learn a little at a time. Jesus calls trusting in Him, repenting of our sins, being born again. So it’s like taking baby steps. So you will never hear criticism or condemnation from me. If you would like a sisterly hand in helping to find the answers, I’m here for you. Feel free to email me at any time, and put Bible on the subject line. If you aren’t interested, that’s okay. I’ll keep praying for you. You can also find me on FB: facebook.com/aleta.kay.3. There you can send me a private message. I’m not always on there, though, so it may be a while before you receive an answer. God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

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