On the subject of Christians leaving church after being hurt by other Christians, I’ve often heard this is response:
“If you leave Christianity because of other Christians, your faith was in man, not God.”
I don’t agree with it, but I understand why Christians say it. No one wants to believe we are capable of driving each other away with callous words or hurtful behavior when our role is to encourage and grow with each other. No one wants to admit to the possibility that our own behavior might have played a role in someone’s departure from faith.
Within the last few months, I read several blog posts and opinion pieces on popular media outlets by Christians who left their current denomination due to their brethren’s support of Donald Trump. I’ve written my own posts about my disbelief and utter repulsion at the number of believers who lauded him as God’s divinely appointed leader, despite his platform of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
I’ve seen pictures of white supremacists at Trump rallies wearing crosses around their necks. I’ve read Facebook posts from Christian friends who trivialize the legitimate fears of people of color, the LGBT community, and the nonreligious, concerned about the future of their civil rights. My understanding that the Holy Spirit dwelling within one’s heart makes one more righteous and compassionate has been called into question. How is it possible that devout followers of a man who himself was the child of refugees could be so callous and indifferent?
I haven’t lost my faith, but I have nothing but sympathy for those who have during this election season. I think of the line from Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Christians aren’t meant to walk in faith by themselves; there is a reason that the church is called the Body of Christ. Many Christians are fortunate to have never been deeply wounded by other Christians, but just because it’s never happened to them doesn’t mean it can’t happen to someone else. Those who have never been hurt seem few and far between, to be honest.
In church as in any family, members aren’t required to agree on everything, but compassion and empathy are two of the most important markers of discipleship that must underscore everything we say and do. While it’s natural for family members to quarrel, it is an understandable shock to the system to witness “little Christs” defend a man who not only bragged about sexual assaulting women, but also, despite rumors of a recent conversion, claimed he had no need for repentance.
It’s an even bigger shock to hear such things from the mouths of the mentors who guided and encouraged us: bible study leaders, elders, even pastors. When such people represent the will of God to us, and their words and actions do not match the clear commands of Jesus to care for “the least of these,” a crisis of faith is practically inevitable.
People lose their faith for all kinds of reasons. It’s easy to devise a one-size-fits-all formula to explain evangelicalism’s dwindling numbers, but all this does is absolve us of any responsibility for things we did or should have done to hasten a brother or sister’s departure. And rather than take responsibility for things we may have done or said, many Christians instead turn to gaslighting and victim-blaming behavior: “Why don’t you pray more?” “You should have attended bible study more often.” “You should read this book.””Your salvation is at stake if you don’t get back in line.” Etc, etc.
Many of us, myself included, don’t want to permanently leave the church, but are in desperate need of a mental health sabbatical. I haven’t lost my faith in God, but I have lost faith in many of the Christians whose positive influence in my life and public support of Donald Trump I struggle to reconcile. In this instance, leaving my church was necessary to retain my faith.
Because my faith struggles are still raw, I have refrained (although it’s been tempting!) from accusing Trump voters as not being True Christians. Though I firmly believe the values of his campaign are staunchly against everything Jesus Christ ever stood for, my experience with doubt has taught me that it’s not for me to judge the state of anyone’s heart if they claim Christ as Lord. As far as the dictionary is concerned, belief in Jesus’ divinity is the bare minimal requirement to call oneself a Christian. No matter how incredible I find their conclusions, everyone comes to the Bible with their own set of baggage and experiences that will influence the interpretation of what they read, and part of maintaining peace is attempting to understand that baggage.
It may be possible that church is the least healthy place to process some of the shock and determine which friendships are worth continuing, and which cannot be reconciled when the differences run too deep.What helps keep me sane is knowing that God is still there even when I feel spiritually homeless, and community can be done in coffee shops or apartment living rooms without the need for steeples. That’s all church is supposed to be, anyway: community. A group of people growing and learning together. The Bible never says it must happen in a specific building.
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