“What I’m hearing you say is you can’t love these people.”
This came on a hot July Sunday morning after many explosive words on both sides.
My anger had never been loud before that day; it was a quiet anger that manifested itself in a hardness in my eyes and an igneous rock casing around my heart. In the face of volcanic anger that day, though, something gave way inside of me, and I found the courage to express myself in a small way.
And I’m going to tell you what I told my parents that day: I don’t want to be part of a local body whose primary method of dealing with sin, or challenging people or situations, or difference of opinion is to hold itself apart from the offender, the difficulty, or difference.
My dad heard me correctly. I could not, or far more likely, would not love these believers. In fact, my lack of love made me not want to fellowship with them at all.
My dad (being who he is) swiftly turned this around on me and asked me how my behavior was any different from how I was accusing the Church of behaving. (Touché).
I’ve shared different parts of this story before: how my dad accused me of taking the easy way out (many times before that), how I finally asked him how that could possibly be, and how I have long since learned that he meant that I didn’t fight for anything. I’ve even talked about my lack of love, and how God began growing me in that almost immediately after that blustering anger-turned-argument-turned-discussion.
Honestly, three years ago, I would have told you I had the whole loving-the-Church thing down pat. (I think because I was a part of a local body that did a great job of loving me unconditionally).
But I bring it up now, because over the course of the past three years, God has shown me that I still don’t love the Church well. I still don’t want to be part of local bodies or be friends with Christians who shy away from people in sinful or challenging situations, or oversimplify the problem and the solution. And in these three years, I’ve uncovered some new things that give me pause about the Church: the pedestal it has set itself on and its love and affirmation of the people it can use.
Now, before you run and get your “not going to church because of hypocrites is like not going to the gym because of fat people” meme, or your illustration comparing your one bad experience at Chick-fil-a to a bad church experience, or the popular Rick Warren illustration about having to have a good relationship with the Church (the Bride of Christ) in order to have a good relationship with Christ, please understand: I love the Church and I identify with her – I belong to Christ, too. I strive to be a part of a local body. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be any better than the parts of the Church that I’m less-than-thrilled with.
I’m just saying, loving the Church is hard. And it clearly doesn’t happen overnight where there is history like mine. It’s not impossible, either: I believe that with Christ alive in me, I do have the power to love the Church, no matter how sticky and challenging it gets. I have a complicated relationship with the Church.
This is important with what’s coming tomorrow in the Big Reveal Extravaganza and in six months when the book is released. (Ergo, if you’ve been following, you were just got a little reveal a day early. You’re welcome).
I say all of this because for a large part of the novel I’m writing, the protagonist and her story center around the Church, but by the end her priorities have shifted and realigned to something better. There’s a whole lot of flat out not-lovin’ and imperfect-lovin’ of the Church that goes on, and I can’t promise that she nails it at the end.
So, don’t get offended, at least not until you’ve read the whole thing. (Or do get offended, if that’s your thing. Just know I’m not taking any complaints from people who haven’t read the book).