a challenge from a church survivor

my name is renee. i’m the author of stumbling toward faith, and this is my message for much of the church.

(thanks andrew! for the opportunity)

i want to talk about the things that people don’t want to think about. i want to talk about power, and how it has potential for unspeakable damage. i want to talk about pain, and how we spend countless breaths trying to force it away; to fix it. i want to talk about grace, and what it has meant to and for me, underneath my pretending.

i believe that much of institutionalized christianity and its christian bubble culture has created a world that will inevitably leave us less human. the church has become a place that justifies its treatment of people with (in) the name of god. the church has a short tolerance for grief, for brokenness, but it has a timetable for treating it. the church has an instant answer, a heavenly prozac: the lord jesus himself.

i know that for me, on some days, i can’t get out of bed in the morning. i’m no less a believer than i was the day before. i’m no more a sinner than i was before i awakened. but healing, and trust, and moving on, is a journey. it’s a cycle. it’s one moment after one breath after one sigh. and somehow, i don’t understand it, and some days i don’t even believe it, but god is there in those moments and breaths and sighs, and god waits with me in my sadness.

when will the church be willing to enter into its people’s brokenness? when will it learn the value, the necessity, of holding a friend’s hand and being silent? when will it allow people their own journeys through their pain? their own timetable for being well? when can the church truly believe, and accept that even in sorrow (and perhaps, especially in sorrow) itself we find god?

there is so much in the church that reacts to a loss of control, a feeling of powerlessness. many in leadership in the church have become intoxicated with their own power — so much so that they don’t even see what they have become. they are sucked under by the ability to be trusted, their roles as the voicebox of god — they find after the lights go out and they are alone in the darkness, that they really are the illusion they present to their people. i think sometimes they get trapped there, unable to find their way out.

there have been a lot of abusive christians with power in my life. i believe that some of them truly thought they were thinking, speaking, and acting on behalf of god. they believed what they were doing. they thought
they were helping me.

please, those of you who are leaders, those of you who have people who follow you, be gentle with your power. be gentle when you speak with the voice of christ. words are not weapons. commandments are not manipulative tools. silence is almost always better than words.

i am tired of the way the institutionalized church treats women. i am tired of hearing excuses, of quoting scripture passages, of pastors using christian words used to justify already existing positions. i grew up believing that because i was a woman i was not valuable. i was a child-bearer, i was a submissive being, and i remember, as a ten-year-old girl in a christian school, writing an essay about my goal in life: to be
the wife of a missionary and have many children.

what is the institutional church doing to women’s dreams? what are they squelching, both with their expectations and their lack of them? the church has divided women into a separate ministry, a separate category, a whole different world, and it doesn’t allow them the equality to co-exist in the church setting.

how do we change these things? how do we rewrite ourselves and our churches?

what i love about and the blogs of so many other wonderful seekers and thinkers and challengers is that they are willing to redefine the church. i love that i can say these things here and be understood. i love that people are connecting with all that is wrong and finding the strength and courage to promote change.

the institutional church desperately needs change. it needs change, even as it doesn’t notice that it does.

i believe in the church. there is hope and grace to be found there. there is the ability to live in each other’s stories, there is the chance to be people of compassion and strength, to be people who follow a big god. i
believe in the church. i believe in the potential for it. i want it to be a place where people feel safe; where they can rest. i want to rest and feel safe there.

far too many people have experienced the kind of church that has been in my past. a judgmental, power-filled, women-squashing institution that has no room for life or messiness or grace. us church survivors are wandering the streets, seeking a place to feel at home. we are waiting for something new to present itself to us. we are wanting to find someplace where our stories can be heard.

to all of you who are creating new churches, different, vibrant churches, thank you.

thank you from people like me, who are finding you willing to journey with us, and who are grateful to have something we can point to and say, “see, there is love. there is grace. there is a big god’s dwelling place. there is hope, there is change, there is a refuge there that feels like home.”

6 Comments

  • thanks renee
    looking forward to chatting with you soon at habbo. i just read your book today on the train. Fantastic. thanks for being brave enough to write and release it. i liked the unedited stories (mormonism, etc) just as much as the unedited style.
    It scares me a little to have you in the chat room, since you have had such a bad run with church people, and i am quite often rather insensitive and am quite likely to say something dumb.
    if i do, forgive me.

  • a church survivor’s plea

    TallSkinnyKiwi: a challenge from a church survivor when will the church be willing to enter into its people’s brokenness? when will it learn the value, the necessity, of holding a friend’s hand and being silent? when will it allow people…

  • Wow! A great honest cry – good stuff. I think we don’t hear cries like this often enough. We get too frightened – that we are going to ofend someone or lose what small thread of “legitimacy” we have left. Well, damn legitimacy if it is going to keep us in a world that cripples the Body. We’re all sort of tired of it, but it might be really time to be TIRED of it. Peace to you Renee and to all in this “house.”

  • WoW! That was a great post! Thank you. I thank God for people who can so beautifully articulate (and arent’ afraid to speak out)the thoughts in my head.
    Thanks again!!

  • Grace and peace to you Renee,
    I agree with all that you have said, We need to be careful of how we define ourselves, we are God’s creation, His children, His beloved, We are seated in the heavenlies with him, and have been given all power and authority bestowed upon us by The Father himself through Christ! We need to always look to Christ and not man and depend on Christ and not man! a commandment He has given us John 13,34 and 14,21
    if we ourselves are without Love we are a clanging gong! the church is the Body of Christ and a living organism not ever an institution. church is where 2 or more are gathered in His name. my concern is for those who are not submitting to Christ’s authority that He bestows on our leaders we need to submit to have unity!Faith in Christ and perseverence; we simply cannot just go on a whim (switch churches) because someone did not agree with us on a point!or we did not have our needs met! Christ is sufficient for me!! if you are in a place that is not healthy spiritual then move to a place that is, but if you kept on doing that you would be chasing your tail (continually finding fault with others) until you die or Christ comes back for you! I will pray for you Renee and I hope this is an encouragement!