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Posts from the ‘The Church’ Category

Divorce: When the Church Adds Insult to Injury

I was talking church with a friend over coffee, and he alluded to some difficulties in his congregation.

“Uh oh, what’s up?” I asked

He said they’d discovered that one of their elders, years before attending the church, had been divorced. He and his current wife had been members at the church for a number of years now and he was an elder in good standing, but they didn’t know if their bylaws would allow him to continue serving in that capacity. I was shocked.

I asked, “What if you had found out he had murdered someone instead?”

“Oh, then there’d be no problem.” He replied.

We both laughed, but we both knew his response was no joke.

Divorce is hard enough as it is

As most who have experienced it will tell you, divorce is a living hell. Even the ones that aren’t acrimonious are full of crippling sadness, hurt, frustration, anger, and remorse. It’s like death with no finality: death of a family, death of a dream, death of a relationship, and death of a lifestyle. It’s one of the most painful things some will ever experience.

On top of this terrible injury, the church often heaps agonizing insult:

Fault-finding—One of the first things someone going through a divorce has to deal with is the hunt for a guilty party. Jesus tells the Pharisees, “anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Therefore, a divorce has to include infidelity for it to be legitimate. People feel absolutely comfortable prying into the painful particulars of someone’s marriage to figure out who this unfaithful person might be, or to convince you that you have no acceptable grounds for divorce.

Ostracism—For the most part, churches don’t often come right out and say, “Maybe you shouldn’t attend here anymore.” What often happens instead is people stop calling. They stop reaching out. Once people think they have fault figured out, they’ll begin to isolate and marginalize that person. If they can’t figure it out (or occasionally even if they can), they’ll disassociate themselves from both. At your most vulnerable moment, your community disappears.

Lectures—With the best of intentions, people will give you marriage books, fill you in on snippets of sermons they’ve heard, or just give you their $.02 about what you should or shouldn’t be doing—despite their limited knowledge of the particulars.

Discharge—As is the case with the story at the beginning of this post, it’s not unheard of to have responsibilities taken from you when you’re going through a divorce. It’s not always done to ease the stress of the divorcée; instead it often feels punitive. In many of those churches, you won’t get those responsibilities back—ever.

Gossip—This may be one of the most difficult things to endure. You come to church for sanctuary and you can feel that it’s no longer safe. Everyone’s trying to figure out what’s going on and spreading stories that are mixtures of truth and fantasy. It is the most excruciating game of telephone.

Insensitivity—When you’re divorced in the church, you’re constantly privy to people talking about the divorced as second-class citizens. After Seattle won the 2014 Super Bowl, Quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife announced they were getting a divorce. Instantly, he went from Christian poster boy to Christian pariah.

Try being a divorced person in the same room where someone is talking about someone like Russell Wilson getting a divorce. Every time you hear, “Well, there goes Russell’s credibility,” you’re reminded of your status as a bad Christian.

Some of my favorites I’ve heard over the years are have been gems like:

“You’re surprisingly spiritually sensitive for someone who’s divorced.”

“I don’t judge you; I just know the value of keeping my promises.”

Can we just be reasonable?

The church values marriage. It’s not only a covenant between two individuals; it’s a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church. The church needs to build strong, healthy marriages. But there has to be a way to way to value something without resenting or hurting those who fail.

I have no question that God hates divorce. But couldn’t it be that God hates it for what it does to people? Doesn’t he hate it for the pain it causes? Couldn’t his feelings be hatred for the painfully destructive nature of a divorce and not, as we tend to assume, just indignation for people who would have the audacity to break their vows?

One thing I don’t see in Jesus is scorn for people who hurt, and people who fail. The whole reason the cross exists is because we are all, on some level, infidels and failures.

I think we can build and encourage strong marriages without heaping condemnation on people who, for whatever reason, find themselves dashed against the rocks.

This isn’t a justification for divorce

When push comes to shove, we know nothing about someone else’s marriage. I think you could go so far as say that only God understands all of the complexities that influences whether a couple succeeds: upbringing, family of origin, culture, communication styles, personalities, spiritual considerations. You can do your best to prepare a man and woman to marry, but there are innumerable ways for them to fail each other.

We need to make church a safe place to have a bad marriage. Maybe part of the problem of divorce in the church is the heights to which we idealize and standardize perfect Christian marriages. There are so many couples desperately bailing water while struggling to navigate their troubled marriages—scared to tell anyone they’re sinking.

This doesn’t make divorce acceptable by any means. It is always a tragedy. It’s ironic that many of the divorced among us are the church’s biggest advocates for the value of good marriages. They’ve seen the other side. They understand the horrors of divorce more than anyone else possibly could.

Divorce is terrible, ugly business. It’s a heart-wrenching failure.  But it’s not an irredeemable situation that falls outside the cross’ reach.

Showing the divorced compassionate empathy and tender care does not mean you condone failed marriages. 

Marriage is an important promise. Sometimes people fail. I believe we can champion the first truth while showing grace for the second.

Coming Out of the Evangelical Closet

I’m sorry; I just forget.

I run with a lot of free thinkers and I forget what a lot of you are going through in your churches. But the recent, ridiculous Gungor flap has brought it all back home to me.

For those who don’t know, Dove-award winning Christian artists Michael and Lisa Gungor made the mistake of sharing their inability to take all the Bible’s stories literally—and they’re paying the price. The instant backlash has been deafening and vehement; venues and promoters have been dropping their concerts like they’ve converted to Islam.

I forgot about the high cost associated with transparency and honesty—even though I just wrote about this issue less than eight months ago in a post titled Christianity and the Spiral of Silence.

The evangelical closet is enormous, deep, and full of people struggling with biblical inerrancy and various doctrinal issues—but a lot of them are afraid to say anything. Too often there is a litmus test that isn’t about loving God or loving others, but it’s about views on creation, gay marriage, how literally you take the story of Noah’s Ark, etc. Because honesty often equals isolation, these closeted individuals are afraid to be open about their struggles.

What’s incredibly heartbreaking is that they have no idea that they’re not alone. This dark closet is packed with family and friends who feel the same way.

I just wanted to write a message to those who struggle and to the fundamentalists.

To the fundamentalist

I have no desire to argue with you about what is or is not true. I love you and spent many years, just like you, believing and encouraging others to believe that the Bible was 100% literally true. I’ve been where you are, and I get it.

So this isn’t about changing your beliefs. I don’t know any struggling with biblical inerrancy who are trying to convert others. They’re too busy sorting out what they believe.

Please make community a safe place for people to work through what they believe. And I don’t mean to just back off and give them a certain amount of time come around and tow the party line. I mean support them, even when you don’t understand them.

I talk to the people in your churches all the time, and trust me . . . you have no idea how many people are struggling. They won’t tell you because they don’t trust you.

Think about it like this: A husband may be able to intimidate his wife into agreeing with him, but he hasn’t won her heart. Unbeknownst to him, she has developed a secret internal life that he knows nothing about—and she resents him. He may win the battle by forcing her to tacitly and quietly agree, but he is losing the war, and quite possible her.

Because you draw a straight line from believing in a six-day creation to believing the Bible at all, you are forcing an all-or-nothing, zero-sum game. Do you understand what I’m saying?

It’s your rigidity that’s costing people their faith because you have created a game of biblical Jenga where the whole of a person’s faith hinges on the correct placement of every piece.

This doesn’t have to be a slippery slope argument. I understand that it may be for you, but you don’t have to project that upon others.

Please, I beg you, please lighten up. It’s pretty likely that someone can believe in, be redeemed by, and follow Jesus without believing in the Tower of Babel.

To those who struggle

I know it’s hard. I remember sharing with my wife that I just couldn’t believe certain things anymore, and it was incredibly difficult. At the time, she saw it as a betrayal of my marriage vows.

But this could be your spouse, kids, co-workers, pastor, people in your small group . . . admitting that your system of belief is evolving is hard and it can feel like you’re taking a beating every time you share your deepest feelings with others.

I have seen Christians cut off friends and family for the most benign admission of doubt.

Whatever you do, don’t go along to get along. I know it’s hard, but don’t fake it to fit. Life’s too short to walk around feeling like a phony. And I know to many people who have started down that road and walked away from the church entirely because it gets too hard to fake.

The other people in the closet need your courage. They need to see that there is transcendent life on the other side of their disbelief. Model transparency at all costs.

You’ll be surprised how many will understand where you’re coming from. And I can promise you, there is a more exciting and fulfilling experience of Christ when you entertain your doubts and give them a voice.

For the sake of those who have struggled like you do, please leave a comment and share some encouragement!


Rescuing Theology from White European Males

Do a Google Image Search for the word “theologian,” and you’ll scroll through page after page of white men (punctuated by the occasional non-white Orthodox icon or otherwise out-of-place image). When we think of many of history’s greatest theologians they tend to be white European males. I don’t know why so many of my white male counterparts get so defensive when I bring it up, but they do. Read more

21 Signs You Might Be a Terrible Christian

I had a discussion with someone today who told smugly told me how much he loved when Mormons came to his door, so he could put them in their place. I said, “Aren’t those usually young kids just trying to fulfill their required mission?”

“Yep,” he said. “And they need to learn something about messing with a true Christian.”

It was on the way home I was thinking about this list. Read more

A Worship Leader Questions Modern Worship

I’ve led worship in a number of evangelical contexts for the better part of 24 years. It’s a responsiblity that I’ve loved because of my love of music and those occasional moments of corporate transcendence.

But there are some aspects that have troubled me over the years.

1. “Worship” feels like a misnomer

This one feels like a no-brainer, right? Worship is more than singing songs. As Paul tells the church at Rome,  worship is about presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). It’s the difference between having devotions and being devoted. Read more

Emotional Bullying: Using Guilt to Lead Kids to God

guiltI was talking to a friend who, although raised in the church, is pretty antagonistic toward Christianity. He was talking about his childhood and how Sunday school and VBS constantly beat into his head his personal responsibility for Christ’s death.

Not in the “Christ died for your sins” vein, but more like, “It was your sins that drove the spikes into Jesus’ hands and feet.” The way his parents and church hammered (no pun intended) into him his personal responsiblity, made him feel mortifying shame.

It worked, he was a devout little kid. But he wasn’t propelled out of a sense of gratitude or wonder. No—his driving motivation for being good was humiliation.

As he got older, he walked away from the whole thing. I know so many people who have had the same experience. When they get older, their guilt turns into anger and frustration.

I ‘d seen the same things laid on kids in churches I’ve attended, and it breaks my heart. To a little kid, there’s a huge difference between “Christ died for our sins” and “your sins made Christ die.” It may be subtle, but it’s there.

Have others experienced this?

So I asked on Twitter if others had this same experience growing up:

Here’s some of the responses:

This last one really resonated with me. I can’t count the times I was told that people were going to look at me during judgment and mouth the words, “Why didn’t you tell me!?” as they were led to their eternal torment. Great, I have to spend eternity with that on my conscience?

Guilt’s not a great motivational tool

I get why it’s so easy to use guilt—especially on children. They’re so tender and making them feel guilty tends to make them respond immediately. But in the end, it may do your cause more harm than good.

It’s similar to the way parents use overpowering fear and intimidation to get immediate obedience out of a child even though they’re creating relational difficulties that will come to fruition later.

When children get older and are capable of deeper reflection, they start to resent the guilt that was used to motivate them. They start being distrustful and leery of emotional controlled.

We need to be mindful of how we communicate these profound truths to children (and, let’s be honest, adults too). The emotional implications for some of the extremely dramatic language, imagery, and metaphors we use can be damaging.

Jesus simply said, “Let the little children come unto me.” Not, “Compel them to come unto me by making sure they understand what bad little children they are.”

I’d love to hear your story. Did your parents/church introduce you to Christ in an organic, healthy way? Did you spend a lot of your childhood feeling guilty? Do you agree or disagree that guilt is not the best tool for religious instruction?

Are We Putting the Bible in Its Place?

Image by Jhong Dizon

Image by Jhong Dizon

The church might be suffering from infoenza.

The Bible, which chronicles God’s relationship with mankind, can easily become a substitute for relationship with God. Let’s be honest. The Bible is a real and tangible thing, where sometimes God is not. It’s not hard to understand why we would elevate biblical knowledge above any other spiritual indicator.

Our weakness propels us to work harder at things others can see and appreciate. I can demonstrate my biblical knowledge in all sorts of Christian contexts easier than any other discipline—so why wouldn’t I do that? This can make biblical study a no-brainer (and fool me into the believing that by knowing it, I’ve done it). Read more

The Time Mr. Rogers Slapped Me Upside the Head

Fred RogersEvery time I’ve sat down to write a post in the last month, I’ve come up dry. I was thinking it must be writer’s block, but now I’m not so sure. There’s a quiet revolution happening in my heart and I’m only now beginning to see it for what is.

Waging war to promote peace

Evangelicalism’s been going through some changes. And frankly, it needs to. The social texture that birthed it has changed, and it can’t maintain a 1950’s posture towards a culture that has evolved. It’s becoming irrelevant. Read more

Freeing the Church from Pharisee Influence

phariseesThe Pharisees meant well—they truly did. And yet, they struggled against Christ at nearly every step.

And while there were Pharisees, like Nicodemus, who sincerely desired to understand Jesus, he still publicly called them out over their practices and blind spots.

The warning he gave to us was to be on our guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Saducees. Because:

  • Their behavior is an occupational hazard for any child of God
  • Like leaven, it only takes a little bit to affect an entire loaf of bread

Here are some areas we need to be on guard against: Read more

The Subversive Kingdom within the Cross

“We use the word cross in our hymns, in our piety, in our prayers, and in our pastoral language. But we use it too cheaply. We say that a person has to live with some sort of suffering in life: a sickness that cannot be cured, an unresolvable personality conflict within the family, poverty, or some other unexplainable or unchangeable suffering. Then we say, ‘That person has a cross to bear.’

Granted, whatever kind of suffering we have is suffering that we can bear in confidence that God is with us. But the cross that Jesus had to face, because he chose to face it, was not—like sickness—something that strikes you without explanation. It was not some continuing difficulty in his social life.

It was not an accident or catastrophe that just happened to hit him when it could have hit somebody else. Jesus’ cross was the price to pay for being the kind of person he was in the kind of world he was in; the cross that he chose was the price of his representing a new way of life in a world that did not want a new way of life. That is what he called his followers to do.”—John Howard Yoder, Radical Christian Discipleship

Read more

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