I once heard the late great African-American pastor Dr. Fred G. Sampson say, “The church is the only organization that shoots her wounded.”
Several of us have jokingly (sort of) termed a local fast-growing Anglican church the “evangelical rehab center.” It’s no coincidence that the rector is also a licensed therapist. It also makes a lot of biblical sense that the centerpiece and climax of the liturgical service is Christ and his table—not a charismatic (and fallible) human being.
Before you jump to the defensive, hear me out.
Most (not all, but most) evangelical churches value:
* Measurement not Mystery
* Monologue not Dialogue
* Cloning not Originality
* Predictability not Spontaneity
* Heirarchy not Heterarchy
* Alpha Males not Gender Equality
* Control not Freedom
* Policies not Creativity
* Science not Art
* Groups not Individuals
* Instant Gratification not A Redemptive Hermeneutic
* Literalism not Symbolism
* Discourse not Communion
No wonder there are problems with burnout, disillusionment and judgment. Artists in particular tend to feel unwelcome in a church that values what is said at the expense of all else. A church that values monologue gives no opportunity for checks and balances. It creates a bully pulpit even for those pastors who are not bullies. There is no opportunity for dialogue.
For example, this quote by a popular young evangelical pastor from Texas, “Give Grace to the Grace Killers.” When I am handed this quote in a monologue, there is no opportunity to address the myriad red flags it raises in this fifty plus-year-old veteran of evangelicalism. I can only feel the scars on my back ache, listen to my heart pound in my ears, shake my head in disappointment and shuffle my feet as I exit anonymously amid the throngs of people.
If offered the opportunity for dialogue, I would like to say, although the quote sounds righteous and holy on the surface, when subjected to collaborative thought and context, it may not stand up as wisdom or even as truth.
Christ is the only one man enough to give grace to the grace killers. It’s called the incarnation.
A human man who gives grace to grace killers could well be called a coward. For example, if I am walking the streets of Nashville, and I see someone about to be murdered, I would be a coward if at that moment I extend grace to the killer. In this example, I’m talking only about a physical death.
Then why would I sit back and extend grace to a grace killer who is killing someone by spiritual death.
Which is more damaging? A physical murder or a spiritual murder.
The Reason For This Post
At the conclusion of my book Sex, Lies & Religion, I wrote this. (I have paraphrased it slightly for this post).
I hope this post will start conversations. We Americans generally stink at controversial discussions and the subject of the evangelical church is more than worthy of honest and open debate. Religion is at the heart of almost everything we do as human beings, and if it truly is the essence of existence, then it bears thoughtful and loving consideration among those of us who call ourselves spiritual.
Some people will undoubtedly find portions of this post shocking. Others will think it is tame. It is in no way intended to be a theological treatise. My wish is that it will cause all of us to examine closely our personal longings, our churches, our relationships and our sufferings. Perhaps it’s time to utilize the Bible as our church manual. And for those aspects where it is silent, we should then depend on an open dialogue with those we trust. My candid conversations with artists I mentor, my own suffering, and the inordinate amount of dysfunction in our churches provide me the incentive to write this post. I watch as throngs leave the evangelical church because of disillusionment, burnout and heartbreak.
Throughout my life, I have seen the church provide judgment instead of grace in almost every situation.
I can’t help but think that if the church really believed our misplaced religious longings were an indication of a desperate search for God and the original experiences of the Bible, many of us would find redemption instead of condemnation.
If you get nothing else from this post, know that it is about redemption. I suppose you could even say it is controversially redemptive. I have realized through the years that it takes shaking up the status quo to get anything accomplished. So be it.
Respectfully, from someone who bears the stripes of grace killers…and thankfully has lived to write about it.
What do you think?