It’s a Saturday, so I’m safe writing this. Here in Georgia, the sun is shining and people are busying themselves by the pool. In the midwest, they’re trying to recover from yesterday’s terrible storms. In California, they’re…well, they’re doing whatever people in California do. Bottom line: nobody reads blogs on a Saturday. There’s too much else to do.
Which is why I’m safe writing this post. Lately, my heart has been breaking as I read stories of people who have been abused by religion. Shamed. Made to feel unacceptable. People who, in coming to a system of belief that is supposed to be about God’s great love for us, discovered that in some places that love comes at a high price. And that there are guardians at the gate that will exact that price from you, regardless of whether or not you want to pay.
Take this blog post for instance. Does it not break your heart? It does mine. It makes me shudder at the times that I made young women in my youth group wear one-piece bathing suits because I didn’t want them to “cause the boys to think wrong thoughts.” Never mind that teenage boys can think wrong thoughts about a woman in a burka. I read that blog and my heart broke for the times that I made someone feel shame in the name of holiness.
I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I won’t excuse it now, but I thought I was doing what was right. I thought I was being a good minister. I thought I was teaching the kids a valuable lesson, about self and life and other stuff. What I was really doing was putting them in bondage to other people; I was telling them that their appearance, their very being, is either a blessing to others or it’s a curse. I put shackles on those girls and boys by objectifying all of them, reducing them to base creatures on opposite poles: girls, as things to be desired, and boys, as creatures incapable of anything but desire.
But it’s not just sexual identity where shame pops up. It’s other things too. I grew up among people who didn’t think college was necessary. In fact, some found it to be pretentious, a showing off that was unseemly. Wanting to go to school (or, in my case, being told by my father that I would go to college, end of story) was seen as something prideful, and pride was a sin to be avoided. Even though recovery is something many churches offer to help with nowadays, there’s still shame in being a former addict; there’s shame in being a single parent; there’s shame in voting for a particular candidate or party; there’s shame in liking certain music, or watching certain shows, or thinking certain thoughts.
Heck. Read this, by Dale Fincher. It covers it so much better than I’ll ever be able to.
So what’s the point of this post? My heart goes out to those who don’t feel like they belong in the church. My heart aches for those who wish they could just go away, disappear, not be a target for once in their lives. I hear and read story after story of people who turned away from church and God because they didn’t fit a certain mold, didn’t look a certain way, and I just want to grab them in my arms and say, “It’s okay. God still loves you. He’s still Truth. He still wants to know you and heal you and walk with you everyday.”
Is it hippie sounding? Bet your sweet butt. Yet I am constantly meeting people who want to know that very truth. People who wouldn’t set foot inside a church on Sunday but would sit down with me for coffee, or chat with me online, or read this blog post and respond in an email. People who, for lack of a better word, want the Gospel to be true, but want to know that truth in something more than just words.
Once upon a time, someone would call this kind of concern evangelistic. But lately, that word has taken on another meaning entirely. I’ll just roll with this: I want people to know that God loves them, that Christ loves them, that there is a power found in faith that can transform any life – especially in ways that aren’t expected. And I’m willing to carry that message to people who need to hear it most, even if it means being shamed by those who would disagree.
If you’ve made it this far and you’re one of those people – if you’ve been shamed by me, or anyone else, and you’re wondering if God could possibly love you – then let me first say, I am sorry. I was wrong. You are created in the image of God. You have fallen. But you are not beyond repair. You are not who you’ve been made to believe. You are His. He is yours. There is healing to be found.
To those who wish to go away, Christ stands, arms open, inviting you to Himself.