I’ve been arguing with myself all week about this post. Even as I started, I wrote the title, stared at it, and deleted it. There have been a few topics bouncing around in my brain, but this one kept sticking. I talked myself down from it, “Let’s do something light and funny.” “GIFs. There should be more GIFs.”
“Make people laugh, don’t be so serious.” I debated writing it again as I spent the last hour troubleshooting my laptop. But the more I’ve sat here thinking about it, the more I realize how heavy it has been weighing on my heart.
The past month or so, I’ve been listening and reflecting. It seems that religious upbringings have been a theme in my conversations. I’ve found myself sitting at a bar eating a burger between two former Catholics, arguing about whether a certain priest was cool or not. I was listening to a podcast comparing a section of Scripture as viewed in Western Christianity compared to Jewish tradition. I hiked down a mountain with a friend who sometimes had to leave for church at 4 AM. Mormon.org contacted me via email to thank me for visiting their site and to connect me with some missionaries (whoever signed me up for that, I appreciate your concern). Even being raised in a Christian church, I left it bitterly when I was seventeen.
Throughout these conversations and reflections, I found myself getting frustrated. Talking with people I care about and hearing how they’ve been hurt by Christians often leaves me feeling as if I’m a bystander, showing up after the fact to say, “Oh, they didn’t mean it like that.” As terrible as it is, they probably did. When they sent my LGBTQ+ friend a Bible as their birthday gift every year, when they told my friend who relapsed for the first time that she wasn’t fit for missions, when they told me I just needed to figure out what sin I wasn’t acknowledging in my life and my depression would go away—they meant it. And I am one of them.
I’m also guilty of thinking my beliefs excuse me from my impact on others. As I talk with my friends and they tell me why they left, they wonder why I’ve stayed. There’s only one reason: because the Church is the Bride of Christ. Jesus is coming back for His bride (Rev. 19:7), and if I am loving and following the Lord then with that comes loving and serving His bride. If you’re not a Christian and have made it this far, this idea is weird, so let me try to put this in comparable terms. Let’s define marriage as the ultimate union between two people. It’s the deep intimacy and connection of two becoming one, and the beautiful point when people are joined for the rest of their lives in union. This deep intimacy is what Jesus desires with His bride, known as His Church. The definition of “church” can be messy, but in this context it’s referring to believers who gather together to serve and worship Him.
So imagine someone who is your best friend, confidant, mentor, guardian, advocate, and everything in between and beyond saying to you, “I’m going to be gone for some time, but I promise I’m coming back. I can’t tell you when, but while I’m gone, please take care of my fiancée.” You say, “Of course! Anyone you love, I will surely love.” He leaves, and you go to meet this girl, thinking she must be the most amazing person ever to possibly be so loved by Him. Instead, you discover she is a complete disaster.
Okay, not complete disaster, but definitely a hot mess. She’s got this history, and it’s filthy. She’s got this current drama going on, and it’s pretty embarrassing. Everything in you is saying, “Disassociate. This is going to be a lot of work.” Even if she seemed amazing at first, you find that she isn’t near good enough for Him. In fact, she is the least deserving of Him. Yet He loves her, and He died for her, and He’s asked me to love her just as much. Even more so, He loves me though I am often just like her.
Metaphor aside, I’m not saying you should never leave a church—I’m saying you should be hesitant to leave the church. If you have stepped completely out of the church because it’s problematic and still follow Jesus, you’re missing something. You aren’t caring for the Bride of Christ. Caring doesn’t mean actively and blindly supporting. Caring also means holding the church accountable. Could you imagine coming home to your fiancée only to find that they’ve been protecting an abusive pastor from legal action and hiding it? I’d be upset. Pretty sure Jesus is, too.
At the same time Christ calls us to love the Church, Christians are the church. We make up the bride. That hot mess we met earlier? Yeah, that’s us. So before you put on your Pharisee robes and tell the church everything wrong with her, you have to recognize that you are part of the problem. The moment you begin to separate yourself from the church because it’s problematic, you separate yourself from the union Christ is returning for. You tell Jesus that His bride, His beloved, isn’t worth your efforts. You tell Jesus that who He died for is “inconvenient”, or “goes too long”, or “doesn’t fit into my schedule.”
I want to pause here. For many, this is not the reason why you left. If the thought of returning to a church brings back memories of hatred and judgment, I’m so sorry. On behalf of the church, on behalf of the Bride of Christ who has proven herself unworthy of Him time and time again, I’m sorry. For those that have been rejected, shamed, and persecuted, I’m sorry. Out of the many things the Bride is supposed to be, the utmost is open to all. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.” Titus 2:11. All. People. I promise you, though I am a member of the church and will always be, I am actively seeking ways to amend for these wrongs and prevent them in the future. While I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to everyone who has sinned in the name of God, I want to reiterate that intent does not excuse impact. To borrow a metaphor from Rachel Cargle, if I stepped on your toe unintentionally and you said, “Ouch, that hurt,” my response shouldn’t be “I didn’t mean to, so you’re fine,” but instead, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I will avoid that in the future.”
Recognizing the damage you have done and walking in humility towards growth is a loving response to hurting someone. You don’t get to decide how others hurt, so take a step back and listen. Confrontations like this are some of my favorite examples of radical love. Know why? Because when these conversations happen correctly, they are powerful and beautiful and humble. If there is one thing I wish I saw more in the Bride of Christ, it’s humility. It was Christ’s humility that made His ministry so insanely radical. The Creator of the universe decided to come down from the heavens. An Almighty being came down to earth, kneeled to the ground, and washed our feet. Ever had your feet washed? Even in the Christian community, it can be pretty weird. Personally, I love it, and anyone who has worked with me at summer camp knows that.
When you hear of radical Christianity, I doubt you think of foot-washing. I imagine things like Westboro Baptist come to mind, or perhaps the overwhelming disdain for LGBTQ+ folks, or maybe you see a red ball cap and a 12-gauge shotgun. “Radical” at its core means to lean towards an extreme side, and Jesus’ ministry was completely radical. It challenged the Pharisees and Sadducees, it flipped tables in the temple, it died a criminal’s death on a cross. This kind of radical is quiet, humble, and not self-seeking. It is radically patient and kind. It isn’t always the kind of radical that goes viral on the news, but it’s the type of radical that changes lives.
What if we practiced being radically kind? What if we showed this radical love that we can only recognize as something beyond humanity? I am convinced that this kind of radical would overwhelm people. It overwhelmed me, when a woman I barely knew told me some bold truths and had me tearing up in a fresh clear-cut on a mountain. It overwhelmed me when I had people seek to know my heart and love me unconditionally. It overwhelmed me when my feet were washed with Misty Edwards on repeat in the background, and I soaked my sweatshirt sleeve in tears. Loving people like that is radical, and our ministry should be exactly that. I’ve heard people glorifying the simple and mundane, which is beautiful, but it’s easy to take the mundane and use it as an excuse to avoid radical love.
What if we reclaimed radical?
– K. G. Goer