We all know that American religion is quite fluid right now. Many people aren’t sticking with the church that they were baptized in, if they were baptized at all. There’s no real denominational loyalty. And people will drive a long way to find a church that they’re comfortable in.
It doesn’t bother me too much. I guess it’s because I wandered far, far away from my church of origin, and I’m so happy that I was able to do it. Our college students are made up of every conceivable spectrum of belief, non-belief, and denomination.
Since this is a trend, I thought we should put some thought into how to leave church.
First, make sure you do it. I don’t mean that people should change churches every time a pastor preaches something that they don’t agree with, or rips the bread the wrong way, or spends money on one thing instead of the other. No. Let me explain.
I was someone who grew up in churches with no polity and a pedophile pastor (the combination of the two was as devastating as it sounds). On top of that, I had this strong call to become a minister, and a church that taught that women must always submit to men. Needless to say, the church did a lot of damage in my life.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, at home every Sunday morning, bandaging your old wounds, going over the hurts again and again. If you find yourself avoiding church like a plague because you’ve heard serious bigotry preached from the pulpit. If you’ve been mistreated, abused, or discriminated against. If you think that all pastors are pedophiles and that church governments are solely in existence to hide the misconduct, or that pastors can do whatever they want with their flock and no one is in a position to stop them. Not all churches are like that. Please give up on the particular church before you give up on the faith.
Because, you see, those wounds are real. And they aren’t going to heal without some significant care and attention. And you won’t get that from watching Meet the Press or even Oprah.
Some people seem to get relief from rejecting Christianity altogether, by becoming an atheist or agnostic, or by picking up another religion. But that wasn’t my experience. I needed the church, just not my church. For me, and for many people, we received healing from living in a spiritual community, from talking to wise people, from being surrounded by care and love.
No church is perfect, of course. But there are a lot of healthy churches out there. And if there are serious flaws with yours, and you don’t think there’s any way to work through them, then it’s okay to look around. Church is not there for our convenience or to suit our particular needs, but there are times when churches do significant damage in our mental and spiritual lives.
When we’re in a place where that’s occurring, then we need to move on.
If you have moved on, realize that not everyone’s ready to move on, or that they might not have the same issues as you do. (Oops. Elephant just entered the blogosphere. See yesterday’s post and conversation. Even as a postmodern pastor, I’ll put up with some bureaucracy in order to have some checks and balances, and some space to do my job as a woman pastor).
For me, when moving from conservative evangelicalism to progressive denominationalism, at first I looked at all my friends who didn’t make the same shift as defective in some way. Like, maybe they weren’t smart enough (that’s the mainline’s party line).
Especially the women. I wondered why they would stay in an environment where they were repressed.
But as the years go by, and my gaping wounds heal a bit more, I realize they just need something else out of church than I do. Plus, the bitterness and resentment that I was carrying around wasn’t helping me grow.
You know when I changed faith traditions? It was when the pedophile died. Strange.
Alright, so what advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about leaving church?
the photo’s by Gregory Pleau