The church is something that we, as Christians, are called to love. The Bible likens the church’s relationship to Jesus as the most intimate one that there is-His bride. For most of my life, the church has been a safe haven to me.
I was raised by a single mom who was severely mentally ill and abusive. My dad remarried and had a family that my brother and I didn't fit into, so that rejection, in addition to the rollercoaster of life with my mom, made me a pretty broken and dysfunctional child. On paper, I was a liability. Statistics would suggest negative things for who and what I would become. The church offered me a life raft. Not only did it direct me to a loving Savior, but the people of the church saw something in me worth loving. Members of the church opened their homes to me and treated me like family. They brought me joy and shared in my pain, offering the love, support and validation that I was looking for. The people of the church served as God’s hands in my life. I wasn't exempt from seeing the bad—I saw scandals and hypocrisy and shortcomings—but it was easy to get past because I wholeheartedly believed that the majority of the body of Christ was loving, kind and striving to be like Jesus.
In recent years, it’s become more challenging to hold on to that affection for the church. Marrying a black man definitely gave me a heightened awareness of some weak spots in the church, but the real onslaught of my churchology has come with much of the body of Christ’s reaction to what's going on in the world. It started with Trayvon Martin’s murder, 5 years ago. Regardless of the fact that Trayvon was unarmed and that George Zimmerman (a civilian with no authority) was told not to pursue him, many were quick to back Zimmerman and blindly trust that Trayvon had it coming.
Then Eric Garner.
Then Mike Brown.
Then Laquan McDonald.
Then Tamir Rice.
Then Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. And many in between.
I heard people say that Mike Brown shouldn't have fought back, then that Eric Garner shouldn't have resisted. They justified the instant shooting of 12-year-old Tamir because he was waving a toy gun. But then Alton Sterling was a case of mistaken identity and they tried to justify his killing by digging up his criminal record. They shamed the riots with a total lack of empathy for the source of the hurt and outrage, but then they also mocked the peaceful protestors. The church was among the first to interject with “All Lives Matter” when the outcry for Black Lives Matter became a movement, but they proudly shared the “Blue Lives Matter” banners.
I was trying to reconcile within myself how the same church that showed me that I was worth loving could justify death for selling cigarettes or being in the wrong place at the wrong time and “fitting the description”. I was struggling. Then, all of the values and standards that, to me, had defined the church got Trumped.
I'm seeing that many of the open arms that welcomed me in my brokenness have shut out others who are in need. Not only are they judging and shaming the masses and turning a blind eye to the pain of many, but they are doing so with what they consider a righteous indignation.
The same people that introduced me to a God of grace and mercy are treating entire groups of people as though they are not worth saving. I'd been abused and had symptoms of PTSD, which greatly lowered my chances of normalcy; the same people who told me that didn't matter are the ones who use the past of a few to define entire races and religions.
The church that says "we're all the same in Christ" seems to love diversity on their websites and in their church, but often pegs one as a "race-baiter" and shuts them out if they speak up about racial inequality. The same people who love Lebron James, Lecrae and Steph Curry will feel betrayed by them if they address racism. The same people who say they are "color blind" will whisper reasons why black people get treated the way that they do. The same people who will defend their own children in their rebellious teen years will excuse excessive force against a black boy because he acted or even looked like a thug. The same people who feel that they are losing their religious rights are supporting the idea of violating the religious rights of millions by banning those who worship differently.
It's disheartening. It would be easy to decide that we don't fit in and exile ourselves to avoid frustration. But the problem is, that choice negates the responsibility that God gave us. We have BE the church. It may not be easy to love the church, when we feel that the message of love is lost and that policy has become more important than people, but we can’t abandon it. We have to fight for it.
No matter how it feels, we aren't powerless in all of this. There's no quick formula, but there are things we can do to impact the culture of the church.
We can speak up. A lot of people are convinced that I've become divisive and confrontational, but speaking up was a way for me to combat the resentment that was beginning to burrow in my life. Speak up for the sake of honesty, but also, speak up so that others who feel like you do will know that they have a place in the church. Speak up so that the voices of inclusion and love will be represented in the church. If my years in ministry taught me anything, it was that it’s easy to throw rocks from the outside, but to show up and be what we want the church to be is a much more difficult and honorable approach.
To those who feel rejected and hurt by the church: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we’ve let you down. I’m sorry that we fell short in the opportunity to love you unconditionally. I know it’s easier to say than to do, but please don’t give up on all of us. We can come together. We can be the church. We can drown out the voices of exclusion and fulfill our call to love. Please forgive us, join us, and help us get it right.
28 Days is a project about perspectives of people whose lives intertwine with the black struggle either personally or through others close to them. Along with their perspective they entrust us with what they hope for moving forward.
We hope this helps drive conversation, breaks down barriers and incites change.
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