While I identify with many progressive and liberal ideas I’ve still found myself not claiming either as part of my identity. I’m still in the process of healing from toxic theology, exclusionary beliefs, and oppressive religious trauma. The truth is, even progressive and liberal orthopraxy can be toxic, exclusionary, and oppressive. I resonate more with the metaphor of learning to walk in freedom. While the chains on my hands and feet have been removed I still feel the lingering pinch that once provided security and certainty. In many ways, I’d describe myself as someone becoming liberated. I’m not just concerned with my personal freedom but want the collective to be liberated. Your liberation is connected to my liberation. If you are not fully free then neither am I. Yet, I have no interest in imposing what my liberation looks like because yours is very likely different than mine. In other words, I want you to find your freedom in whatever form that might be and as you work through that I learn from your journey. My pursuit for God is not about disembodied beliefs or armchair philosophical musings (though I enjoy those very much!) but about learning to love in real time with real people in all our complexities and nuances. John the Evangelist wrote, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” This is the kind of love I desperately need. I don’t want to continue practicing toxic love or oppressive love or “act this way to belong” kind of love or “things are going to be okay so let’s just sing and forget our present reality” kind of love. I want the real shit.
After almost 30 years of being a Christian, it’s finally dawned on me:
We believe we have the solutions to the world’s problems and never consider we might actually be a part of the problem. Therefore, we can’t ever see the damage we cause until we are hurt by Christianity and/or other Christians. Like Jesus, when we are accused of stepping outside the lines of majority theology, we realize that they too are victims of a vengeful, vindictive belief system. Their acts of execution are driven by the need to keep their religion “pure”. When Christians draw lines in the sand to preserve some mythic ideal, they turn humans into enemies. And when enemies are created, our propensity for violence, hatred, dehumanization, and control increases. Whether it’s blind support from Evangelicals for Trump’s border wall or church leaders cheering on blatant misogyny from John MacArthur or churches like Bethel peddling conversion therapy under the splashy and hip #oncegay narrative-enemies are meant to be detained, silenced, and converted.
I feel we have given the local organized institutional church too much power. We trust them too much as our conduit for salvation, healing, and transformation. We create idols out of them and give our loyalty (and money) to them way too quickly. For many, these organizations have been a lifeline and tremendous blessing. I don’t refute that at all. As a cisgender, heteronormative male I have the privilege of benefiting from such connections. But where do you go if that is precisely where your trauma occurred? Where do you run to for safety if these spaces are where you felt most unsafe? Who do you turn to if the very people who discipled you end up rejecting you? Rupi Kaur wisely says, “Do not look for healing at the feet of those who broke you.” Maybe, some of us remain in local churches because we suffer from Stockholm Syndrome.
Here’s my encouragement to those, like me, who feel the tension and pain that comes from holding “new wine in old wineskins”: When we feel we have disappointed God because we no longer participate, believe, or support what we used to, it’s very likely it isn’t God we’ve disappointed but rather the community we were a part of. Discerning the difference between what God feels about you and what the community feels about you is what the journey towards healing and liberation is all about (for some).
My prayer for you (and me) is the following:
May you realize you are not alone in your journey of reclaiming your body, culture, gender, sexual orientation, identity, purpose, and salvation.
May you find safe people who are willing to really listen and not prescribe any answers, solutions or conferences to attend. Instead, they will sit with you in the heaviness of the pain, uncertainty, and tension.
May you hear God’s voice as she asks for your consent of whether or not you’re ready to take a step towards trusting.
May you grow in discernment as you follow your instincts towards liberation.
May you come to understand that you don’t need any permission to stop attending a church that triggers you, belittles your worth, silences your voice, and exploits your gifts. Don’t let guilt be your motivator to say “yes” to something every part of your soul is yelling, “NOOOO!” to.
May you have courage to end toxic relationships and fierce hope that healthy ones will emerge.
May you uncover the truth that the people in your life who you eat with, run with, hang out with, drink with, watch the game with are actually your church.
May you build a longer table, pull up another chair, and open your heart a little wider to those who’ve been rejected and ignored.
May you feel loved loved loved.