Have you ever heard someone be very vulnerable and exposed, share their story about how the Church has hurt them, and then someone else said, “Listen, I get it. But you need to remember a church is not the church! You shouldn’t ditch the necessity of church just because of a few bad apples.”
Do you know the word for that?
For the same reason, I’m exhausted by hearing “not all men are going to rape you, so stop being afraid”. I’m exhausted by basically hearing “you were vulnerable. someone hurt you. but stop having rational fears that relate to the pain you went through.”
“Not all men”
“Not all cops”
“Not all white people”
“Not all Christians”
Dismissive. Is your theory right? Sure. It is true that not all Christians will be like the ones who hurt you? Sure. But people are trying to protect themselves for damn good reason. The theory is right, but it isn’t helpful to say. In fact, it’s harmful.
Here’s why if you feel confused.
Church is an extremely vulnerable place. People don’t usually go to church because they’re bored. They go because their heart is longing for something more; they go because it’s a shot at healing; they go because they want to belong. These are all extremely vulnerable things to feel. There is no place for dismissiveness.
The hope, of course, is that a person will come to this understanding on their own. The hope, of course, is healing. Healing is more likely to happen through love and validation than it is through forcing understanding, arguments, and dismissiveness.
Perhaps you don’t mean to be dismissive. After all, you’re right, aren’t you? And you do want healing for them. You may even feel bad that the person has experienced pain at the hands of “a” church. They just need to try again, don’t they? Jump into a good church. It may take more pain and more injuries, but they just need to keep trying!
Do they, though? Would you suggest that someone who has been beat up by a boyfriend to just keep jumping into relationships until they find a “good” one? Maybe you would… but a therapist won’t. Because that isn’t healthy. Common advice is to take some time away to heal.
You may think that healing can only happen by finding a new church. But it doesn’t have to. Healing sometimes needs to start away from church, in a similar way that healing from a negative relationship experience often starts in a time of singleness — sometimes needs to start there. Going to church can be as vulnerable as starting a new relationship… for some people, it’s more.
When you grow up in the church, there can be a lot of pressure to be somewhere Sunday morning. You’ll run into people from your old church who ask you where you’re going now, and who will look down on you for sleeping in or going to the beach instead. You may have family members or well-intended friends who use guilt techniques to get you in church doors somewhere.
After graduating from a christian university in May 2014, I dropped by a service at the church I went to throughout high school and the summers through college. I loved that church. It was my home base. My first week back, I knew in my heart that it was no longer the right place for me. And I stopped going. My intention was to find a new church right away, but I didn’t look. People constantly asked me about it, but I knew I couldn’t go back. I eventually moved about 45 minutes closer to work, and I still didn’t look for a church “hard enough.” I tried two churches but felt hopeless. I didn’t want to settle for a church that didn’t feel safe, a church I couldn’t invite my gay friends to attend and fully be accepted and affirmed and invited to do all things, a place that women struggled to become or were disallowed to become pastors. I wondered if it was even possible to find a church that met all the things I wanted.
People often asked me if I had found a church now that I moved and they were disappointed at how slow my process was, while I was growing disappointed at what the church looked like on almost every corner.
Eventually… almost by accident, I walked into my third attempt of “church shopping” only because my friend found one that was “progressive” and told me to stop by. This was around August 2015. I hadn’t been to a church more than once in over a year. Longer if you count my time at a university, but chapel 3 times a week makes me shrug. In hindsight, that period of time, my churchless months, was so important. I needed to heal. I tend to heal best separated from the concept of what hurt me. I’m huge on singleness after relationships. It makes sense that I would be huge on being churchless after my pain from the church.
Perhaps it isn’t for everyone. Perhaps some need to jump right into a church because they need that type of community or that type of environment. I absolutely need that type of environment, but I also needed to go without it for awhile too. I found love and community in other areas; I experienced God in entirely new ways that I would never have been able to before that. I am speaking to those of us who DO need time off to heal: please, heal. Heal the way you need to. While I do so, I ask the rest of us to stop using dismissive phrases, and to engage the idea that maybe sleeping in on a Sunday morning isn’t so sinful after all.
All in all, I’m still healing. Right now, I’m healing at Sojourn Grace Collective, which is a progressive church in San Diego. It’s been glorious, and it is absolutely everything I needed, and the people are even more than I could ever hope for in a collective. I’m lucky that a place like this exists in San Diego. I am growing. Yet, it took me time away from anything that we call “church” in America. And that’s all right.