The Church: Why I Stay
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
A while back, I wrote about my experience with the conservative evangelical church and why I left that tradition. But, I want to talk about why I have not left the Christian faith or the Church entirely.
Every week at my church, the congregation prays the Lord’s Prayer together. You would think that reciting these same words so many times would make them meaningless, but I find the opposite is true. At different times, different parts of the prayer stand out to me and the prayer means different things for me. This week, it was the words “deliver us from evil.”
Events of this last week both in my personal life and throughout the world have left me broken, afraid, and full of grief and anger. My church provided the sanctuary I sought and the reassurance I desperately needed that there is still goodness. But more than that, my church is a place to come together with others and act to effect change and hope. For all the bad things people may have to say about the Christian Church, the fact of the matter is, it (or really most any organized faith) is still the best place to go if you’re looking to help others in need. Speaking only for my church, on any given day you might find members teaching English or providing pro bono legal assistance to refugees and undocumented immigrants, serving food and providing shelter to the homeless, demonstrating against bigotry, or advocating for criminal justice reform. Our efforts have more impact because we come together with the common goals of justice and peace.
But I get that this is not everyone’s view of the Church because this is not everyone’s experience with the Church.
Evil seeks the path of least resistance. Frequently, this means hijacking an existing ideology (any ideology — not just religious ones). Evil is an expert manipulator, adept at using just enough truth in its message to make it seem credible. The evil among us come into religious congregations where there is a default level of trust among “brothers and sisters.” They exploit our dropped defenses and commit unspeakable atrocities. Leaders more concerned with self-preservation than justice become complicit and the problem festers. Professed followers wear their religion like a cloak of piety, hoping that their constant judgment of others will keep God from noticing their own inequities. Men seeking fame, power, and wealth prey on the faith of others. Damnation is a powerful threat. Fear is a powerful tool.
But this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ — no matter how much they might insist, no matter how much they might convince.
In spite of all this — because of all this — I could not leave the Church. As an old gospel tune says, “my soul’s been anchored in the Lord.” I feel an imperative to be the love of Christ in my world, to bring God’s kingdom to earth. When Christianity is appropriated as a tool to silence, exploit, oppress, and manipulate, there isn’t anything worse. But, when a church is faithful to the call of Christ, there isn’t anything better.
This Sunday, sitting in the pews of my church, I felt incredible gratitude for having found such a loving home and incredible grief that others will never know the same because of those who wield the name of Christ as a weapon of war.
And so, I stay. And I hope to be a counteractive force.