Monday, September 23, 2013

A letter to my church



Dear Christ Church,

Hey. This is weird. You may have noticed I’ve been avoiding you lately; Hazel’s birth came at a good time. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about us, but I don’t like this awkwardness; I thought maybe writing to you would be a good way to try to bring clarity to my thoughts and let you know what’s going on in my head (I know it’s egotistical to think that you care, but I also don’t want you making any assumptions). Had you guessed that I’ve been thinking of leaving you? I am. I should say, though: it’s me, not you.

I mean, at first I was pretty sure it was all you! There are so many things we disagree on, so many things I’d do differently if I were you. I tolerate the songs whose lyrics make no sense to me and the baptising of babies, to name just a couple of things that make me question why we’re even together. For a long time now I’ve tolerated your views on women, too, thinking I was okay with simply agreeing to disagree. But the decisions made a couple of months ago made me realise I wasn’t okay, and though I could let the songs and the baptisms and the other things go, the women stuff is too close to my heart to ignore.

You say you love women, that you love me, that of course we’re equal, of course my opinions matter, of course my faith and spiritual well-being is as important as those of the men in the congregation. And then you act in ways that make me question your words, and I have to wonder whether it’s just some women you love, the ones who think the same way as you and bring the morning tea and keep the kids’ church roster full and don’t ask why there are three men employed by the church to look after the pastoral needs of the men, but no women to look after the women? I see no proof of your professed esteem for me and my sisters, so your talk of love and respect and equality feels empty and hurtful.

I think the hurt’s the thing that always bothers me most, because it comes as a surprise every time and leaves me feeling like an idiot for ever hoping again. Earlier this year I was feeling so enthusiastic about working together with you to figure out answers to the questions we had. Now I feel disillusioned, disenfranchised, disaffected. Dissed. And foolish. Why did I think you would listen to my arguments when you believe so wholeheartedly that there’s something about my body parts that makes me incapable of explaining the Bible to men? Silly me. 

And this is why it’s my fault, not yours: I wasn’t happy with who you were and I expected you to change, which was wrong of me. I’ve realised it’d be like joining the Greens party and then complaining about the fact that they cared so much about the environment. Those beliefs are part of who you are, and I should never have convinced myself (as I obviously did) that you’d rethink them.

I’ve never coped well with the different varieties of Christian, it’s something that bothered me even before I was one. The way my Brethren grandparents did church was entirely different to the worship I saw in my aunty’s Pentecostal church; I often wondered – I still wonder! – how, despite such extreme differences, they could all possibly be talking to and about the very same God. I don’t like this confusion – it’s one of the things that makes me question Christianity the most, although I’ve always come to the conclusion that my problem is with Christians rather than Christ.

Thinking through the differences you and I have in how we interpret and apply the Bible gets to me in this same way. I don’t feel encouraged by Sundays anymore; Sundays now involve crying in the cry room. I’m tired of feeling like the annoying one, I’m tired of being the one who’s against, the one who’s seen as rebellious for my (valid but different) interpretation of those key passages of the Bible, the one who has to provide the evidence for my views rather than the one who gets to ask the questions. It’s exhausting.

I know you’re thinking, “But it’s not all about you, that’s such a consumerist attitude to church!” I think I agree. To an extent. Pain and exhaustion aren’t necessarily enough of a reason to throw up my hands and walk out (I’m married, I know this). But there must be a point with church where agreeing to disagree isn’t enough, and people have to move on, or else there’d just be “Protestant” and no Presbyterian, Anglican, Uniting, etc. So how do I figure out where that point lies? This is my question. And here’s another: Can I retain any integrity while continuing to be close to you, you who feels this way about women in general, and therefore about me in particular? Continuing to hang out with you appears as if we’re on the same team, and I don’t know that we are anymore. I don’t want to accidentally send the message that I’m on board with everything you believe and practise to anyone who may wonder, including my children. And I don’t want to become bitter about you or to whinge about you; both of these temptations would be lessened or removed if we parted ways.

(In case it’s crossing your mind, I’ve thought about the distinction between gospel versus non-gospel issues; I’m not sure into which category you’d place the issue of women in the home and church. Certainly if we think of salvation in post-death terms we’d agree. But if we think about what that salvation should look like in this life, I’d argue it’s absolutely a gospel issue: if a large aspect of the gospel – the good news – for our lives right now doesn’t include Jesus breaking down social hierarchies in order to promote equality and unity with one another, then a) I’ve obviously misunderstood entire books of the New Testament, and b) the “good news” isn’t good news at all for Gentiles, slaves and women.)

I don’t want to be difficult. I honestly wish this stuff didn’t matter to me. I wish I didn’t notice the all-male teams, the exclusive language used, the assumptions and the stereotypes perpetuated. I wish I could go back to the early days, when I first joined a church, when everything was black and white, and there were always answers, and the answers were always acceptable.

Me: What is it about men that makes them leaders and about women that makes them followers? Why did God set it up this way?

Them: God is God and He can do things that don’t make sense sometimes just to prove that His ways are higher than our ways. I can’t think of another example of this, but it totally applies to the men/women stuff, okay?

Me: OKAY!

Faith was much easier back then.

It’s easy to sound cold in writing, but these thoughts and questions I have about us breaking up aren’t simple or painless. You’re not just an abstract idea that I could easily let go of – I’d be walking away from people I enjoy, a structure and doctrines that have become comfortable and familiar. I’d have to look for a replacement you, which would inevitably make me remember and miss all of the things that I love about you. Staying or leaving will both involve heartache. I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

Just thought I should let you know.

Belle

9 comments:

  1. Such a moving post. I know what it's like to be in a period of really questioning the ins and outs of faith, and I just thank God that I'm surrounded by people who encourage me to ask the questions and aren't scared of the answers. I don't know if it will help, but you might want to check this out : http://www.benedictus.com.au/ It's the website of the church I've been involved with since it started last year, and the (female) priest who runs it is one of the best preachers I've ever met. Click on the 'Reflections' tab and read some of her stuff. It runs the whole gamut of themes and whether you agree or disagree with her, I know it will make you think. There are plenty of Christians out there who believe that doubt and questions strengthen rather than weaken faith.

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    1. I love what you've told me and what I've read about Benedictus - how about you guys come plant a church in Western Sydney? ;)

      I'll be reading more of the Reflections - thank you for pointing me to them! It's such a blessing to have stuff online (and to be part of a Christian community online!) to keep me going at times like these.

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  2. This is tough, Belle, and though I don't know you personally, I hear you. My dad (who is a bit of a closet radical) always said he'd rather be the less conservative person in the conservative church rather than the conservative person in the less conservative church. I think I agree. I have friends on the broad Christian spectrum and my really liberal friends often make me role my eyes as hard as my conservative evangelical friends - i couldn't go to that kind of church. And the reality is there are always other people wrestling with this stuff but they may not have the courage or capacity to voice those things - it may be good for them to have you there. I know people who have played this 'quiet radical' role in conservative churches over many years and been a blessing to many through it. But on the other hand, if this becomes an issue of conscience then IMO it can be fair to leave - with gratitude for what is good but a clarity about what you can no longer support. Just my 2 cents worth!

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    1. Thank you for your 2 cents, Joanna - I hadn't thought about the "less conservative person in the conservative church rather than the conservative person in the less conservative church" thing. I'll be pondering further on that...

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  3. Ditto. There is more to be said but not here. Thanks for putting into words what I've been thinking. Hope you know you are not the only one. x

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    1. That's both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. I'm so thankful for someone to talk to about this. xo

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  4. Whilst it may not be for the same reason, I completely understand how you feel about not really agreeing with the way your church runs and having questions as to whether you really want to be there or not. I struggled a lot for a few years when we first moved to Glenmore Park feeling so disconnected from the church I was attending, and it got to the point where I stopped going to church and I stopped seeking God. Sometimes changing churches (which is what I did), can be scary but necessary and super rewarding. I am so happy to have found a new church (even though it took a few tries to get it right) that is much closer to my own beliefs of what a church should be. If you ever feel like you want to try out some other church, you are always welcome to drop by Foothills Vineyard Church. Whilst we do have a male pastor, there are plenty of women in leadership positions and in my opinion, everyone is seen as equal and encouraged to participate (during sermons, the pastor often asks the congregation about what they think and what their opinions are) and share their own testimonies. I hope this disconnect that you are feeling can be cleared up soon and that it wont discourage you from seeking God further. You are definitely not the only one out there who is or has experienced this.

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    1. Lucia, you're a great advertisement for your church - I googled them months ago and daydreamed about going there after getting to know you at OCD!

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  5. I just love you and feel hopeful for good things in the future for you and yours xxx

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