I have known so many people over the years who were turned off from Christianity or were deeply hurt by Christians and lost their faith over it. Recently I have been thinking about what happens when Christians fail those around them. Part of it is because of high profile cases of Christian leaders failing those they serve very publicly and some of it is because of personal experiences. I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago aimed at Christians who have been hurt by their brothers or sisters in the faith or by the Church itself. While I was writing that, I realized it did not really address those who do not consider themselves Christian but who have also been hurt. This is my attempt to start a conversation with those folks.
If you are reading this and you do not consider yourself a Christian, I want to say thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I cannot claim that my thoughts will be relevant to you, helpful, or even correct. They are just my thoughts. I did take time talking to a close friend of mine who is not a Christian about his experience with the faith and those who hurt him over the years. Some of my reflections are based on that conversation.
The first thing I want to say is that I am deeply sorry for the hurt you have experienced at the hands of Christians. It should not be that way. I must admit that I may have hurt folks over the years. I know that my own imperfections have caused pain to those around me both inside and outside the Church. When I apologize, it is not abstract. I am actually sorry for any time I have hurt others. I don’t have an intention to and sometimes I still do it. Whether it is arrogance, greed, envy, or many other deficiencies of my own, I must own that I have as much a capability of hurting others as anyone who has hurt me in the past.
I believe that one of the most frustrating things to deal with when Christians hurt others is that it is such a contradiction. Even a cursory look at the teachings of Jesus inform you that Christians should be humble, loving, forgiving, accepting, grace filled people. When they are not, it seems so wrong because it is hypocritical. How can someone who calls themselves by the name of that historical figure be such a jerk? Christianity should be the place where you can find acceptance when you are shunned by everyone else around you. It should be the place where you can find wholeness when the world has left you broken in pieces. It should be the place where you are loved the way God intends for you to be loved.
All of that being said, the reality is different than the ideal. It seems like humans are kind of crappy to one another no matter what setting they find themselves in, or what title they claim. Many have been disillusioned or hurt over the Church’s many sexual abuse scandals. The Church should be a safe place and yet even when it was confronted with predators in their midst, they worked in self protective ways rather than protective of those most vulnerable. The unfortunate thing is that the Church is not alone in being scandalized over this type of behavior. Many non-faith based organizations have also been outed for the same behavior. Just take a look at what is happening within many of the USA Olympic programs, colleges, Hollywood, and more.
There is no solace knowing that the Church is not alone in its ability to harm others. There is no excuse for the Church’s behavior when it acts in contradiction to Jesus. It sucks that humans suck. The main point I want to make is that the problem is not inherent in the faith but in the humans who practice it. Those same humans carry those same problems into any institution, program, community, or relationship they enter into. You can find the effects of human imperfection, pride, selfishness, arrogance, and greed anywhere. The problem lies at the heart of the human condition. I hope you can find it within you to not blame God for what those who claim to follow him have done. I think the behavior of humans who do things like this sadden God no matter if they are inside or outside of the Church.
Christianity and christians are prone to the same imperfections as all other human endeavors. On the flip side, every Church I have worked in has had some of the most amazing people I have ever know in them. These people care for those around them with genuine selflessness. They go above and beyond to show the love of Christ they believe has been shown to them. They offer healing and wholeness to everyone they interact with. I would hope that each of you who have been hurt by a Christian or Christian organization could get to know one of these people. Those whose lives have truly been transformed by what they believe. Don’t look to me for this responsibility, I still yell in my car at people who do dumb things around me while I am driving. I don’t fit that mold yet.
One huge danger of the hurt Christians cause is that those who are hurt leave the conversation with those same Christians. When the voice of those outside the Church leaves the ears of those inside, it can become a fairly unhealthy and insular place. When the Church loses the perspective of those who do not share their faith dangerous beliefs and behaviors can occur. The community becomes a kind of confirmation bias of its worse tendencies and we are no longer challenged to live like Jesus lived among a diverse and hurting world. I think we are all better off when we seek to understand those with differing opinions and respect one another with deference and love.
This idea can come across like requiring the victim of hurt to fix the victimizer. I am not claiming that at all. Institutions must be called on their errors and held accountable. People must be called on their errors and held accountable. What I am saying is when those who don’t believe disengage with Christians over hurts they have experienced, those errors are rarely challenged. We need your voice to become better people and realize when we error. This works mostly for wrongs that are easily forgivable. Horrific trauma caused on others are a different case. In those cases someone who is not the victim should stand up for the victim, whether they are a part of the institution causing the hurt or not.
Ultimately none of this is easy because life is not easy. Relationships are messy and reality complicates things even more. Our imperfections bump up against each other and cause real damage and pain. We are all responsible for that at times. No one is perfect. I hope more than anything these thoughts cause those inside the Church to consider perspectives they have maybe never considered before. I also hope these thoughts may help those outside the Church to consider perspectives they have maybe never considered before. As Scripture says,
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
What are your thoughts? We are better when in dialogue. Leave your comments below and I will do my best to engage with you.