"Mistakes were Made", addendum
Reposted from Facebook, a bit of clarification
(If you follow me on Facebook you have probably already seen this, sorry!! Adding it here so it’s in the same place as the original post because I think it adds important context)
I posted a few days ago about leaving my church (at least on Sunday mornings.) In this post, I phrased a few things a bit too loosely, and came across as saying things I didn’t mean and don’t believe about the individual members of this church. I’m sorry, and I want to use this post to clarify what I should have said.
But first — the outpouring of support I’ve received from friends old and new over the past few days has been healing, redemptive, and beautifully overwhelming. I haven’t responded to all the messages I’ve received — I wanted to stop to write this first to try to stop any harm I’ve caused, but I’ve seen your messages and appreciate them all (whether positive or critical) and will reply when I have time to say something thoughtful.
I should have been clearer about distinguishing between the church as an institution and the individuals who make it up. Plenty of my fellow congregants are deeply devoted to loving their neighbors, and often are much better at it than I am. Some of these congregants agree with my view of the institution as a whole, and some of them don’t. Life is complicated. I didn’t mean to imply that nobody in my church cared about this sort of thing (because I don’t believe that to be true!) and I’m sorry for not making that clearer.
But it’s possible for an institution to fail to value something many of its individual members do. If a pastor cares about feeding the hungry and love for the marginalized but it never enters his or her preaching, this piece of the gospel will never become part of the communal life of the church. If a few people love their neighbors but the church does not nurture this or challenge them to do it better (which we *all* need if we’re being honest), their individual virtues will fail to shape the body of Christ as a whole. And if the leadership of the church isn’t explicitly asking “does this best love our neighbors?” on *every single decision* (not just the decisions on the “neighbor loving ministries”), then the church will tend towards unlovingness purely by accident. These might sound like small things, but they aren’t — it is hard to see how powerful the effects of this sort of institutional failure are until you observe a body that does it better.
I stand by my depiction of the church *as an institution*. In the five years I’ve been attending, I haven’t heard a single sermon about care for the poor or setting the oppressed free, despite Jesus declaring these one of the central parts of the gospel. The silence is absolutely deafening. (Conversely, I’ve heard plenty of sermons about the “problem” of LGBT people and why the people complaining about racism in the church are the real problem.) When we decided to spend 7(?) million dollars on a super fancy new building, the question of whether there were better things we could do with this money didn’t even come up — and now 2,000 kids are dead we could’ve saved through malaria nets. When our church decided to meet maskless indoors at the height of a pandemic wave, it took a very stressful week of emails for a lot of people to change an easy decision that never should have happened.
I’m not saying every decision should have gone exactly the way I wanted — but it seems like again and again the “loving our neighbors” side of questions doesn’t even enter into the institutional decision making process. Fixing this requires more than “getting people to love their neighbors” — it requires real change in how our institution does things, and I have given up hope that this change is possible.
This is not an indictment of every single person at the church, and I’m sorry that it originally came across as such. But this church is not a healthy institution, and I think this is something the church needs to hear even if it’s uncomfortable and painful. I pray that the changes that need to happen will happen, especially with the new pastor coming in, but I personally have been hitting my head against this wall for far too long and I am finished.