Tuesday Talks with Lisa Hunt-Wotton
My Wrestle with the Modern Church by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
For the last 18 months I’ve been trying to work out what exactly it is that stresses me about the modern church as we know it. I realise that this will be a difficult post for some of you to read, probably as difficult as it is for me to write it but I am learning to be honest in this season of life. I look forward to hearing from those of you involved in this on-line community, your thoughts, your encouragements. We do life together. Some of you will disagree with me and that’s okay too. Thats healthy. I’m just chatting about where I am at this moment in time.
It is true that I’ve experienced two scarring traumas regarding church communities. However, over the last year I have begun to realise that my disconnect with the modern church goes much deeper. I’m realising that I don’t agree with the way that many churches operate today.
Recently two authors who I admire and follow have both written articles about their own experiences concerning the modern church. Both have been pastors in large church settings and have both come head to head with their churches in regard to their own convictions and beliefs.
On December the 3rd 2015 John Pavlovitz posted an article in the Huffington post entitled ‘My Emancipation from American Christianity’. In regard to the modern church John expresses that: “he has outgrown something that no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in”. John says:
“If religion is worth holding on to, it should be the place where the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge. It should be where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show”.
On December the 5th in response to Johns post and by offering a different perspective Rachel Held Evans wrote an article entitled: “On Outgrowing American Christianity”. In it she talks about how it’s difficult to leave the church culture that you are raised in because it is actually part of who you are. That it is the skin in which you inhabit. That you can’t be a Christian and stop being religious. Rachel likens it to the idea that you can’t just stop being an American. She says that if you are a christian then you are ‘part of a religion’ . She goes on to say that; ‘we can’t escape our cultural situatedness and life experiences’ nor can we escape the ‘good gift of our dysfunctional beautiful and necessary global faith community’.
Rachel finishes with a comment that resonated with me, she says this: “ Loving the church means both critiquing it and celebrating it. We don’t have to chose between those two things, but we cannot imagine ourselves to be so far above the church that we are not a part of it”.
My other hero Brene Brown in an interview by The Work of the People called ‘Hurt or Healing’ talks about healing from faith wounds caused by man-made religion. She sums it up by saying this:
‘Either your church is a place of healing or a place of hurting’. Brene says that if it were up to her, “There would be a day of national reckoning and healing for the LGBTIQ community where every church would opens it’s doors and say, we’re sorry, we love you, we invite you back home, let us grow from you and learn from you and make amends”.
“As a faith community we can chose to be a place of hurt or healing. Those are the only two choices. There is no neutrality, if you are not healing then you are hurting”.
The Franciscan Richard Rohr says this about the demise of the modern church. It is important that we value and honour church history and where we have come from, but it’s also important that we move forward and find new ways of living the gospel to a post modern world. I would say that this is where I am right now.
“It seems to me that the emerging church is emerging because people are finding the ability to have a grateful foot in both camps—one in the Tradition (the mother church) along with another foot inside of a support group that parallels, deepens, broadens, grounds, and personalizes the traditional message. But you don’t throw out the traditional message, or you have to keep rebuilding the infrastructure or creating a superstructure all over again. The emerging church becomes an accountability system for the tradition, which is needed to keep us honest and not just lost in words. This is a new kind of reformation in which we don’t react, we don’t rebel, we don’t start from zero again. You can’t start a spiritual reformation by spinning wheels, particularly not angry wheels. You have to be for something—totally—or it is not religion”. Richard Rohr
And so the appropriate questions are:
“What are you in love with? What do you believe in? What is the heaven that you have already discovered? What good thing do you need to share? This is the only work of soul”.
Adapted from the CAC webcast, Nov. 8, 2008: “What is The Emerging Church?” Richard Rohr
What do I take away from all of this?
I am in an incredibly vulnerable position writing this piece because I am on a healing journey. However I can only talk from the position that I am in today.
I’m not sure that I agree with Rachel on this one issue. I think you can be a christian and stop being religious. She says that this opinion is arrogant and naive. Many of you probably think so also. I don’t imagine myself to be far above the church not at all. I think that a church exhibiting the tenants of the Gospel would be a place of Shalom. In other words, a place where EVERY person can flourish like a well watered garden.
However, having had a life of trauma experiences I find that for good health you do often have to walk away from family and community if they are the ones causing the trauma or abuse.
Your social and primary identity should not keep you locked in a cycle of abuse. I believe that you can move out of ‘religion’ and remain a christian. I think that you can hold the tension of forgiveness and thankfulness for the former things but move forward and embrace a place of wholeness and freedom. If I held to Rachel’s example then I would still be in a cult. This is what they said to me at the time. ‘If you leave us you leave God. This is where you have been planted. We are your family, your DNA’.
In my experience it was the church and the church leaders who were the abusers, the rejecters, the ones who cut you off, cast you aside and turned their backs on you. I am aware that this is not everyones experience.
I totally agree with Brene: if as a faith community you are not a place of healing then you are a place of hurting. You can’t have it both ways.
I agree with Richard, we must respect the message of the Gospel but we have to be FOR something. I also applaud Johns’ statement that:
“If religion is to be worth holding on to, it should be the place where the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge. It should be where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show”
I am FOR Jesus I believe in Him and love Him and everything that He taught.
I am NOT for systems that promote oppression, exclusion, boys clubs and gag orders.
So here are my issues and these are the things that I am stuck on in regard to the church, maybe you can help me unravel it all:
- I don’t believe in patriarchy yet the church is a patriarchal system – (Patriarchy is where men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it).
- I don’t believe in hierarchy yet the church is definitely hierarchal.
- I believe in equality yet the church does not promote equality either in gender, or age. I could give many examples of how the church does not treat women equally.
- It is often not multigenerational – e.g.: prefers youth on the stage: especially in music ministries.
- Does not accept the marginalised or outcast equally
- Galations 3:28, we are all one in Christ.
- I believe that the church should be a place of absolute inclusiveness and that the gospel is a gospel of loving enemies and welcoming the stranger and yet we exclude those we don’t understand or agree with.
- Recently the president of the largest evangelical college in America encouraged bible college students to ‘arm themselves’ so that “we can end those Muslims before they walk in”. “Lets teach them a lesson if they ever show up here”.
- You might say that we in Australia would never say that. Just this year I was with a group of christians leaders who were speaking passionately against Muslims, speaking about how they are going to take over Australia and how we need to pray AGAINST Muslims……….. ‘If’ Muslims are our enemies, aren’t we supposed to love them? Jesus said in Matthew 5 “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray FOR them”
- I believe that the church should be a place of healing not a place of hurting.
- I believe that we should lead with our embrace and not our theology (D. Hirsch).
- I am very frustrated with christians who are not engaged in community – many would not even know an unchurched person. Their whole lives evolve around their christian community, christian friends and christian events. Their vision of evangelism is inviting an unchurched person into Church, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask them to dinner? Didn’t Jesus say go out into all the world. People are supposed to know that we are christians because of our love. If we don’t know any unchurched people how can we love them.
- I believe the church should be a place of relevance and yet it is becoming more and more disconnected from the hurts and wounds that plague humanity.
- We should be having conversations about social issues like depression, refugees, anxiety, domestic violence, homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, violence, addictions, pornography, sexuality. How can we be a place of healing to a broken community when our churches refuse to engage in these issues?
- What about injustice? Why isn’t the church in a rage about the treatment of refugees and children in detention? What about the women who have been killed at the hands of violent partners? What about Australia’s exclusion and abhorrence of refugees and the children and babies being sent back into detention?
- How can we continue to have lovely services about faith and hope and prayer when one child remains in such inhumane conditions? Where is the ‘love mercy act justly’?
- Where is the voice of christian leaders on these issues? I hear a lot of silence.
Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty, when did we see you as a stranger, when did we see you in prison, when did we see you sick? ‘Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me’. (Matthew 25)
I DO BELIEVE in this vision of the church and the gospel.
“If religion is to be worth holding on to, it should be the place where the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge. It should be where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show”. J. Pavlovitz
Featured Image by Matt Lawson – Local Melbourne Based Photographer https://www.facebook.com/MattLawsonPhotography/?fref=ts
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