Stop protecting the Church


You will hear me say certain things over and over again. They are my core messages and there is one that I consider the ‘why’ of my work. It is, “we can't heal the world, until we heal ourselves and to do that we need to start living truthfully.” But living truthfully is not easy, is it?

I have been triggered by this article that was published in the New York Times yesterday about Bill Hybels. In it, Pat Baranowski tells her story of her relationship with Bill Hybels. And no surprise she explains her years of silence with the statement, “I didn’t want to hurt the church.”

I can’t tell you how often I said the same words. Or was fed that way of thinking by people in church leadership on all kinds of issues - not just sexual abuse. I was told by an elder in TCTFU (The Church That Fired Us) to vote against women being allowed to serve as elders because it was a divisive issue. It would hurt the church because people who didn't agree with women in leadership would leave. The belief that the church has to be protected leads to a practice of denying the truth about what is happening within churches.

I remember sharing my story of sexual abuse publicly for the first time when I spoke at a women’s retreat at TCTFU. I sat down after speaking feeling that vulnerability hangover that comes from being so open with a group. A woman came and sat down beside me and put her arm around me and whispered in my ear, “You shouldn’t have shared that story. No one wants to hear that from their pastor’s wife.” Ouch

At another retreat, at another church, I told the planning committee my intention to share my story. I was confidently told, “You can share it, but no one here will relate to it. We don’t have any women in our church who have experienced sexual abuse.”  I shared it and spent the entire next two days meeting one on one with women in that congregation who had been abused by church leaders, a Christian school principal and fathers who served on church boards. One woman told me the story of sharing the story with her father about her school principal sexually abusing her and being beaten by her father for telling lies.  

My desire is to work with women to help them reclaim a healthy and vibrant faith. You can’t do that if you are trying to protect the church. Reach out if you want to talk. And for God's sake stop protecting the church. 

Shiny new things

Stationery is one of my guilty pleasures.  I started a shiny new journal today. I’ve been using the same journal for a record breaking 18 months and I was down to the last 15 pages. New things are stirring and I wanted a fresh notebook to hold these beginnings. I let my granddaughter pick it out. Well, I gave her three choices to pick from. If I had given her free reign at the store I would have a glitter covered journal with a unicorn on the front. She chose pink and shiny though and that makes me smile.

A little trivia for you: I have been thinking of how the word journal and journey appear to have the same root. Being a good Canadian I recognize the word jour from my public school education. It is French for day. A journal is a place where you keep a daily account. A journey originally meant a day’s travel or work.

I’ve spent most of my life focused on the spiritual journey. And trust me it is more than a day’s travel. It has no end. At least I don’t think it does. But we can talk about beliefs further down the road.

I spent some time today reviewing the past decade in my journal. What stood out for me was how much movement was involved. I moved from one city to another, went back to school, travelled to 15 different countries - some multiple times. But more significantly there was a major shift in my faith. I thought of this quote I recently read. 

Journeying is the predominant means of developing one’s self in this culture, not the habitation of place. It has been true of me. Always the seeker. Yet at this place in my life, when I look at my house at the edge of a marsh, I want to learn how to be in it. I want to behave like a finder as much as a seeker. The irony is that I had to go on a elaborate journey to figure this out. So much of my growing older seems to be about paradoxes. The reconciliation of opposites. The bringing to balance.
— Sue Monk Kidd, Travelling with Pomegranates

Whether you are seeking or finding, setting out on a quest or sitting by the edge of the marsh, whatever stage you are at in your spiritual development, I hope my work helps you reconcile any of the paradoxes you are holding - even if you end up recording them in a sparkly unicorn journal.


Leaving Church

Most of my friends don’t go to church anymore. What's odd about that is the majority of us met at church.  We were lifers. We raised our kids in the church. We were committed to church. If the doors were open we were there. We don’t fit the typical demographic of millennials who have left the church. We are Boomers. And we are leaving in droves. I meet more each week.  Date of birth doesn’t seem to be a common factor in who attends church.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who still attends the church that fired us. (I am working on a better way to refer to that church but so far I am finding it too easy to be sarcastic.) I didn’t ask him if he still goes but he seemed to need to tell me. He said, “Yeah, I still go but I don’t agree with what goes on there. It’s where my friends are.” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. There was a time when I felt that anyone who attended that church was in some way against us. I’m long past that now. And I certainly didn’t need him to explain why he attends. I know it is hard to leave a church.

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Religious communities are built on strong ties. It’s a big part of the job of church leadership to keep people happy and involved. And it is why shunning and church discipline are effective ways to keep people in line. When I ask people what keeps them in church or what they miss about church the answer is almost always the same thing: community. It is also what brings people to church in the first place. Everyone wants a place to belong.

People don’t always stay in churches because they are happy with the church. They stay because of their kids, or their friends, or they don’t know where else they would go. Staying in a church - even if you don’t agree with things - is the path of least resistance.

I never understood how significant it was for someone to leave a church that they had been actively involved in. It wasn’t a decision that I previously had the opportunity to make. I see how difficult it can be to sever those ties now. I can appreciate that it takes a lot for someone to make that decision. And I wish I had been less judgmental.

It has been over a year since I decided to take an official break from church. I had been going to a church in my community for several years. I certainly wasn’t a regular attender but I went often enough to convince myself that I was still going to church. But the weeks between going turned into months and I decided I should be honest about things. I needed to ‘shit or get off the pot’ as the expression goes. And at the end of the day I didn’t have strong enough connections in that community to keep me there. It wasn’t my tribe. There were some people that I connected with but I always felt alone when I went.

I met with the pastor and told him I was done with church. Not his church. All churches. I never told him what was behind my decision. It took me a long time to process it myself. It was largely disillusionment with organized religion. Everytime I went to church I saw it through a certain lens. I can say it was such a relief to be done. It was freeing to finally admit I was no longer going to church. To come clean about it. I love that I don't have to make a decision every week whether or not I am going to church. At least for now. In a plot twist I am dreaming of starting one. But I will save that for another blog post.