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Restoring a Damaged Faith

| 3.8.03
'Restoring a Damaged Faith,' by Mary Tuomi Hammond

After reading this fascinating article about people who grew up in a churchgoing tradition only to leave it as adults because of the abuse they suffered within organized religion, I'm starting to realize that it's a much more serious issue for myself and others than I'd previously let myself imagine.

I come from the perspective of someone who has been in the church all my life. Unlike many, I've tried many different forms of Christianity, because I've always been looking for something from church that I've never quite found. Despite a regular history of church attendance, the church has, to varying degrees always disappointed me. To varying extents I've always felt like an outsider.

As I look back on it, what I've been looking for is twofold: 1) I'm looking for worship through which I can experience God (something where I perceive myself as being connected with God), and 2) I'm looking for a safe environment in which I can undertake spiritual exploration with others.

In my experience, I can find number 1. That's probably what keeps me in the church. However the church stinks at number 2. I think the problem is that the church only provides a "safe" environment on its own terms, and woe be unto those who don't meet those terms!

Here are some example "terms," from a church that I attended in the past. This church would only provide a safe environment for spiritual exploration with others if you fall into or agree with the superiority of these categories, and the extent that you step outside these categories is the extent that you are labeled, ostracized, held suspect, and encouraged to leave:

White, Straight, Biblically-inerrant, (male) Authority-driven, Capitalist

In the church I attend now, I've exchanged these terms for a somewhat different list of terms:

Gentile, Straight, Evangelical, Volunteer-driven, Sacramental

While before I would have congratulated myself on finding a place that had terms within which I could explore my faith while avoiding the wrath of my peers within the church, after reading the article on a damaged faith I'm realizing what a dismal vision of church this really is.

Is it healthy to have any sort of terms or conditions like these? I don't think so. On the one hand it's a straight-jacket for people like me who are within the church --I'm confined to only exploring my faith in community within this box. If I hear God calling me outside this box (a call I have heard already with regards to evangelicalism) I'd better not act on it in the church, or talk about it with anyone in the church, or I'm just asking to be spiritually abused.

On the other hand, these categories are even more of an insult to people who fall outside them --the church is saying, by the existence of these categories, that it has already pre-decided that anything that lays outside them --including people-- is not worthy of respect, or contains anything of value that could enrich the church.

I don't think that the church actually believes that it is abusing anyone, but through the use of standards of inclusion and exclusion abuse is taking place. The church needs to wake up and recognize what it's doing before any healing can begin to take place. I don't think Mary Tuomi Hammond goes far enough when she seems to imply that using a few different words (like "reconciled to God" instead of "saved," and "sharing one's faith" instead of "witnessing") is going to stop people from experiencing hurt in the organized church.

Maybe we need a church where the only criteria for taking the faith journey is the desire to take the faith journey, trusting God to take care of the rest, and not worrying about what ground we may cover or what boundaries we might cross along the way.

PUBLISHER: The Other Side, May-June 2000, Vol. 36, No. 3.

(source: http://www.theotherside.org/archive/may-jun00/hammond.html)

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