I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and read a lot of heartbreaking stories the last few days from ex-church members...ex “christians” (notice that I use the quotations marks when I say Christians). I use those for a distinct reason. Because, like me, many of the people commenting here and emailing me with their stories of brokenness and their stories of hurt, are people who loved the Lord then and love the Lord now.
Religion and Christianity are very different. You start talking to someone about religion and they’ll shut you down and walk away before you get in any kind of detail about Jesus. Why? Because religion is man made…led by sinners…filled with judgment…filled with hatred and self-righteousness.
I’ve been part of a church where people accused my daddy of arson when our house caught on fire. Sat in the pews when people at that church told my family that they couldn’t donate basic household items to us when we had nothing because “it would take away from the profit of the church.” I’ve been a member of the church when I was told that because I didn’t think tattoos on Christians was a big deal that maybe I wasn’t really a Christian. I’ve been part of a church where my husband and I were told we were an impressive couple until we both admitted that we were sinful and struggled with things that almost everyone else we know struggles with…like suddenly because we are human we are no longer impressive or “good enough.”
You see…with “religion” comes the idea that you need to be perfect. That once you’re a believer, your issues go away. Poof. Vanish. Praying that sinners prayer is supposed to be the cure-all right?
I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 12. I don’t remember much other than praying the sinners pray and “asking Jesus into my heart” at the foot of my bed. I didn’t know who Jesus was at that time. Not really. I just knew that I didn’t want to be cast in the fires of hell when I died. Knowing Jesus is a process. And it’s a journey that I’m still on. In fact, I was journaling last night and even wrote that I feel like-right now-I have had a misguided idea of Jesus really is; even after all of these years.
At 12 years old I accepted Christ.
At 17 years old I lost my virginity to my high school boyfriend.
At 19 years old, I contemplated suicide.
At 20 years old I got pregnant out of wedlock.
According the “religious” people that I know, I should have lost my salvation a long time ago. Shame on me for suffering with depression or alcoholism or pornography or lust or a love of beautiful tattoos or a love for ALL of God’s people regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or status. Because if you asked the “religious” then they would surely tell you that I was going to hell. That I was a blasphemer (without even truly understanding the meaning of the word blasphemy) and surely destined for purgatory.
I just wish that I could shout that from the roof tops and help everyone see that. I’ve been reading Jefferson Bethke’s book Jesus > Religion and I am absolutely floored that someone other than me “gets it.” There’s a reason that this book isn’t being pushed on congregations’s by pastor’s. Because it steps on toes. It shoves the real Jesus in the face of the church and gets down and dirty with how “church” (the building on Sunday mornings) has completely and totally taken away from what God intended church to be.
Maybe I’m beating a dead horse over here guys. Maybe I’m running on repeat right now because my heart is literally in shambles over the emails and comments that I have gotten. Churches are HURTING people and it infuriates me. I have literally sat in my office and cried over the emails that I’ve been getting because I know how you feel. I know what it feels like to think that you’ve found a family among a body of believers only to have them throw you under a bus when you show signs of weakness. I know what it feels like to sit in a pew and feel the eyes on you because you made the mistake of opening up to someone about your past mistakes.
And it sucks.
And it hasn’t happened to me just once. But many, many times. It’s happened to my husband long before he and I ever got married. It’s happened to my mother-in-law and my sister and my parents. It’s happened to friends of mine and it’s happened to SO MANY OF YOU.
That’s why church attendance is down all over the country. That’s why you seldom see “certain kinds of people” in a church. Because some people…the broken…the homeless…the lost…don’t feel welcome in a church. We feel condemned. We feel judged. We feel shamed and ridiculed and hurt. Those of us who own our brokenness and our weaknesses and aren’t afraid to confront them head on feel the stares and hear the whispers and see the looks we are given.
I don’t hide behind a perfect mask. I don’t walk around acting like I have it all together. Because quite honestly? Most day, I’m a wreck. I need Jesus a whole lot more than he needs me. But I also need him a whole lot more than I need those kind of people…those who condemn and judge and ridicule. Because the problem I have is that most of them are a lot more broken than me; they just are too ashamed to show it or admit it. And call me crazy, but I don’t want to feel like I’m alone in my brokenness. I want people willing to admit theirs, own up to theirs and embrace theirs surrounding me.
Based on the comments that I’ve gotten, this attitude from church members is doing more harm than good. It’s pushing more people away from the gospel than it is bringing it in. I’ve heard people say “Be the Church” and I say NO. Don’t “be the Church” because the church isn’t what Jesus Christ created it to be. It’s rules and doctrines and other sinful people reveling in their self-righteousness.
Loving one another doesn’t mean agreeing with one another about everything. It means being there to encourage, lift up, listen to, pray for and cheer on a fellow sinner when they fall.
I am not a preacher. I am not even a certified counselor yet (70 credit hours to go till then…). I’m a lowly mama of two little boys and a husband living wherever the military tells us we have to live. I am a self-taught Photoshop addict who stumbled into Photography and Graphic Design by God’s grace. I drink more coffee than I should and I yell at my husband and my kids over things that are idiotic. I cuss more often than I care to admit. I have a tattoo on my wrist with intentions of getting another. I have anxiety and battle depression periodically throughout life. I don’t have a perfect life or a perfect family.
I would love to tell you about my Jesus. Not about religion…not about church. But about the one and only one who can and will forgive you of whatever mistakes you’ve made. I hate religion. And so did Jesus. It was the religious people who put him on the cross to be crucified. Let me tell you about Him…not about them. My inbox is always open to anyone who is curious!
End note two: ugly, rude, hateful comments will not be approved and are not welcome here. Not to me, not to anyone else. Healthy debate and disagreement is welcome and encouraged. But rudeness is not. Don’t be a jerk.
© 2019 • Courtney Kirkland • Writer, Designer, Creative
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