I confess I have quite a few deal breakers when it comes to church.
For one, egalitarianism is a must. My road to feminism is a slow one. I have always been confident, from my immature pride as a teen girl to an emerging strength of identity as an adult, I feel as though I have never settled for less than dignity as a woman. But the nature of inequality is the subtlety of micro aggressions that eventually thread its way into tightly wound fibers of one’s self-perception, leading the woman to internalize the oppression of patriarchy.
I thought I was treated well enough. Until scales slowly fell off my eyes and I began to see the millions of ways the church and the society still told me I am worth less than a man. It is a daily battle for me to be liberated from the effects of patriarchy, which shows up in my near hopeless struggle with the bathroom scale, my inability to stop apologizing for things that aren’t my fault, and how I persistently undervalue my work.
I can’t fight that battle alone. I need allies: Christian allies, feminist allies, a community to keep prodding me toward wholeness, toward equality with men. No, a church that continues to perpetuate patriarchy (in the name of God!) simply will not do.
And then there’s the gay thing. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I believe in full inclusion of GLBTQ people in the church and in society. Homophobia in the church (in the name of God!)
As you might imagine, the list of potential church communities that match my convictions is rapidly shrinking. Yet I refuse to be squeezed out. It was Christian thought leaders who taught me the vision of justice, evangelicals who convinced me Jesus desired mercy, Christ-followers who showed me radical inclusion and hospitality. I am not abandoning Christianity simply because things got a little lonely.
It pains me to hear stories like mine. Christians caught up in the energetic ideals of grace, justice, liberation, and inclusivity yet stuck in the pews of a church struggling to keep up. I know the dilemma all too personally—Sunday after Sunday wondering if one can stomach teachings that harm our friends, neighbors, and even the visitor you brought with you. Wondering to yourself, is this a deal breaker? Should I stay and help “change from within”? Is it time to finally let go and join so many who have left?
On the one hand, Jesus’ beautiful vision will always be carried out by imperfect people, my flawed self included. I am not above the mistakes I now see clearly being made by the church, I was brought up in them. I am reminded how long it takes people’s minds to change, and how many faithful people it took to coax my own spiritual journey along. Part of Christian character is to reflect the enduring faithfulness of God, whose patience with us never runs out.
On the other hand, every birthday I celebrate on this earth reminds me how fleeting is my one wild and precious life. I already grieve my early years of being sheltered in the Christian bubble—fearful of the outside and negligent of the myriad of ways God moved beyond the evangelical way. I feel a tremendous draw to venture outward, to learn how mainline churches, liberal churches, Buddhists, secular humanists, atheists view the world and how they find meaning. To explore the arts and literature that were off limits to my sheltered youth, and to create things that test the boundaries of orthodoxy.
There is an unfounded fear that deconstructing one’s faith leaves you in a vacuum, in a state of confusion, or sends you down a slippery slope. That has not been my experience. Although my shifting faith is tumultuous and at times painfully lonely, it has left me with increasing clarity of my convictions, a sharper vision of spotting God’s beauty at work. And every day I grow more sure God works in the small pockets of love here, there, and everywhere.
So I seek and find it. When it appears in my beloved evangelical family, I cheer with my familiar spiritual lingo: the Lord works in mighty ways, praise Jesus. I bow my head and I raise my hands. When it shows up elsewhere, I lean in deeper, get a little quieter because I haven’t yet learned how to praise Jesus without saying ‘praise Jesus’ outside of evangelicalism.
But I can see it like I was never able to see it before. The forgiveness of enemies, the unending generosity, the expansive love for fellow neighbors, the embodiment of Jesus’ teachings, his resurrection life lived out – they exist beyond the walls of the church, sometimes more poignantly so.
When I remember this, I am not threatened by sexism and homophobia in the church. I remind myself to look up and to look out. To get low on the ground and feel a rumbling revolution of love reverberating from all corners of our world and look for signs of eruption into life, sometimes right in the midst of a church service but more often outside of Sundays.
And I hope and pray, just like the good little evangelical Jesus girl that I was, that I will be there to be the bearer of Good News.
Do you see what I see? Here, there, and everywhere.