It is not my intent to offend people by writing my observations. I’m not trying to be provocative. I am, however, going to point out a dynamic that has been swirling about church culture for as long as I’ve been privy to it. It’s important because many, many people go to church. It doesn’t matter what denomination you choose. From what I have experienced, some flavor of this will almost certainly be present.
I was confirmed orthodox Lutheran when I was a teenager under my mother’s very strong influence (meaning I had no choice) which is only one step away from Catholicism, but I have visited many other Christian church environments. My father preferred the Southern pentecostal denomination complete with yelling, public displays of speaking in tongues, people falling on the ground “slain in the spirit”, and exuberant singing. My stepfather came from a charismatic Catholic church, and my mother liked to church hop prior to her Lutheran phase. Hence, I visited many streams of Southern Baptist denominations as well as other denominations in North American and Europe. I’ve been in Episcopal churches, Anglican churches, Emergent church gatherings, French and Italian Catholic masses, and Methodist churches. In the history of my 36 year journey with God, I’ve only been to two Christian congregations where I have not heard some form of what I will label “legalistic, religious nonsense”. I don’t know what else to call it–RBS. Religious Bullshit.
This is important to note because when people I meet go to a Christian church there is an expectation that what is spoken, observed, and displayed will be truthful and align with biblical truths. Here is one very basic truth that should flow like a river through every Christian denomination:
16 For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him. John 3:16-17
This is a founding principle–even dogma–of the Christian faith. This is why many people in pain who are dealing with trauma and tribulation show up on Sunday mornings. They are looking for the God of John 3:16 and particularly verse 17. The God who does not judge, reject, condemn, or pass sentence; the God who so dearly loved the world that He saved it. What are they finding? I ask this with honesty. Not to be confrontational.
I am not speaking for everyone, but I am speaking for many, many people whom I have met when I write this. I am speaking from a place of observation. Millennials are leaving the Christian church environment in record numbers. Why? Here are a few things I and people I’ve met have heard in various church environments:
Please compare these statements to these:
Do you see how similar the legalistic, religious messages are to the borderline adult/parent statements? Some of these statements could be made by an abusive spouse as well. In any case, it’s a predatory, personality-disordered person who would be making these statements, and the spirit behind these statements match the spirit behind the RBS statements. What are the intended messages?
Everything I have described here I have heard Christians say and witnessed in various religious settings. Comparing the RBS statements and messages to the borderline statements, you’ll see a frightening congruency. The messages are the frighteningly similar if not the same. Who becomes the ultimate abuser here? God. Christians are just His representatives. It is a sobering thing to see once it’s written out, isn’t it? There is a name for this. It’s called spiritual abuse.
Spiritual abuse is a very real thing. I have yet to meet one Christian who has not been spiritually abused in one way or another because these messages can be very subtle. The most powerful lies usually possess a tiny grain of truth, and then that grain of truth is pushed through the distortion machine. What comes out is something that might sound a little familiar, but it’s nowhere near true.
Why write all this out? Well, I write this because I am meeting more and more people who feel crazy. They are starting to question their community church experiences. They intellectually “believe” that God loves them. They intellectually know that they have worth. They intellectually know that their performance isn’t supposed to determine how God feels about them, but the moment they step into a small group or spend time in their religious environment, they begin to doubt what they know. They certainly don’t feel loved or accepted. What they know in their heads won’t drop to their hearts. They can’t experience any consolation because they are too busy trying not to feel double-minded about themselves. How can they know this loving, kind, generous, merciful, gracious God if they’re supposed to be volunteering, tithing more, worshiping more, looking like they have it all together, and getting themselves straightened out so that they can, in turn, go off and save everyone else? Isn’t this what Christianity is all about?
God does not have a personality disorder. If you feel crazy, then maybe it’s because you’re living in Borderland Christianity. I know a lot of people who are. I used to be one of them. I left. I haven’t looked back. I have no regrets. It’s worth walking off the map. Here are some resources to get you started if you’re curious to know what life outside of the Borderlands looks like…