The Borderline Church

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:

  1.  Jesus died for you.  Through Him you were made.  You owe him your service.
  2. God saves us so that we can save others.  
  3. God begrudgingly saves us because he theologically has to.  He is fulfilling a contract because of the second covenant.  So, you better be thankful.  The Bible says that you have to be thankful and obey God because He saved us.
  4. Grace means ‘unmerited favor’ which means that you don’t really deserve any of the favor that God has towards you.  Technically, you’re worthless then.   
  5. You are just a sinner who’s been saved.  
  6. There is a cost to being a Christian so you must pay the cost.  If that means giving a lot of your money away and being poor, then you must do that.  God is not interested in your being happy or comfortable.  He only wants your obedience.  If you have to give up your family, then do it.  Your happiness means nothing to God.
  7. Women are like Eve.  Women are born temptresses, and a godly man must never be alone with a woman lest he be tempted by her.
  8.  Your suffering is meant to teach you a lesson.  If you suffer, then it’s because you have stepped out from under the umbrella of God’s grace.  You must have sinned.
  9. Sin is judged and punished so do your best to try your hardest to be obedient lest you open up your life to God’s judgment and wrath.
  10. It is vital that you tithe lest you be punished by opening yourself up to devouring.  God will take what belongs to him one way or another.

Please compare these statements to these:

  1. “I gave birth to you! I’ve sacrificed so much for you! You can’t leave me.  Don’t you dare abandon me!”
  2. “You have no identity apart from who I say you are.  I paid for your food and clothing and education while you were growing up.  You will now do exactly what I tell you to do for the rest of your life because you owe me! You are ungrateful if you do not.”
  3. “I’m your parent, and you have to be thankful for what I give you! It’s your job to love me because I’m your parent.”
  4. “You only have worth because I say that you do.  You’re worthless without me.  You’re only alive because I say you are. I control your life.”
  5. “I take care of you.  I pay for everything that you do, therefore, I have say over who you are and what you do.  I control your resources.”
  6. “Do you think I care about your happiness? Do you think I care about what you want? You will do what I say and meet my needs because what I want and say matters more that you do! “
  7. “You are intrinsically evil and inherently bad, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
  8. “Look what you make me do? Do you see the lengths I must go to in order to teach you? Why won’t you just learn? You require extreme punishment to learn obedience to my will.”
  9. “No matter what you do it’s never good enough.  Try harder. But, no matter how hard you try it will never be good enough because you are not capable of being better.  You are depraved.”
  10. “You weren’t thankful enough.  You didn’t give me what was mine.  You didn’t pay attention to me.  I want what’s mine, and you are mine. You wouldn’t exist without me! And I will take what’s mine.”

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?

  1. You are a slave.  You are an object.
  2. You have to earn everything from God.  There is no relationship at all.  Christianity is like the feudal system, and we swear fealty. 
  3. You’re really only loved because of a contract.  There’s nothing lovable or worthwhile about you.  The Gospel isn’t really true.
  4. God is a taskmaster God who actually despises humans.
  5. Your performance determines your worth.  The Bible’s declaration that we are new creations because of the Gospel is completely untrue.  
  6. You have to deny yourself daily even if that means tolerating abuse from other members of the faith community, within your marriage, or suffering personally.  Jesus was crucified for you and even by you metaphorically, you sinner, so you might need to die at the hands of a spouse even if s/he is abusing you.  After all, physical abuse isn’t specifically named in the Bible as a reason for divorce.  Besides, partners generally don’t attack unless provoked.  We are not valued.  We are merely sinful creatures God is stooping down to bother with.
  7. Any kind of suffering can be explained in two ways: 1) You deserved it or 2) God is teaching you a lesson.
  8. Don’t ask questions or question leadership lest you be ousted and alienated.  God put leaders into place.  They are ordained.  It is insubordination, disobedience, pride, and stubbornness to question an elder.
  9. Relational aggression among women in Christian communities is often higher than in most high school settings.  Women are seeking personal empowerment at the expense of other women due to being objectified and vilified in church culture simply due to their gender.  After all, Eve was evil for tempting Adam, therefore, all women are evil.  This is a religious view that has been around for centuries.

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?

NO.

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…

7 Comments on “The Borderline Church

  1. I was ruminating over something similar on Sunday as I missed church for the third or fourth week in a row. Why have I become so okay with not attending a church that I used to feel so connected? Why do I have no desire to be a part of a small group or to be involved in one of the many ministries in my church? A year ago I thought it was burn out. My husband and I had been involved in a couple of time intensive ministries and though I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to move in certain directions, the leadership didn’t seem to feel the same way. Visions were different and it’s difficult to lead people against the current.

    Then I realized that it wasn’t really burn out. It was finally having my eyes open to a spirit of legalism moving through the upper leadership and seeing that spirit push and prod at people who were becoming more tired, more weary as time marched on. And it is a deep sadness I feel whenever I enter my church doors. I want to weep for the people who worship there and I cry out for the Holy Spirit to move in a powerful and healing way. But I feel alone in my journey. And I don’t know whether to leave or to stay and learn to intercess for those in my church body. All I know is that something is not right and I feel like I’m the only one who can see that the emperor has no clothes.

    • Your words probably resonate with a lot of other people who feel the conflict. It’s hard. What’s the right thing to do? Is there even a ‘right’ thing? But, when you don’t know what to do or which way to go, just go there. Eventually, like Gandalf in the Mines of Morea, you’ll know which way to go.

  2. Ohhhh I been there. You have done a beautiful job explaining this topic. It’s one I write on and help people work through. The experience of loneliness, isolation, dislocation and self doubt hand cuff a victim of spiritual abuse to a neurotic sin obsessed, God haunted existence. These poor souls may wander about mourning the death of their faith all the while condemning themselves for being rebellious lone rangers. How subtle the errors were that led them down that road. The sad reality is they may not realize what they believed was a “cultural hybrid” of the Christian faith.The Spirit that sealed them is faithful and will send them people who also suffered in these churches to comfort them and guide them through the healing process. These churches pride themselves on being separate and different from the ‘world’ however guilt, shame and fear as motivation for climbing the “spiritual ladder” of power and control is about as worldly as it gets. So many people in churches like this and ones long gone carry in them a deep anger and bitterness toward God, however those feelings are evidence of a belief and faith in God that will not die.In many cases, God uses that anger and brokenness to build a bridge that leads back to himself. Many who are on that road back to fullness will be taught by Him, what it is like to feel truly embraced, fully accepted and deeply loved by God. I’m still on that road and it’s not easy but because I can accept and receive his grace, everything is different. The world appears no longer black and white, but is beginning to explode
    with color.

    • You said something here that is key: “These churches pride themselves on being separate and different from the ‘world’ however guilt, shame and fear as motivation for climbing the “spiritual ladder” of power and control is about as worldly as it gets.” Within this sort of culture, there is always some sort of ambition or will to power. It can be an ambition to prosper i.e. name it and claim it–“If you’re poor, then it’s because you’ve sinned!” It can be an environment that stresses emotional experiences wherein congregants FEEL God’s presence at all times, and those that look like and claim to are said to have a special anointing. Just as those who are the richest in the prosperity-based churches. There are power positions up for grabs. The people who appear to be experiencing God’s presence the most are the most anointed ergo the most faithful and sinless. Those that just don’t experience God like this are “doing it wrong”. I’ve seen this dynamic heavily at work in churches across the board when fertility is a problem. I heard one woman say, “Well, I’m sure I did something wrong, and God is punishing me. We did have sex before we were married after all. So, now we can’t have kids. We stepped out from under God’s grace and protection. I deserve this.” And yet, look at the statistics on teen pregnancy. What about drug-addicted women on the streets being pimped out who get pregnant? There is no logic for these beliefs, but leadership keeps teaching them. The fertile women are viewed as more faithful than those who struggle. There is a bias. I’ve even seen this one go so far as to include male masturbation. There is a ministry out there that claims that if husbands masturbate and don’t keep themselves pure, then God will not bless a family with a child. They call these babies “purity babies”. God will grant a couple a purity baby once the husband has mastered his flesh and the wife has submitted to her husband through sexual “ministry”. The twisted forms that spiritual abuse can take defy my imagination. Those who perform well are granted positions of power to rule over those who do not. Shame and manipulation are used to force compliance and change behavior. This is used in classrooms across America all the time. Why not use it in churches? Unfortunately, it’s nothing like God.

      • Wow !
        I guess you have been there also? Ameri-Christ is a concept I am developing about a fictional mega church. I can tell by reading some of your stuff that you know exactly what this “Ameri-Christ” church believes and teaches. No doubt the cable network Ameri-Christ owns is called the “RBS Network”. I love your RBS label. I hope you develop that concept and write about it in the future. One day I hope to see it added to the DSM complete with symptoms, warning signs and a new pill we can give to school children( manufactured by who else? Ameri-Christ-Pharmaceuticals.. oh wait they are against any psyche-meds.. because mental issues are the devil)
        I used to read books on things like “the failure” “worldliness” “psychologized” “emasculated” “liberal”or “conservative” church. It becomes so tedious and irritating … There will never be a lack of dysfunctional churches to criticize..It’s just to easy. Have you ever seen those ministries where when you click on the false teachers bar, it’s literally every pastor or ministry you have ever heard of? It’s the same kind of thing… tedious and depressing. Again, even Jesus and Paul had critical things to say about churches.

        I resisted coming to faith because of “christians”. I wanted no part of this arrogant, in your face bunch of dorks who are compelled to control and micromanage every ones life. There was nothing different about them, to me it was just another sub culture with its own language, music and awful movies. I am using a huge broad brush here .. my bad.
        When I finally came to faith.. for a time I was “on fire” which as you know is code for really full of myself. Bla Bla Bla.. I’m rambling. Here is my point. This has been very helpful for me. The term “Body of Christ” I use in place of the term “the Church”. Christ is united to his bride the”Church” in heaven so we know all of those people are believers.. no rbs up there. The Church down here could mean just about any thing good or bad. The “Church” was never to exist in and of itself, for itself. It was to be the continuation of Christs mission on earth giving itself to and for the world. Bitching about the church is an Evangelical art form but for the work of God I don’t think that moves the ball forward at all. Many churches mirror our culture, this or that dysfunction… or who knows what. The body of Christ however is still mirroring Christ, still continuing his ministry. That gives me a lot of hope because people can still come to faith who have issues and are put off by the church. Anyways, I appreciate your writing and relate and have experienced so much of
        it. People who are limping around out there with shattered faith and broken hearts over these issues will find comfort and clarity reading your blog.

        • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I relate to what you say. I’ve been in a church setting since I was tiny so I can appreciate your view. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in because nothing made any sense to me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m half-Jewish, but evangelical culture with its Christianese and cliques has always fascinated and frightened me at the same time. Many people do not know the history of the church. They don’t know that it was Constantine, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in 4th c. CE who institutionalized Christianity, thus, dividing people into priests and laity. That was the beginning of sanctuary-based Christianity. Before that, it was house churches which is the NT model. And, I do believe that should be our model now. The Mega-Church just isn’t working. People get lost. I don’t want to be some bitchy person who has nothing good to say because that isn’t who I am. BUT, there are many people who want something better, and they don’t know that God and the Church as they have observed or even experienced it in North America and even the rest of the world are quite possibly NOT the same thing. The Body of Christ? There’s the distinction and rightly so. You make a very good point.

          I can see your idea now…”And now, RBS presents Ameri-Christ.” I feel like we’re already there. And, yeah, I’ve seen those websites. It’s…laughable at this point. I’m waiting for Jesus to show up on that list.

Leave a Reply to LN Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: