Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"The Church"

I have a problem with how some people use the phrase "The Church." I mean that not just in the sense that the church is not a building. I think that idea has mostly sunk in for most people. When I talk about "The Church", I mean this group of people that call themselves followers of Jesus. Not any one denomination. I don't mean the "authorities" in the church. I mean the people that make up the Body of Christ. Most Christians know this but I still read and hear the phrase "The Church" getting abused on a regular basis and it really sits crooked with me. Like a big crooked, rickety rockety Crookedy Thing.

I've avoided blogging about this for a long time because I don't usually care to get all controversial and stuff on here. I started in on this topic one time on someone's blog comments in response to something they had written and their immediate response was very indignant. It was clear she misunderstood me until we went back and forth a few times... So before I go further, I would like to attempt to head off those same misunderstandings with a disclaimer:

I am not absolving churches or christians who abuse their power or positions. I am not making light of many people's horrible experiences in churches.

Religious abuse is real, and there are instances of it in all religions and mystical traditions. This is a fact, and it has damaged people's spirits in unspeakable ways.

Organizations are capable of abuse on many different levels: Microsoft, Kraft, The United States, GM, Burger King, Enron - all bad? All Good? Before we go heaping judgement it is usually a good thing to take a few steps back and remember that as a human race, we are all part of this. We cannot escape ourselves.

Most seasoned, spiritually evolved folks will tell you that It is hardly possible to return completely unscathed from attempting to be vulnerable in any kind of community. Hardly anyone can have gone to "church" and come away with no scars. It doesn't seem like it should be so, but it is true. I've even heard of people going to AA and getting hurt. People who group together in community hurt each other and entangle ourselves in dysfunctional relationships often without even recognizing it. We should know better, but we can't help it. However, that doesn't necessarily make "The Church" bad, or AA bad, or any other group inherently evil. It just means these groups of people consist of, well, people.

Groups of people - christian or not - can also heal, and help, and love, and play a role in the redemptive process.
This is also true.
And very important to remember.

But I digress... I mean mostly to talk about Christians here.
Using the phrase "The Church".
In a floppy manner.

The problem I have is when people say "The Church" did this and "The Church" does that. In conversation people sometimes say "The Church" isn't saying this or talking about thus and so. "The Church" never preaches about certain issues.....

"The Church" is not just some nebulous entity floating around out there in the ionosphere. Contrary to what we see on TV, "The Church" is made up of a tattered, motley bunch of people either trying or claiming to try to follow Jesus. Just like any other group of people, there are smart ones and, um, not-so-smart ones, and good ones and bad ones, and short ones and tall ones and sex addicts and alchoholics and nail biters and theologans and drug users and social workers and social climbers and tree huggers and kind people and mean people..... the list goes on and on. Give yourself a label, stick it in there, and you'll get my point very quickly. Who are you? Whom have you stepped on, ignored, offended, or otherwise damaged while participating in a church? It's humbling when we think of it that way.

Not all fellowships abuse. Not all groups of christians ignore women's issues. Not all churches neglect environmental issues. Women are respected, hold positions of authority, and people are shown Jesus' love (as well as is possible for humans) in thousands of churches around the world. Many churches corporately defend the helpless, do their best to feed the hungry and be a voice for those who have no voice. Many of them are doing a really good job. Many of them even evangelize in spiritually creative, natural, culturally relavent ways. They're out there... and most of them probably never even heard the word "emergent", by the way.

It might be a little like trying to imagine a totally loving, fully functional family. For some this is easy, for others it is hard. Some families get it about as right as humanly possible. Many don't. Some groups of christians get it "right" about as much as humanly possible. Many miss the mark by a long shot. "But," people say to me, "I've never experienced that kind of church." Logically, aren't there about a gazillion groups of christians meeting together in the world? Have you been to all of their meetings? Have you been to even 1/10th of them? Probably not. Even if a person were to think of themselves as an expert, it's very likely their experience is still limited simply because no one can get a lasso around this incredibly diverse organism called "The Church". Therefore, there may be a good deal of wisdom in keeping in mind how notably limited our individual experience truly is when it comes to this topic, and in using this phrase "The Church" in a more responsible manner.


  • Captainwow,

    I hesitate to even use the phrase "the Church" because of the incredibly broad definitions associated with it: institution, organization, building, facility, meeting, group of people or Body Of Christ. Whew! Did I miss anything?

    Hurt seems to be inevitable in human relationships.In my own life I've encountered this in certain groups and individuals and I've probably done some damage myself. But it's also been counteracted with healing and blessings beyond belief.

    Anyhow, not a lot to say here. I've been meaning to tell you that I really appreciate your sense of humor I've seen on your blog. Makes me laugh. Seems like we traded places today. I've got the silly post and you've got the serious one. Take Care.

    By Anonymous cheryl, at 8/10/2005 2:25 PM  

  • I think you did a good job with this. It is so true that we all speak from our own perspective, and we can not possibly know all other perspectives, both positive and negative. How often we forget how diverse even "The Church" can be.

    I am glad you wrote about this. Sometimes it overwhelms me to read of all the different viewpoints there are out there.

    By Blogger annie, at 8/10/2005 6:40 PM  

  • Yes, yes, yes!!
    We Christians come to Christ and are taught to - or inately - expect that we are now safe, entered into utopia where everything will be better and better. And it is...but not in the ways we imagine at first. We are hurt and we hurt. Yes, we hurt others - it's part of that iron sharpening iron. Community is uncomfortable, wherever it is, and whomever it is with.
    If anything good is coming from "emergent" thinking, it's the shedding of expectations, and looking honestly at where we've failed in faith and in community. We'll stumble again, but perhaps more honestly, more cognitively. Oh, I hope so.
    The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering. Hurt, misunderstood, loving, marvelous Savior.

    You have a great voice, my friend. Thanks.

    By Blogger Just Pat, at 8/10/2005 7:36 PM  

  • Read FridayMom today. A perfect example of *The Church* and what it should be.

    By Blogger Princess of Everything (and then some), at 8/11/2005 12:18 PM  

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! You have very eloquently stated so much truth, here.

    I think that many people use "the church" and what has or has not occurred there, as simply their own excuse to not look inside themselves. It's their own 'reasons' for not attending church or not following God or whatever.

    Truth is, community is difficult. You're right, even with the best of intentions, people hurt other people. But at least if you're doing life with a community of Believers, who are transparent and honest before God, themselves and others - there is opportunity for grace and for healing.

    I have this to be true in my own life.

    Thanks for a really great word!

    By Blogger Gayla, at 8/12/2005 1:40 PM  

  • Hooked into you thru "GoingJesus", and have to say how much I understand and agree with your comments about "The Church".

    "The Church" isn't perfect, I'm not perfect. We're a perfect fit! Karen C

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/12/2005 10:12 PM  

  • I think you did a great job at handling the "c" word here. There are groups of people who use the word as if it were some sort of name tag they wear or ownership...I just finished a book a while back called Reimagining Christianity in which the author writes in part that would Christ return today He would barely recognize "his Church"....that was a real head nodder for me. Good job on this delicate issue!!

    By Blogger Adinah, at 8/12/2005 11:53 PM  

  • I've come to realise after a few years of debate and discussion on internet forums, that most Christians want to refer to themselves as being a part of 'the Church', unless it involves them identifying themselves as being a part of the Catholic Church!

    'What do you mean we all started off Catholic????!!!???"

    God Bless.

    By Blogger ukok, at 8/13/2005 3:43 AM  

  • Amen. I hate the question, "Where do you go to church?" I always answer - "I am the Church." Good post - great writing.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/15/2005 7:47 AM  

  • Me, too, Lillium. i am the church in the street.

    god lives in me, which means he's worshiped on the inside of me, and his orders come straight to me, and are not filtered.

    straight, no chaser. :)

    This is a great post, ginny. stop on by and visit me anytime.

    By Anonymous MMM, at 8/15/2005 11:31 AM  

  • In my experience, "the Church" most commonly refers to the Catholic church, or to the more general concept of organized religion, i.e. "Church and state."

    Because certain churches are positioning themselves to be very influential in American politics, this usage of the word seems to be becoming more popular as a shorthand for "Organized religion as an active political entity." Therefore, a lot of people's problems (including mine)with "the Church" have more to do with the self-proclaimed arbiters of earthly morality who are currently carrying that banner (mostly representing the right wing of American politics, though not exclusively) and their ideas of what the world should look like, and what the state's role should be in bringing about a better, i.e. more Christian world.

    I hear what you're saying about people unfairly lumping churches together and throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There's certainly a lot of truth to that. But I have to say from my own experience growing up in a very churchgoing family, that no matter how nice people are and how great a community it might be, it is hard for me to see the belief that everybody who practices a different religion (or an unsanctioned version of the same religion) is going to suffer eternal torment, and that this is evidence of a just and wise and loving God as anything but an inherently judgemental and xenophobic one. Even if they smile when they say it.

    I suspect it's one big reason why people outside "the Church" tend to be a mite wary of the intentions of those "inside."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8/15/2005 5:01 PM  

  • Anonymous, you've made a great point. I appreciate your comment.

    By Blogger Captainwow, at 8/18/2005 11:32 AM  

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