A Bit o’ Fundy Love

Here’s a lovely letter I got in Friday. You may think I’m sharing it here because of all the kind things its author says about me. And I am. But I’m mostly sharing it because I love what she reminds us to bear in mind about conservative/fundamentalist Christians.

Hi John,

I treated myself tonight to a little catch-up on your blog, including the notes from your commenters. I can’t always read your site every day, but I see your tweets and Facebook posts, and I mentally tuck them away, saving them for when I have a little downtime to indulge. I just wanted to thank you for your work, your writing, the forum you provide for others, and the way you share Christ’s love. I’m no Rob Bell (although Love Wins sits on my beside table and I’m reading a bit each night), but I agree that all should applaud your work, and I have forwarded many of your posts to my Christian and agnostic friends. In fact, I have forwarded more from your blog than I have from any other.

I wanted to let you know, as way of encouragement, that your writing has supported a great theological shift for me over the last nine months or so. Don’t get me wrong, I know you’’re just a guy who (likely) leaves your socks on the floor or the cap off the toothpaste, or puts the ice cream container back in the freezer mostly empty, or some other such annoyance. But despite all that, well, humanity (whatever form it takes), I really think the Holy Spirit works in you, leads people to your blog, and works in our hearts in a new way when we stop by. Now go pick up your socks.

I’ve always been a “no one gets terrified into the kingdom of heaven” kind of gal, but over the past year I’ve grown so enamored of God’s LOVE (yeah, it has to be shouted) that it has opened my mind to the possibilities for all of God’s people. I have great hope and joy for the future of all of God’s children, past and present — and, honestly, I’m not sure I’d be there without the writing I’ve found on your blog, both from you and your brilliant and erudite followers. So, thank you, thank you.

The only thing that makes me wince (and perhaps it should), is the vitriol I sometimes see in the comments of your blog about fundie (fundi? fundy? fundae?) Christians. My experience with them (which is surprisingly extensive, considering the small brownstone village Episcopal Church I attend in the bluest of blue states), is that Conservative Christians are mostly faithful, earnest, devout, loving and genuinely seeking the Truth (Capital T). They give a lot of their money to hurting folks, they use much of their time helping others (sacrificing career and family time to do so), they study scripture more than anyone else I know, and they genuinely care about others. They might not be totally on the Right Path, but the fundamentalists I know are studiously seeking Truth, and I trust Jesus to meet them on their path.

Who of us, really, is entirely successful in choosing the right(eous) road? Make no mistake, I still have cognitive dissonance — okay, maybe revulsion — with conservatives’ treatment of  “others” (well, honestly, I’m ashamed to admit, mostly with how they treat LGBT people), but I have no doubt that God is at work there.

It worries me to hear the Christian Right bashed by the Christian Left, and vice-versa; Jesus prayed that we all would be one, after all, and we are to be bound to each other in love. That being said, I understand the sentiment behind the anger from those oppressed by the Christian Right (at least as much as I can, given that I’m a heterosexual, middle class, politically moderate woman) and I support their right, and our obligation, to speak out against injustice.

Keep pushing that envelope, John. The times, they are a-changin’, and the body of Christ is, too, swept into the current of Christ’s undeniable love, his bounteous love for all of his creation.

If you or your delightful wife are ever in Connecticut, please consider stopping by for dinner. My family would be honored to consider you both friend and revered guest.

Please also allow me to apologize for the length of this missive. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens (or some other superior writer), I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time. Keep the faith, and may God continue to richly bless you in your ministry.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Richard W. Fitch

    Would the pen name “Mark One” really flown??

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Few people realize that in the first half of the 19th century, “twain” was a mid-western American slang term meaning “my words, dickhead.”

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        (So the joke, see, is “Mark my words, dickhead.”)

        • Rebecca

          Heh, I see what you did there ;)

  • Jen

    I understand this womens post since i made a similar comment on your face book. My problem isnt that i think these christians dont love god, my problem is with many of these christians thinking they are the only right christians, and that they only know the truth. Many do this with good intentions but many dont examine their own hate and sins before opening their mouths.

  • kimberly

    i agree with much of what this obviously kind and loving christian woman says. she shows an intelligent and open mind and heart in her letter. and she makes a much needed and very valid point – we do need to remember in our reactions to the far right leaders who get the public exposure that they do not speak for all conservative fundamental christians. they are the squeaky wheels. having said that, however, i would like to share my own experience. i think this nice lady recognizes that many fundmantalist christians aren’t exactly like the talking heads and political power players seen in the media these days. i also think it is fair to say she might not have much experience with the less polite pockets of america where fundamentalists are not as well mannered. i live in such a place. in my neighborhood, racial and homophobic slurs are openly and proudly thrown around. even in church parking lots within hearing of adults, church leaders, sometimes clergy. if you aren’t white, of obvious european descent, and ‘obviously’ heterosexual, you are at the very least suspect. until your religious, sexual, and political affiliation is confirmed you are suspect. and should you be found ‘other’, then you are, well, labeled ‘other’. if you are a woman, your treatment might vary widely, as with any other part of america. but one thing is made very clear from bumper sticker to choice of yard flags: you must be the ‘right’ kind of patriotic american. yes, i know many kind and loving, gospel living fundamental christians as well. they know their bible. and they know it well. they read it. they pray, they give, they reach out to their neighbors in need. should a death occur in a family, food appears out of nowhere. yardwork is done. sometimes gardens are worked. church families are real families, really being there for there brothers and sisters when needed. but many times that is only their ‘approved’ church families. i have seen neighbors 30 yards away in dire need ignored because they aren’t the ‘right’ kind of saved. i could go on. but can’t we all say we might have been guilty of these same kinds of things at times? i don’t wish to bash the right. that isn’t my aim. i would love to not have to feel such a deep, painful and desperate need to help people see that the right does not have the only path to the loving God i have known intimately since i was a little girl! i don’t even think i can or should change their minds on anything. i simply think it’s a futile exercise. i just want to help people understand that God loves, and accepts, and heals, and Christ loves and makes whole and sacrificed ALL so that we all, ALL that God created, could come to Christ and be loved and be who we were born to be. i don’t wish to even engage the right. they have the right to their beliefs no matter what i might think of them. but i want to get the word out that NO ONE need feel unloved, unworthy, or anything less than the wonderful and unique creation that God made each and every one of us to be, without the need to change what God made us to be to satisfy the expectations of any man. God made no mistake. the author of this letter must be a lovely woman, and would no doubt be a lively and enjoyable dinner companion! blessings to her, and to you John. she is right. what you are doing is reaching many, and that matters, man.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Whoa. This is sheer gold, Kimberly. Can you tell us what town/state you live in? I’d LOVE to know that. If you can’t share that exactly, maybe you can tell us, for instance, how many people live in your city/town; how near or far it is from a big city we’d all know of; what general part of the country it’s in. Any context like that would be extremely appreciated. But, in any account, what a rich, great comment. Thanks so much for writing it. (And for your kind words re: my work.)

      • kimberly

        pardon me, john, i just saw your reply to my post here. i live right outside the small town of King, North Carolina, current population app 6500, that made the news recently for the rally and town hall meetings supporting the Christian Flag being flown at a public veterans memorial. well, to be more precise, it had been flying there until someone complained as to the constitutionality of one religious flag flying there. the largest city close to me would be Winston Salem. it is considered northwest north carolina, and is absolutely beautiful. you will find here some of the finest examples of southern hospitality possible. kind and loving hearts, slow paces and slow accents. sweet tea and fried everything! fine, compassionate people who will give you the shirt off of their back should you find yourself in need. and all of the positive things you ever heard about the south may be found around every corner. truly. and then there are those who wish to see another era reborn. i won’t rehash it. what i will add is, of those i know who consider themselves conservative, even fundamentalist, they believe they are being true to God. they deeply trust the words of their pastors, and they passionately support their churches. i am humbled by your kind words. and always inspired… :-)

    • Rebecca

      Kimberly, you have nailed it on the head. I, too, lived in this type of community, and it embitters the spirit to be forced either to “pass” or risk, for lack of a better term, shunning. How sad it was to know that, once I joined the “right” church in town, my formerly-ignored purchase orders miraculously flew through the office approval process, my classroom received obsessive janitorial attention, and I found myself invited to places heretofore inaccessible to me. My life suddenly became “easier,” but far less palatable, and eventually, I found “passing” too distasteful to continue. How many missed opportunities have flown right over the self-consciously bowed heads of communities like these?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        WHOA! This is just riveting stuff.

      • DR

        wow

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Right? Crazy.

          • DR

            There’s something here to write about, my friend.

          • cat rennolds

            yup. I’m not even Christian and I find myself considering joining the Episcopal church here to maybe have a chance at getting hired somewhere around here, should I ever want to do that. also we have two ladies’ garden clubs (in a reeeellly small town) – one for the white Baptists and one for everybody else. Truthfully I think they’re hatin’ on the gays (or anybody Other) because they’re not legally allowed to hate on the blacks anymore, and you’re talking about a whole culture raised in the need to hate in order to feel superior, in order to feel justified. it’s a very ego-boosting feeling to think that God loves YOU and not all those other people.

      • kimberly

        i totally get it. sad, but a reality that will be difficult to alter.

    • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

      She speaks the truth. It’s very different on the inside of a fundamentalist community looking out. We were shunned when we left our Independent Fundamentalist church in the mid-west. Her description of the “right” kind of church and the “right” kind of Christians is spot on. They purposely do not participate in any ecumenical activities because “people might get the wrong idea about what the real gospel is” or the devil might persuade their own church members to think differently. It’s not merely differences of interpretation: there is right and there is wrong and there is no mushy gray middle – that is where they believe the Devil resides. They are separatist for a reason: protecting hearts and minds for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is patriarchal and controlling and is often cult-like in behavior. The true stories I could tell….

  • Mindy

    A timely reminder. I do believe that most of those who follow the forms of Christianity that subjugate and discriminate do so out of ignorance rather than malice of any sort. My problem will always remain with the pastors and those in power in the hierarchy of those denominations, for continually reinforcing the idea that ANY of God’s children are “less than.” Until they come out from under that message of belittlement, their followers and loyal congregants will continue to operate from an ignorance of the grand scope of God’s love. My hope is that more of them, all the time, will hear the message this woman shares in her lovely letter and open their hearts to the real Truth.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Amen to that, Mindy.

    • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

      It’s sort of memetic, isn’t it? One leader says one thing, some other leader likes it, runs with it, and passes it on to the congregants, who in turn pass it into the public and the cycle begins anew and soon, there are people believing all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily Biblical or that simply take bits and pieces of the culture and try to insert them into the theology. And sometimes, when one looks at parts of the Bible in a new way, it’s like “Whoa, okay, where did that old meme I was taught even come from?”

      Eh, the whole “informational viruses” thing is fresh in my mind since I finished reading the cyberpunk fiction novel “Snow Crash” a little while ago.

    • Molly by Golly

      Congregants are as culpable as leadership in ignoring Luke 10:27! Both the accessory to a crime and the prime perpetrator are criminals. Such complicity in hateful exclusion is particularly galling when it comes from fellow Christians devoted to bible “study.”

  • http://pathux.wordpress.com/ Pat

    As a semi-fundy and recovering conservative, I see both viewpoints. And I qualify “fundy” by saying there are fundamentals to the faith or it is just another philosophy. Perhaps “intentional fundamentalist” would be a good description, meaning that the intention and context of certain seemingly incongruent parts of scripture will often change the common (fundy) understanding of them. I actually much prefer the company of liberal thinkers on many issues.

    Peace to all. :)

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    I made a post some time ago about exactly this thing on the Thruway Christians Forum.

    http://thruwaychristians.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=96

    As for Hell (since I didn’t elaborate on that in the forum post) since that’s the hot topic right now, I only believed in that because I thought I “had to,” as well. People in my old church were motivated to keep people from going there (though I, myself, was never good at evangelism because I realized early on that most people weren’t listening). I mean, I remember Hell for my Baptists NOT being an angry God who sends people there or even necessarily a matter of “justice” so much as “This is the default state of mankind.” The idea was that God (given that he would not violate Free Will) did everything he possibly *could* to keep us from Hell, but we had to accept the Gift or we’d remain the the default (which, after death, meant seperation from God).

    As for the view of Hell – it does actually still make sense to me (if you can’t accept Love, well, where are you, then?) but after reading around, it doesn’t make sense to me “for eternity” anymore. The death as a doorslam to grace probably never made sense to me, really, because even when I was with the Baptist belief, I had this idea that “when someone dies, God gives them one more chance.” – er, in short, even in this “cruel, horrible, evil belief” – the Baptists that I’ve known? Didn’t believe it in a particularly cruel *way* if that makes any sense. (And I’m sure there were more like me who didn’t wannt to believe in it at all who are just waiting for the right person to show them the right scholarship and theory at the right time).

    • Don Rappe

      I’m almost certain you believe in purgatory, Shadsie, and I don’t mean this in a critical way. Many good people do.

      • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        It makes the most sense to me, you know?

        I mean, in life, there are many ways in which I’ve had to grow, change and become a kinder and/or stronger person through hardship. There are trails that if I hadn’t gone through, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I sometimes think adversity refines a person, makes them more of themself and who they’re meant to be.

        While too much can destroy a person, don’t get me wrong.

        I remember once getting into a disscussion (about the Hell thing, actually) about how sometimes people are inclined to believe in something brutal “just because it is brutal.” I’ve seen this with athiests who say “I’d like to believe in Heaven, it seems nice, but…” (they essentially think they’re smarter *just* because they don’t believe in something “comforting.” In the disscussion that was going on (on Slacktivist, if you’re wondering), it was in regards to people who preach that Hell must be real on the grounds that the alternative is “too fluffy.” – It’s like this memetic “I feel smart becuase I believe in something dark/brutal/not-nice.”

        I know this feeling well – in regards to some of the stuff I write. I write some pretty creepy and brutal stuff and feel a bit of glee when someone reviewing my work tells me I scared them. (Illiciting emotion with my work is what I *want.* ) And when I run into someone who whines that they “never read a story without a happy ending!” or cannot stand “dark,” I feel a little superiority-twinge.

        I suppose if believing in a Purgatory (though nicer than Hell), is “still brutal” – I’m okay with that. Right now, it seems more true to me. And if it’s not, I’ll find out.

  • DR

    I appreciate the intent, spirit and tone of this letter. I’ve no doubt it’s the author’s experience. Do I believe this is the general pattern of Fundamentalists in America? I wish I could say yes but the stories from around the world on this blog, from the media, even from history tell a different story.

    I wish the actions and attitudes and financial giving, etc. of those who really are devoted to Jesus and live according to His Word would mitigate the damage done by the majority. But unfortunately I can’t, the damage done by this section of the church is so widespread – it sets the Gospel of Jesus Christ back so much – that it’s hard for me to devote any energy at all in defending those Fundamentalist Christians who are well-intended. For me, that’s like spending energy on the driver of a car who accidentally ran into and injured a school bus filled with children. Energy is finite and most reasonable people are going to focus on making sure the kids are ok, I’m sure the person in the car feels terribly and wishes no harm to children but spending any energy listening to that story, how the driver just didn’t see the bus – etc. I don’t want to do it anymore.

    (please delete this comment if it doesn’t support your intention of posting this letter, John)

    • Molly by Golly

      Yes. Exactly.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      No, no: I don’t really have “intentions” for this sort of thing beyond whatever I say about them in the opening. I just … share letters that I think have a place in the sort of ongoing conversations on the blog. That’s all. I totally get the validity of what you’re saying here, DR. Well, you KNOW I do.

      • DR

        Got it. Xoxoxo

    • Karri W

      I do agree with DR on the idea that Fundamentalist Christians do not really fit a pattern of generosity. For example a local church in this area is building ANOTHER huge complex & the pastor flys in on his helicopter to assess the progress. That’s not exactly what I would call responsible stewardship.

      I also believe there is a difference between a Fundamentalist and a Conservative Christian. The Conservatives, I believe, tend to do more worthy things with their money, like the food banks, mosquito nets, etc.

    • Bob

      DR no one is capable of loving fully without God therefore when you say “I can’t” that’s true but with Gods spirit you can and must!

  • Jessica

    I have spent most of my life stuck between two religious worlds. There is much that I value and appreciate in each, but the value that I ascribe to the one cuts me off from full participation in the other. I live in the Bible Belt and have spent most of my life in theologically and politically conservative churches. There is much to value there. I have found that many parishioners AND pastors are sincere, committed people who are doing their best to follow Jesus. They read and know the Bible; they have active prayer lives; they do a great deal of service, both to each other and to the community as a whole. They visit the sick, build homes for Habitat for Humanity, raise money for mosquito nets and wells, serve food at the Rescue Mission, provide snacks for kids at inner city schools who struggle with hunger. They take what the Bible says seriously. Some take it literally, some don’t, but most wrestle with and try to follow the Word of God. They believe all those things we say in the Apostle’s Creed. But they also believe homosexuality is a sin. And to be fair, they believe lots of other things are sins, and the pastors that I know sincerely condemn those sins as well. But it does seem that homosexuality receives special attention, and when I have confronted them, they say it is not because it is unique but because it is currently a battleground in society, in which they are standing up for God. They truly believe that God condemns it, and that accepting it is leading people into damnation. They think that it is truly required and kind to preach about hell, because if there is a chance a person might wind up there, a loving pastor must do everything he/ she can to prevent that person from going there. Talking about sin might wake people up out of complacency to consider their eternal destiny. They believe that there is a danger in the process of trusting the Holy Spirit or our own logic, feelings, or experiences, to tell us what is right, because the temptation is that that thought tends to separate the Word of God from the Spirit of God. They believe that Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to overturn it, and that while we have been liberated from the legal Law, the moral Law of God was not overturned.

    And John, the conservative Christians (pastors included) DO understand that they are asking homosexuals to never be in a relationship of love. They say that it is hard, and that they might not even personally like this, but that it is no different from a heterosexual person who is not called to celibacy, but who is not married.

    I can’t accept this. I don’t believe this, and so while I respect and admire the faith that conservative Christians embody, when I reveal what I believe, there is a separation that occurs. I begin to be prayed for. The fact that I may not be saved is raised. And because I admire these Christians and because I have seen the difference that Jesus makes in their lives and the difference their lives make in the life of the world, I have tried to be one of them. I just can’t. I can’t believe that the God of grace and love that I have experienced would do that. I think we start making the Bible the Word of God rather than Jesus. There is a danger of turning the Bible itself into an idol.

    Yet, when I am in the liberal Christian community, the truth is that sometimes the faith seems somewhat watered down. I may fall into line with them in regards to social issues, but we’re not on the same page theologically. I have been asked incredulously, “You believe in a LITERAL resurrection?” They take their faith seriously, but it can seem that sometimes Jesus becomes little more than a spokesperson for liberal politics. This isn’t always the case, of course, but the liberal seminary in which I got my M.Div had a wonderful peace and justice program but a number of ordained pastors who did not actually believe in God as a personal Being. He was more of a philosophical ideal, and I was told that my belief in the articles of the Apostle’s Creed was proof that I was spiritually immature. And heck, maybe they’re right. But I found myself wishing that there was a bit MORE wrestling with the Bible. More conservative brothers and sisters are sometimes demonized as backwards bigots without taking their faith seriously.

    The truth is, I don’t belong, and I’m expecting to be lambasted here also for what I’m saying. It just doesn’t seem to be acceptable to see the value and good in both camp. I don’t agree with the Right on a whole lot of important things, including their stance on homosexuality and hell, and I don’t agree with the Left on Jesus. There just don’t seem to be many Thru Way Christians around here. It’s just too easy to be self righteous and demonize the “Other,” whether it be a person who happens to be gay, or a fundy.

    • DR

      This is such a wonderfully honest description. Thank you for expressing the conflict that so many people are experiencing (I did too) so beautifully.

    • DR

      One more thing: My boss told me once that emotional maturity is being able to accept that a number of things can be believed, felt and expressed about any one given event, one given person, all at the same time. I think that’s true.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore
      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore
        • http://pearloftheprairie.blogspot.com pearloftheprairie

          “I think we start making the Bible the Word of God rather than Jesus. There is a danger of turning the Bible itself into an idol.”

          Yes. One of the best things I heard a pastor say was “I don’t care what you think about the Bible, let me tell you about Jesus.”

          Too many worship the book instead of Him.

          • Pam Suggs

            That is so true pearloftheprairie! I have heard awesome preachings on the difference between the “law,” and the “Word of God” who is JESUS! Jesus came as Grace and Truth! Not the Law! Jesus is the Word of God!!!! Grace covers the entire Bible….it is His love letter to us…..He loves us…Jesus is the heart of God….. Thank you….

    • Diana A.

      It is hard to walk a middle road. I’m basically someone who is willing to take literally the more miraculous events of the bible while questioning some of the interpretations of those events. I can be kind of hostile toward fundementalists because I’ve experienced more pain from them than from the Christian Left. But I do admit to finding some of the theology of the Christian Left to be a little loosey-goosey.

      Like I said, it’s hard to walk the middle road. And the tendency to judge doesn’t help any of us. Unfortunately, we are human and thus, we will judge. Anyway, feel free to call me on it if I’m being a judgmental bih–um, harridan.

    • Karri W

      Both the original letter and Jessica’s reply refect so much of what I have been thinking and feeling recently. I couldn’t have expressed it any better myself.

  • Pam Suggs

    Kimberly is so right about everything she stated on the true “inside workings” of a fundamentalist church. I am living in the Southern Bible Belt and attended one of these churches for five years where I became known as being very spiritual, (read my bible, helped the poor, gave my money, attended church ALL the time, participated in ministries, encouraged everyone in moral living, etc..) I became quite religious, self righteous and judgmental. I was also a REPUBLICAN, well, more or less had to be to obtain my status in the church. One day in a sermon I heard our pastor say, “don’t be like those sinners out there.” I don’t know why, but it struck me to the core of my being, because I had been one of those sinners “out there.” (and still was) I had been many things prior to becoming a “church person.”(including living with a woman in a relationship for many years) That was when I REALLY started listening to his sermons and they were absolutely terrible. The pastor created a division between “us and them.” Everything was based on the law and morals. The Gospel was declared but Jesus and grace never was.. Homosexuals were our enemies, along with the liberals, drunks, druggies, prostitutes, etc.. Anyone that wasn’t living life like in the Mayberry and Andy Griffith days was wrong. The pastor spoke about that show a lot. I wonder if he truly knew what was going on in society back then. We were told “if we didn’t like what he was saying, then we could leave.” We were told all our sins weren’t forgiven and when we got to heaven we would be ashamed of the things we were doing wrong. We were yelled at to “JUST QUIT SINNING.” His wife even said in Sunday school how she couldn’t understand how people sinned. Yes, people were helped, but primarily if they were one of us, or if it was a specific project. People gave a lot of money however getting involved in others lives, (which can be messy) wasn’t encouraged. People who left the church were shunned and cast aside. I know, because I left. However, before leaving I went to the elders about the lack of grace being preached. I also went to the pastor. When I personally ask him if he preached on grace, he stated, “no, not really.” There were others who raised concerns also, however they were all ignored and shut down because the clique that ran the church LOVED him. He preached the law, condemnation, guilt, and worst of all – fear of God. I never really heard him say God loves us. The one time the love of God was mentioned was stated like this, “yes, God is love, HOWEVER God is holy.” and then he would proceed with the law and condemnation. Now you would think this church would be located in a rural county somewhere, however it isn’t. It is very close to the Research Triangle Park in the RDU area of North Carolina. It is filled with very intellectual people and millionaires, mostly white families in an affluent area. I was one of the few single people in the church. Although I was in that church for five years, no one really knew me. No one knew my background, or cared to know. I was never ask to have dinner with any family in the church. To be honest, I was never fully accepted because I didn’t really fit their criteria. I had daughters that didn’t go to the youth group and were wild. I was told everything to do to help them yet no one in the church ever reached out to them or invited us to their homes. It has been one and a half years since I left that church and I can honestly say the spiritual abuse of the pastor affected me tremendously, along with my relationships with others. It has taken a lot of time to peel off the layers of manipulation, guilt, and fear of God bestowed onto me by the pastor I listened to week after week. To put it this way, we can “do” all those fundamentalist wonderful things, however still not “do” what Jesus has commanded us to do. Love, love, love…..have grace, mercy and compassion for others. I have never known love, grace, mercy and compassion to cause spiritual abuse and hatred of anyone…however I have known the other side to….

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Holy CRAP (so to speak)! Now I want to do a collection of stories from people who have this kind of amazing/awful/completely dysfunctional kind of church experience. Yikes, man.

      • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

        You should. We could fill your pages.

        • http://pearloftheprairie.blogspot.com pearloftheprairie

          John, you opened a can of worms. Or Pharasees. Some of us may be able to curl your hair. Even more, I mean.

  • http://www.twitter.com/#!/AmyLSasso Amy Sasso

    I only really have experience of the Catholic church, but here’s my story. I was raised a Catholic, though I had lapsed by the time I was 12 or 13 (before my First Communion.) For years I was an agnostic, then I became a pagan. I always had the idea that I believed in God and loved God, to the extent that God loved me. So I never believed in the God of Fear and I hated hearing about Him. God doesn’t fear me, so why should I fear God? I don’t love anyone on Earth that I’m afraid of, why is it different in Heaven?

    Anyway, when I was about 19, the doctors thought I had a life-threatening disease. I went in for my diagnostic, and while I was waiting for the results, I started to pray. I started to bargain. I said, “God, if you let me live, I’ll go back to church. I’ll finally take First Communion.” Not the best reason to come back to God, sure, but it got me back through the door.

    I went to a Catholic church near my school that had the most beautiful stonework. I had always loved the building with its turrets and gargoyles. I was directed to talk to the woman in charge of outside ministry. She seemed nervous; that made me nervous. Maybe she was used to people from the college coming in and abusing her. I explained my situation, and it really seemed to me like she was dissuading me from Communion. “You’d need at least a year of study, and even then, you might not be ‘spiritually ready’.” I already knew the catechism that normal Catholic adolescents have to know to receive Communion, so she meant a year of prayer while I became good enough for God on a spiritual level.

    I mentioned that as a pagan I had read tarot cards, and that I used them to help other people. Would I be allowed to continue doing that as a Christian? The woman paused, stared at me, and then said, “We can’t help you.” What, not even if I took a year or more of Bible study? “No, not even then. You should have known better than to sin like that.” I was so shaken by the experience, I haven’t entered a church of any kind since then. Though I hear that non-Catholics are less protective of Communion, I’m just too scared to try again.

    • http://bentonquest.blogspot.com Benton

      I believe the Church (with a capital “C”) is a God ordained organization (for lack of a better word) that is composed by fallible humans.

      Remember there are other congregations out there. Many Roman Catholics find the Episcopal Church familiar. (Disclaimer: I am an Episcopal priest; I was raised Roman Catholic and was ordained ELCA.) But do not be afraid to look around; even within the same denominations there are different “temperatures” of churches. Just because one does not resonate with you does not mean that another would not be a good fit.

      Good luck and blessings! Have fun with the journey!

      • http://ragarambler.blogspot.com Steve F.

        Amy, welcome to *our* world. Imagine how it would be if they didn’t reject you for what you did, but for *who you are*, and who you are *with*. …

        I’d gently suggest that you check Welcoming Churches, the national directory of LGBT friendly Christian churches sponsored by the Gay Christian Network (www.gaychristian.net). You can find it here…

        http://www.welcomingchurches.com/beta/pages/home

        Our experience is that their welcome and the affirmation for newcomers (gay or straight) is genuine. We also found that most people in these churches put down arguing Scriptural nits and pick up tools for social change in the name of God (feeding people, clothing them, caring for people in prison, that whole Matthew 25 sheep/goats thing). We’ve found two of them, in two different cities – and being in Springfield, MO (home of the worldwide headquarters of both Evangel Temple and the Assemblies of God) it’s tough to find “welcoming and affirming,” here.

        Our experience (“your experience may vary”) is that there *are* good, loving, caring, welcoming Christians. We just had to hunt through a whole lot of self-righteous Pharisees to get to them.

      • DMK

        Benton… You are so right about churches being composed by fallible humans. That is how I see it, too. I belong to a Catholic church composed of mostly Latino immigrants, with English speaking being the minority and feeling like the minority they/we are. Though I feel the sting, I am so connected to this church or rather, the people. Despite so much that separates us, culture and language being the most obvious; I feel the love, warmth and the feeling of being welcomed into a much larger family. The people here ARE my family.

    • DMK

      Amy Sasso… Your experience brought back memories of my own horrible experience with Catholic church staffers. I am so sorry she treated you like that. That woman could have at least use a little compassion when interacting with you.

      My experience was during a time shortly after my first husband told me he wanted to divorce. I was born a Catholic, but not a practicing Catholic at the time. I thought that I was surely going to hell if the divorce went through.

      One Friday afternoon on my way home from work, I was so upset that I did seek out the local church. I was crying hysterically when I was let inside. I asked to speak with a priest, but after a lot of waiting, I was told that I had to call back on the following Wednesday to speak to something to make an appointment to speak with a priest. I can’t express how that made me feel, but I’m sure that many here can relate. Feeling devastated and rejected, I thought that I might go into church to pray. I tried the door but it was locked to me. Still crying, I sat down on the front steps and decided to pray there. It brings tears to my eyes now because it was only then that I felt that Jesus was with me and peace surrounded me like a warm blanket. I sat there for a long time, then got up to head back to the marriage house for the weekend. Well, I never called them back. All I needed was Jesus and He showed me then that all I had to do was reach out to him.

      It enrages me that those people at the church could not have possibly guessed my state of mind. Outwardly I needed freaking help. I could have left to commit suicide or did something to hurt myself or gotten into an accident, or SOMETHING. They turned me away and I’ll never EVER forget that.

      Thank you so much for your comment. Every bit of sharing will serve to help heal someone out there.

  • http://manalive7@blogspot.com Allen

    Treat fundies/conservative christians with love, respect and acceptance??? You gotta be kidding! How can people who go around gay-bashing, hating, stealing from the poor (tax cuts for wealthy jet owners!) who are narrow-minded, bigoted, selfish, phony, hypocrites who vote Republican even be considered christian in the first place? They have to be exposed–hat tip to crossway–for the terrible people they are.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

      There is a poem credited to Mother Theresa called Do It Anyway. The poem touches on the fact that people will treat us badly, try to cheat us, try to malign our efforts, but what we should instead do is always the opposite. be generous anyway, be kind anyway, strive for the goal anyway, love anyway.

      So in light of those within the church who desire to treat others with hatred, disrespect and malice, what are we supposed to do? Love and respect them anyway.

      At least that’s how I believe we should act.

      A favorite quote of mine goes something like this. “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” Only by doing the opposite of hate can we hope to win the day.

      • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

        Love this. Compassion will win the day. So will truth. And those of us who have suffered emotional and spiritual abuse and worse at the hands of those who claim the only right path to God must tell our stories yet still find compassion for those who have abused us.

        • Pam Suggs

          Christy, you are absolutely right about that. If we don’t then we have become enslaved in the same battle of hatred and anger. I have been desperately seeking with the help of the Holy Spirit, to do just that.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

            Thanks, Pam. My dear and wise friend keeps asking me, when I go off on an angry and hurt tangent, if it helps to know that they aren’t causing others harm intentionally. My long-standing and current answer is still, “Not yet.” Intellectually I know what Gordon Livingston says is true, “They can’t teach what they do not know,” unconditional love being prime among them, but the scars are deep and the realization of the wounds fresh, and I do not yet feel full compassion for my abusers.

            Books help: the writing of Karen Armstrong is prime among them and her organization the Charter for Compassion, the poetry of Rumi, the writings of Gordon Livingston and the insight of Marcus Borg have all been instrumental…. paying attention to the Divine that exists all around us and within and looking for it in others, and the opportunity as Presentlyhuman has done here to tell our story, to put words to truth, to say this is real, it happened, it continues today and it is damaging to the children of God and to the Body of Christ. Telling our truth will set us free and lead us to forgiveness…..but I cannot stand by and let it go unchecked without calling it our for what it is: unhealthy human interaction compounded by emotional, spiritual, and, too often, sexual abuse.

      • Pam Suggs

        Awesome quote by Mother Theresa sdgalloway… I am going to use it on my Facebook if you don’t mind. I love Mother Theresa. She amazes/inspires/awes me. I remember reading an interview where someone ask her, “why are you so good?”. She replied, “I am not good, only Jesus is good…” At the time I couldn’t understand, because Mother Theresa was the EPITOME of good! However, after spending time with Jesus and his goodness, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, I understood what Mother Theresa said. And I admired her more than ever. Because she realized no matter what she did or didn’t do, she was a sinner saved by grace, by what Jesus had done for us on the Cross…and nothing else….her actions were only in response to what He had done for her….and they were empowered by His grace….it had nothing to do with her….only Jesus…only Jesus…..

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

          I didn’t quote Mother Theresa’s poem, but sorta paraphrased it what it discusses. The quote at the end is actually one credited to Buddha. I love it because it not only universal but also that it lines up to teachings of Jesus in regards to loving others.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

            Love the Do it Anyway poem…..and the quote by the Buddha. Thanks for posting.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    This letter makes me think of this quote from Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to use what you will, and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send you hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

    • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

      Thank you, Ric. Those of us who have suffered and yet found a path to compassion, thank you.

    • Erin D.

      Wow, amazing words.

  • http://presentlyhuman.wordpress.com presentlyhuman

    I’m in neither camp, but when I was a Christian, what frustrated me is that all these debates tend to be around people and issues that don’t actually affect the people debating. Like the treatment of the LGBT community. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have your humanity debated, like others have a right to determine your value? I will not take a side of seeing the good in others who, if you sat down and said, “Hey, you’re hurting me,” don’t actually care. It’s great that someone can see the good in both sides, it just frustrates me when those who see the good (and it’s not all, I’m not meaning to generalize) are seeing the good because they can sit back from a distance.

    When a group of Christians decides to fight to ban the legal right of say, divorced people remarrying or to start, idk, brutaling murdering all Christians that don’t agree with them just because they don’t agree with them (this analogy isn’t working) then maybe I could be less wary of the people who want to see the good in both sides and whether they actually have a physical or emotional stake in the issue, or whether they can keep their cool neutrality because it doesn’t impact them on any personal day-to-day wellbeing.

    There’s that comic I remember seeing once with one figure saying something like, “Personally I think that Christians and atheists are equally annoying” or something and the other responds, “It’s a good thing you’ve found a way to be superior to both of them.”

    idk. don’t mind me. I should probably be stepping away from the internet for awhile anyway.

    • Jessica

      Presentfly, you make a very potent argument. The truth is that while I have been very hurt by what my conservative church has preached about homosexuality, my hurt on that issue has been mostly second hand. It hurts me on behalf of the people that I love: my sister in law, my cousin, my daughter’s godmother, my best friend who prayed every day for God to make her straight. I would go to my pastor with these stories and say, “HOW can God do this? I know all these people who are good, faithful Christians, who have tried and tried and tried to follow God and who have denied not just their actions but WHO THEY ARE. It makes no sense that I am more loving than God is.” And to their credit, my pastor always said that that was awful, and they seemed to have real compassion for people who were struggling to not engage in the behavior, but I would walk around and think, “Am I the only person here who has multiple close relationships with persons who are gay? How is that possible in a church this huge? Is it just that I know “them” as persons and you don’t have that day to day relationship?” I don’t know, to be honest. But the fact is, I am married and have two young children, so I can “pass” as one of them. I did sit down and tell the leadership that they were hurting me, many times, and while they were sad that I was hurt, they TRULY and honestly did not believe that they were doing the hurting, because they were just standing up for what God says. So, it was God who was doing the hurting, I guess.

      It’s possible that I am using seeing the good in both sides as a way to feel superior, but I don’t *think* that is what I’m doing. But it’s always hard to tell one’s own motivations. I keep wishing I could be one way or the other, that I could really belong, but the truth is, no matter where I am, I feel like a failure, because I can’t quite measure up to what God wants. I’m annoyed by wishy washiness in the liberal churches, but my annoyance is served up with a heaping plateful of fear that I’m just not smart enough to understand. And when I’m with my conservative friends, I feel like God hates me and that I was predestined to hell before I was born and that God could not possibly love me because if He did, I would be capable of the faith I see in all these other people.

      I left our church after they left the ELCA and joined the LCMC, which is a pseudo-denomination, a consortium of churches that mostly don’t like the position the ELCA was taking on issues of sexuality. While I was fighting with the church over this, what finally led me to leave was the fact that the constant sermons on God’s judgment and wrath, about hell and predestination, were leaving me a complete mess every Sunday. It was that hopelessness, and a suicide attempt that came about out of fear of hell and the sense of its inevitability, that led me to finally leave. Of course, I wound up in another conservative church, but they are into grace and don’t preach about sexuality every week, which I guess proves your point……. I still don’t fit in, but I am not personally being hurt in that way every week, so I stay.

      I’m sorry.

      • DR

        Jessica, you get to experience what you’re experiencing as you experience it. And sharing it here, while it may make some angry? Seems more productive and ultimately, more obedient to just be honest. 1 John talks about walking in the light, in the truth – how we have true intimacy with one another when we do so. I’m straight and while I want to be careful not to appropriate any anger the GLBT community has (which is important), you get your story as well. I am really glad you’ve added what you did to this discussion.

      • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

        Jessica, several things you said resonated with me and my conservative upbringing on a very personal level: the never feeling good enough, the never measuring up, feeling like God could not possibly love me, sermons on God’s judgement and wrath. I spent the first 3/4 of my life feeling, well, worthless.

        I never knew there was an unconditionally loving God until I had children of my own and experienced this kind of love for the first time and found the dearest of friends who in my own self-loathing fit of not measuring up loved me enough to give me the most healing and life-giving advice anyone has ever shared with me. She said,

        “yes, the journey is it…and remember too that none of us will ever get it all right…our humanness means we’re imperfect no matter how hard we try to be the perfect servant, and so then letting go of “we’re not enough” is important. We are enough…the Lord takes us just as we are. With a humble and loving heart it’s a joy to be led where we need to be…I try to listen for his voice and if not sure, wait. I know from personal experience that it’s sometimes very hard as being a problem solver and independant by nature compounds the struggle, but I do feel that I’m getting better at letting go…and it’s such a relief! Perfection will never be achieved, and it’s not important… openness and letting go is. The more I practice, and just try just to relax and enjoy the journey, the more joy I find. Your heart is in the right place and God is already using you for good, my dear friend. Just let go and enjoy who you are now. God is already taking care of you…and each trial is an opportunity for growth….God isn’t waiting until you are a perfect servant to love you… God loves you now…”

        Since discovering this loving God and letting go of my not good enoughness and focussing on compassion, I have lost my fear and anxiety of failing and found peace. Peace in the deepest knowing that beyond all reason and imagination we are loved….and by finding that place within ourselves and in the world where we belong…. we can finally be home. May you find this place where you belong and feel loved and fed and at peace. Blessings on your journey, my friend. ~ C

      • Robert Morwell

        Jessica: Other than kneejerk guilt…Why would you end you excellent post with, “I’m sorry.”

        Sorry for wht? Honest struggle and seeking and not fitting into some cookie-cutter notion of who and what a Christian is?

        You may notice that Jesus didn’t “fit in.” If he had, he would have gone unnoticed. If he has fit into the world, there would have been no way for him to transform it. The people who make a difference never entirely fit-in. They are not the instruments God needs.

        This is part of the cross Jesus challenges us to to take up. He didn’t say it would be easy or that we would be magically granted some kind of perfectly peaceful, placid existence if our faith was sincere. But he DID promise that he would be with us and that our struggles would have purpose.

        “Fitting-in” is over-rated. And there is really no need for you to be sorry that you don’t always do so.

        The sorriness too often blinds you to the grace.

      • gothchiq

        You’re braver than I am. Anyone who behaves such that it would cause me to doubt that we have a loving God is someone I will avoid like the plague. I run from those who focus on sins and everything they consider bad in the world. “Gospel” means Good News. And that’s what I’m interested in. Helping people, doing right, and the love of God for His people. People whose religion is focused on negativity can stay far away from me.

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    This is a beautiful letter.

    I am as guilty as guilty can be of violating Christ’s call to turn the other cheek and to love those who hate us, particularly when it comes to fundies,neocons and right-wing conservatives. To echo more than a few commenters, there is something so fundamentally distasteful about embracing them despite their apparent hatred and ignorance that I cringe at the thought of it.

    And yet…as a Christian who is more concerned with the words and intent of Christ than with anything else to be found in the bible, it seems I am called to overcome my lust for revenge and instead respond in love.

    Man, that’s HARD. Much to think about here.

  • http://spiritualmeanderings.wordpress.com/ Sentinel

    Lovely letter – thanks fro sharing it as a post, John!

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