This is from a dear friend of mine named Becky Keller. The feelings she expresses are raw, honest, and vulnerable. I think what she’s written is brave and well articulated which is why I asked her if I could share it on my blog. Becky is a nurse who has worked with psychiatric patients and now does hospice. We met in Lausanne, Switzerland while with Youth With a Mission. She lives in Colorado with her husband and son.
I’ve sat with this issue for a long time, and I want to address it carefully and thoughtfully (although that’s not at all my style). Lately the issue has been on the forefront of my personal life, as well as some close to me. Sometimes you have to damn the devil and tell the truth…
I grew up in the church. I went to Christian school. I’ve been in church leadership, and I’ve been a missionary on four continents. My dearest girl friends are wives or daughters of pastors. I am so grateful for my Christian education. I’m grateful for a solid knowledge of Scripture. I’ve watched in horror as the evangelical church became a pariah. As a nation we have declared open season on evangelical Christians, and it’s broken my heart. Unless you write for South Park all other faiths are off limits, but Christianity is fair game. At some point you have to stop saying it’s not fair, and start asking “why?” The answer might be “because we’ve earned it.” I’m not bashing organized religion. Organized religion can accomplish amazing acts of goodness, because they are organized. Churches can send able bodied volunteers to tsunami and hurricane torn areas to provide much needed labor and relief. They support operations like Mercy Ships and Samaritan’s Purse. There is great good in the church, and for me there is also profound disappointment.
By the time I was 18 years old, I had experienced 5 church splits. I had watched enthusiastic Christians promoted into leadership over spiritually mature ones time and time again. This is a ubiquitous practice that is foolish and dangerous. I’ve seen untrained counselors wreak havoc on marriages and families.
Too many times I’ve seen the church teach young people that wedding night virginity is the golden ticket to a perfect marriage. It’s a lie, and when boys and girls leave a youth group believing this, you set them up for failure.
In the past few years, I’ve come to believe that shame is the most destructive force known to the soul of man. Churches have become greenhouses for shame. We plant the seeds and cultivate its growth in church. The modern church thinks it is open. It thinks it’s progressive. It thinks it loves the unlovable. After all, a modern youth pastor has visible tattoos. A modern church has gourmet coffee in the foyer, and designated single mom parking. Having a pastor with visible tattoos does not make you progressive, it doesn’t even make you interesting. Having the heart of Christ makes you interesting and progressive.
We have no room in our churches for the addicted or the mentally ill. So we hide our sins, frailties and failures. We lock them up to stay in good standing, and shame grows on them like a mold. Shame is a cancer. It destroys you and everything you love. We call the auditorium of our churches a sanctuary, but you will find no sanctuary there.
Oddly enough the ones hurt the most by this culture are the pastoral staff and their families. If you can’t provide compassionate discipline and guidance for your fellow pastors and their families, you can’t do it for your congregation, and you certainly can’t do it for the community at large. I know too many church leaders whose hypocrisy knows no bounds because if they were allowed to be honest they would loose their livelihood. I know pastors who have come clean about adiction or temptation to have an affair. Their honesty and cries for help became the albatross around their neck. There was no grace to be found, only judgement. These men are no longer in the ministry.
Pastors will hide a spouses mental illness and a child’s drug addiction because they know the pastoral staff and congregation will not support them. I’ve know deviant sex addicts with powerful ministries, and dark secrets. If the church leadership knew the secrets they would take away the ministry. As much as we preach grace, we don’t really believe it.
It’s so basic. The example is right in front of us. It’s in the Scripture we revere. King David, an adulterer and a murderer, was a man after God’s own heart. Jesus choose sailors and tax collectors to be his disciples. He wasn’t too good for the adulterous woman at the well, and he saved the life of another one before she could be stoned. It wasn’t too late for the thief on the cross to receive grace. Why can’t we extend that grace to our pastors, their spouses, and children?
I’m not advocating bad behavior or supporting it, but the church has lost its heart. I don’t trust them. Time after time they fail you or deny you in your hour of greatest need. I’m all to familiar with loving openness extended until they learn your faults. They disarm you with questions like, “is there something I can pray for?” or offer one on one counseling. Once your faults are out there, they hold them over you like emotional blackmail. Many of my friends from youth group, school and mission work no longer go to church. We’ve found other ways. Our faith in The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost remains intact, but we can no longer trust the church with our finances, our marriages, and, most importantly our children.
What I wouldn’t do to have a solid children’s ministry to trust with my son. But how can I when I’ve experienced more pain and manipulation in the church than I ever have outside of it; and when those I love and trust most have similar stories?
No, you won’t have my son. His soul is to precious. I don’t want to have to do it myself, but for now, I only trust me.