Christians who need a slap upside the head are often the cause of sentiments like these. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are also terrible reasons to let go of your faith in God, to let your faith unravel. Save the existential crisis for a decent dilemma and decide now not to let these things end your faith journey.
1) “The Church is full of hypocrites.”
Well so is WH Smiths*, but you’ve got to buy your stamps somewhere. Right up there with “I’ve been reading Nietzsche” and “all politicians are corrupt” for phrases that sound a lot more impressive to adolescents than adults, this sentiment is sadly as prevalent and important as it is unoriginal. Being hurt by people in the Church – people who you trusted – can make you question the entire institution, movement or Body. That’s natural, but it is also a little, um, hypocritical. I mean… Have you ever hurt anyone? Ever failed someone? Ever acted unfairly, spoken unkindly, behaved unthinkingly? So why, then, do you expect anyone else to get it more right than you?
Having unrealistic expectations of other Christians is a sure-fire way to end up hating them. So don’t do it. Assume that Christians will fail you. Like black people will. And women. And white people and men and Tories and people who sell stamps. Assume they will fail you and then trust them anyway. This is called ‘living in the real world and relating to human beings’, and it can be very unpleasant, but it can also be very fulfilling once you realise other people are having to do the same with you. And your faith may last longer.
2) “If God’s people behave like this, then I want nothing to do with God.”
I can still remember the day I broke down in tears and accepted Pastor Fred Phelps as my personal Lord and Saviour. Wait, no I can’t. Because that would have been stupid. And nothing to do with Christianity. God is God. A Christian is a person who tries, or claims to try, to act in accordance with God’s wishes. Easy to get them confused, I guess, but worth remembering the difference.
Christians might hurt you, but God never wanted them to. God loves you better and deeper and more profoundly than any human being ever has or ever will. There are reasons, sometimes, to be angry with God. But being angry with God over how His followers behave is like being angry with the CEO of Samsung because some moron is talking loudly on their phone in the quiet carriage.
Do not make your faith dependent on Christians (with all their differences of holiness, character and theology) always behaving in a way you’ll approve of. Or, you know, just give up now.
3) “They don’t accept me for me!”
It sucks not to be accepted. And Christians can be ridiculously judgey. But I refer you to points one and two when I say that this is not a reason to abandon faith. Whether it’s about your moral life, what you wear, the music you like, the gender you find attractive or the number of ovaries leaders in your church are allowed to have, giving up on God because of a sense of judgement is a mistake. Mainly because the people judging or excluding you may be wrong. If they are, and God is fine with you, you’ve just let them make a major life decision for you if you give up on God. Way to go, Spartacus. Fight the power.
But here’s the thing: they may be right. Sometimes you get it wrong. Just like them. Sometimes your theology is faulty, sometimes you are ignoring the moral teachings of God or the truth of scripture. And the fact that being told so makes you feel bad is not a great reason to assume you’re in the right. Christianity is not a great religion for the person who wishes to stay exactly as they are, and a church that only ever affirms the choices you make and the things you feel is probably not going to help you grow. If repentance isn’t your thing, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Take a look at yourself. Talk to people you trust – people who occasionally disagree with you. Ask God. If you need to change, try to change. If you don’t, see if you can change the attitude of your church. And if you can’t and it is making you unhappy, and you feel you can’t take it anymore, move on – there are many expressions of church out there. It’s better to try to connect with one of them than giving up on them all.
*Other stationers staffed and supported by fallible humanity are also available.
(Photo via Laurence OP on flickr)