“I Love Jesus But I Hate the Church”

handI’m avoiding writing about politics. I’m trying to limit my intake of the news, too, because there’s really no use in “staying informed” if it makes you sick and paralyzed with anxiety. I’m also just tired of the constant shock and awe. Maybe people keep being surprised because the media reported 45 as a serial liar and they’re learning that he intends to keep every one of his planet-ruining, livelihood-decimating campaign promises. Or maybe it’s because we were all taught in school that corruption in government is always “there” (Africa, Asia, Russia), that it could never be here. 45 always acts in character, though, and the never-ending “did you see what he did NOW?!” is exhausting and, quite frankly, naive.

So I’m going to pick up on something I mentioned a few posts ago; in December, a friend and I went to visit a church in Redding, CA. It’s seen as either the flagship of charismatic expression or a cult. I’d been to this church before in 2009; this time, my curiosity, my hope that maybe Bethel had something for me, was sated. You could tell the people who had attended Bethel’s school because they all only used the same puff phrases but also said them all in the same inflection. That sounds creepy; more than that, it was impenetrable. You have to be – or become – a pretty specific kind of person to fit in around there.

And you have to have a particular response to their prayer and ministry. Now, I’m a results-oriented person, too, but not because I force them. When you get prayer for healing at Bethel and even the tiniest thing happens, even if it could kind of happened before, you’re pushed to “testify” while everyone else stares at you and gives Jesus a loud round of applause. But my back and neck still very much hurt. All day, every day. (Not to mention my heart; but they generally only pray for physical things you can test immediately.) The thing that was the most disconcerting for some reason, though, was when my friend and I attended one of their classes on prophetic ministry. The teaching was disorganized and a weird mix of proof-texting, shallow use of Scripture and somewhat intriguing quips. When the instructor encouraged us to simply go up to strangers in a mall or the bank and ask if they want prayer because “what’s the harm in loving people?,” my friend and I could instantly think of several harmful things about that scenario.

But the most irksome thing was when one of the assistant pastors got up to give his teaching and explained: “You know, when you see a staff person walking around these halls in what seems like a trance, maybe our hands are up and are eyes are semi-closed, we’re not being rude, we’re communing with Holy Spirit.” I had a very strong reaction to that, and can feel the heat of my anger even now: you actually don’t get to use God as an excuse to ignore other people and call yourself a Christian. At all. And it is rude. There is strong evidence in Scripture that God cares at least as much if not more about human relationships than about our personal, individual worship. But I got the sense that they’re not interested in hearing much feedback. They have a certain way they do things with all this theology built up around it and if you don’t like, you’re the problem. Maybe this deep reaction comes from my multi-year search for a church that not only accepts me the way I am but actually wants me. I haven’t felt that since we had to leave our old church abruptly four years ago.

I’ve been struggling a lot with going to church ever since. Lately, I just haven’t been able to. It’s not that I don’t want the community, or that I believe in this “I love Jesus but hate the church” business. It’s just painful. I don’t feel welcomed or understood. As much as I (often forget that) this stuff matters to me, I don’t feel like I belong. I simply do not have the energy to pretend anymore – either to be a friendlier, more Godly person than I am or that I’m able to handle my life on my own, that I’m okay without true support or that “managing” without some crucial things I need is good enough or sustainable without true relationships. And it doesn’t help to hear that the church is supposed to have an outward focus (I’d written about how it’s actually supposed to take care of its own first – oh, and I never did get that card that I had been told about). Depression is either triggered or imposed in a way I’ve not been able to work through with anyone. I have a primordial fear of hell (that only my therapist knows about; and I was only able to tell him very recently, after nearly a year of twice-a-week appointments) that is not only distracting but persistent no matter how many times I hear God loves me.

Maybe church isn’t for what I want it to be for. But if it’s only for outreach, addressing and answering the needs it sees out in the world, I simply don’t have anything to give. When we were at Bethel, the sermon began with an emphatic declaration that God has a purpose for your life. It was initially hopeful to hear this, given that I had been laid off (in a pretty ridiculous way) two months prior and had been going through a painfully unsuccessful job hunt since. But I simply don’t have anything to give: I neither feel like I do (I have some pretty large and draining unmet needs myself) nor have been invited/able to give in ways that take into account anything about who I am, either in the working world or in the church. I simply can’t pretend anymore.