I went to a wedding a few weeks ago. The bride, whom I love dearly, was beautiful. What was disturbingly not beautiful was the behavior of some of the church leaders.
At the wedding, the pastor and his entourage went around to each table, greeting and visiting with the wedding guests, who were pretty much divided around the dance floor. At our table there were two women who had recently fought cancer, a woman who is currently going through a divorce, and my daughter and I. My daughter has been asking God for a chance to speak to the pastor, because she is struggling with coming back to the church. The group surrounding the pastor stood at the table next to us for a while, and then, without even acknowledging any of the women at our table, moved smoothly to the next table. I am not sure if we were being shunned as a group, or if it was meant to exclude a specific person. Moments before, on the other side of the room, the pastor was saying to a friend of mine something about the importance of the church reaching out to those in the world who are in need, and our responsibility as a church to care for the poor, and unloved.
My point is, that as beautiful as the wedding was, the event was marred by behavior that was both inexcusable and childish. I was embarrassed and ashamed of our leaders, and ashamed to be associated with them. As a woman, one of the things that had so impressed me with this church, was the way women seemed to be honored, and respected. Coming from a situation of domestic violence, and spiritual abuse, it was so unbelievably healing for me to come into what appeared to be a safe place. Any counselor who deals with trauma knows how important it is to establish safety and trust before any true life change can occur. The intense grief I feel, when I think back to how happy I was in my early days in the church, is overwhelming sometimes.
As a single parent in the church, I have been through hell. My divorce shook my faith; my experience within the church has all but destroyed it. I was told by my counselor that although I am more than qualified to teach in the church, I can’t be “sold” to the church because . . . “Well . . . you know . . . you act funny”. Really? Well, let me be clear: I cannot be sold, bought, traded, or trashed, period. To the church, or to anyone else.
But sometimes I do act funny. I get nervous in a crowd; I’m horribly shy; I have absolutely no social skills whatsoever. I would be perfectly happy to be exiled to an island with nothing but pen and paper, to have visions of heaven and write letters to the churches. But God . . . has called me to live here, in this time, in this culture, in this city, and to love people. Yes, even these people. No matter what they do, no matter what is said about me. For years I have carried this quote in my wallet:
“The demands of holiness are the same regardless of circumstances.”
So what do we do? We come with grace, and mercy. We love those who persecute us, whether in or out of the church. We love those who treat us wrong. We learn from the horrible experience, and hopefully, when we are called to lead, we remember to do so differently. And more importantly, we forgive . . . because they know not what damage they do.