I’m a pastor and I struggle a lot with religion.
I struggle a lot with the damage and hurt that has been done in the name of religion and Christianity. I know people have been hurt by other religions, but I can only speak for my faith and how it has been mismanaged and abused.
In the name of God, horrific things have happened in our world, from wars, to political power plays, to sex abuse scandals. Organized religion has used God as their power tool to gain control and leverage for personal pleasure in a world that would like to hope that there is a God who cares and there are spiritual leaders they can trust.
Republicans have their view of Christianity, the Democrats have their view of Christianity, and both use those views to leverage power in the political systems.
When it comes to love, war, our enemies, forgiveness, judging, sex, money, relationships, material wealth, power and the way we treat the poor, we are no longer asking the most important question: “What did Jesus do and teach about those topics?”
What do you say to someone who was sexually abused by a religious leader, or was shamed and made to feel less than while trying to find their way as an adolescent or was kicked out of their church for having an abortion or was marginalized because they did not have the resources to give to their church?
What do you say to a homosexual who has heard the words, “God hates faggots!” from Christian protesters?
What do you say to a young girl who has been kidnapped and sexually trafficked while the church world keeps building bigger buildings and ignoring the call to rescue?
One of the biggest dangers of organized religion is it quickly becomes “us” verses “them.” The “righteous” verses the “unrighteous”. The “saved” verses the “unsaved.” The “good people” verses the “bad people.”
When I was in my 20’s, in the late 1980’s, abortion was a hot topic issue. As a Christian, you were expected to join groups of protestors and hold up signs on busy roads in your city that said, “Abortion Kills”, and “God Hates Abortion.”
My heart was conflicted. I would be shamed and looked down on by my fellow Christians if I didn’t do this, but my heart said that regardless of my personal belief on abortion, this method did not seem right.
The day came and we went to a busy road by the local mall, and as we held up our anti-abortion signs on one side of the road, there were people on the other side holding up signs about a woman’s right to choose. We were divided by personal beliefs, but we were also divided because we did not even know each other.
There were no conversations about our two beliefs, only a few hand gestures and a few angry shouts from both sides. As the day went on, cars driving by would either honk with approval, using the thumbs up method to say we were being heroic or cars would honk with disapproval, using the middle finger as a very subtle method to let us know what they thought of our signs and beliefs.
I didn’t get into one conversation that day with “the other side.”
I went home feeling like something was wrong. I went home feeling like Jesus wasn’t with me that day. I felt guilty for not wanting to do my Christian duty again, but I also felt like my heart was farther from the heart of God.
I began to read the Gospels and I saw how Jesus would welcome and hang out and accept the very people the religious leaders of that day rejected. He had a way of setting people free from destructive habits, while giving them dignity, value and worth.
It was during that time that I met a woman named Miranda who had just recently become a follower of Jesus, and was dealing with a lot of shame and regrets from her past.
One of the regrets was that she had had several abortions and was struggling becoming pregnant now that she wanted to. Even worse, she felt like she was being judged by her new Christian friends because in their opinion, not being able to have children was possibly God’s punishment.
As I got to know Miranda, my heart broke for her. I learned that she had grown up in a very difficult family and had run away at sixteen. She went looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places and ended up pregnant several times from one night stands. I had no idea how much pain and shame was involved with women who have had abortions, pain and shame from family, friends and sadly from the religious community.
As I began to understand in a small way her pain, my heart began to soften again. I began to understand my calling as a follower of Jesus is to love people, listen to them and point them to the One who brings hope and healing.
Miranda is involved, these days, helping women who have the scars and guilt of past abortions, and helping young pregnant girls who want an alternative to an abortion. No signs and no judging, just a listening ear and a hopeful hand.
I look back on my feelings that day on the streets, holding up those signs, and I realize God was speaking to me. My feelings that something wasn’t right were whispers from the Holy Spirit saying “I didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it.”
Watching and learning from Miranda, I believe now more than ever that Jesus would have been on the opposite side of the street than me, not protesting, but healing, listening, loving, caring and redeeming.
I find myself more these days, wanting to understand, listen, empathize and love rather than just wanting to be right. Because when all I want is to be right, I no longer care about the person, their hurts, questions and dreams.
I have learned that I can be theologically correct while driving people away from the Good News,
Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.” But I think Jack was wrong. I think we can.
The truth is that Jesus came to heal the broken hearted, he came to forgive, restore, redeem, give eternal life. The journey of Jesus going to the cross and resurrecting from the dead to defeat death once and for all is called “the Good News!” That is the truth.
For those of you who have been hurt, shamed, abused and manipulated in the name of God, I am so sorry!
But don’t run away from the Good News. Don’t run away from the truth that can set you free. Don’t run away from Jesus.
I am asking Jesus these days to give me the courage and compassion to walk to the other side of the street and listen, empathize and offer healing and hope to those who do not know about the truth that can set them free.