What has been your experience in the church? I’ve recently read “Out of Sorts” by Sarah Bessy and she describes a very different church experience from the one my wife and I had growing up.
She loudly states “We all need somewhere to say the private things, the vulnerable things, the scary and true things, the victories, and the defeats.” The people she describes as being the “somewhere” for her were found at her church, and she describes the holy spirit as being vital to the gathering of these “somewhere” people. A community that helps one, “Feel seen, we feel heard, we feel prayer at our back and a community waiting up ahead of us on the path.”
While I wish I had a close group of church friends as how she described, I found that the church is often the worst place to find people like this. Often secrets revealed to close friends become church gossip rather quickly. True and scary things are often too painful for people to sit with and actually listen to you. Your pain often being brushed aside as
being part of “g-d’s greater plan.” Or a trite “g-d works all things together for good” offered in response to great suffering.
The author talks in her book about finding peace of staying in a faith community and in her hometown. And I can feel that tug to stay and be apart of a small tight knit community, but often those very same communities have deep rooted problems. Often ignoring abuse and shaming their members for what the church deems a “sinful” lifestyle.
I’m glad the author found a loving and caring faith community, but that has not been my experience with the church. I have seen a minority of people that embody this loving care and compassion, but on average it is not the norm. Although I will say that small minority of compassionate, caring people were the ones that convinced me and my wife to stay in the church for several years after we graduated college.
But in the end we more often than not found people who were more interested in outward looks and actions. For instance for about six months we attended a small faith community (Gospel Hall) where we found initial acceptance, but it quickly became clear we would have to drastically change if we wanted to be apart of the church.
The gospel hall church demands all women must remain in silence during all forms of worship that involve discourse (prayer, communion, sunday school, and preaching); however women are allowed to sing. Women are also required to wear a head covering and skirts during church services. Only members of the church all allowed to participate in communion and public prayer.
You had to conform to these (and more) in order to be considered apart of this community. And while you could attend and watch you were often left, literally, on the outskirts of the service if you were not a member. And there was a lot of pressure within the church to become a member.
We attended many other church denomination with similar stories. The last church we attended being the most open and accepting, but it still had it’s own problems. It was a pretty typical Baptist church, and all the expectations of members were pretty standard for that denomination. (No premarital sex, alcohol, dancing, etc.)
Even though I no longer believe, I would probably still attend some type of church if I found one that allowed for open expressions of doubt. I do enjoy the community that is sometimes found at a place of worship. However, anytime I’ve expressed doubt I get a short pre-memorized doctrinal response. And I know those responses; I’ve heard them so very often. Even memorized them myself in college and in high school. But for me they are hollow and feel like empty canned responses.
I don’t want to go to church to hear canned responses and sermons. I would love to go to hear and see people showing love and compassion to each other. And to seeing those in times of heartache being surrounded by a community of caring people. But that hasn’t been my experience with any church I have been to.
If the church wants to evolve and continue to be relevant, they must allow expression of doubt. Also allowing for hard questions about how science and faith intersect. In my opinion doubt and faith go hand in hand, but I wish that the evangelical church could also see that.