I am a follower and a fan of Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Stephanie, the blog's author, often shares excerpts from emails she receives on the blog's facebook page. Sometimes they are complimentary. Sometimes they remind me why her blog exists in the first place. This week she shared one in which the writer said "The best general message of your blog: you can heal." Needless to say, a lot of the regular readers heartily agreed. But in the midst of the affirmation, there was a lone dissenting voice who claimed that such as statement has an "echo of bitterness and resentment."
If you have left a church or Christian group or ever questioned one in any way, I'd be willing to bet that you have been told "You're just bitter." I think that the thing that breaks my heart even more than the number of people who have been hurt by the church is how callously the perpetrators of such pain respond when the victims have the courage to call them on it. SCCL previously addressed the matter here.
The irony is that when you live in Christian Culture, they tell you constantly about the need to be honest, confess your sin, and to seek forgiveness and the resolution your problems with others. I guess they just don't think that applies to themselves. I was at a church service a few years ago where the pastor asked people to form small groups with those around them and discuss the question "Why do you think some people feel so hurt by the church?" It was one of the first times I had visited this particular church. It was during the time that I was debating my decision to move on from American Evangelical Culture and hearing that gave me hope that there were churches out there that got it. They understood. My hope was quickly crushed as those around me gave their answers to the question. A women boldly proclaimed "Nobody is perfect except Jesus. I think too many people expect us to be perfect and that's just unrealistic." The rest of the people nodded in agreement and provided answers that were essentially only rephrasing hers. I don't remember what I said. I think it had something to do with the fact that it's so difficult for churches and Christians to admit their mistakes. Honestly, I think I don't remember because my mind was racing. It was yet another moment where my anxiety rose as my own experiences where unknowingly invalidated yet again. It was the same response I'd heard so many times before. The response Christians give so often in Evangelical settings because they seem to have this assumption that it's only atheists and skeptics who've claimed to be hurt by believers. They loudly proclaim that people expect too much from them while the spiritually wounded that surround them die a little more inside and continue to reconsider their place in the body of Christ.
When you are hurt, you need to heal. It's not a complicated concept. To refer to that as bitter or resentful is naive, misguided, and extremely short-sighted. Even worse, as Stephanie and many others have pointed out, it's a silencing tactic. It's a tactic that proclaims "We don't know what to deal with your pain and frankly it makes us uncomfortable. So rather than wrestle with what the Christian response should be, we are going to try to shame you into dropping the issue. It's just easier that way. To achieve that, we will use a lot of spiritual words and quote a few Bible verses out of context to try to convince you that we are right."
I understand the importance of forgiveness, but I have trouble accepting that that means you just blindly accept any hurt from others or justify your own mistreatment of people as long as it's done in the name of the Lord. And since when does recognizing that you've been hurt and are in need of healing qualify as bitterness? As long as churches and Christians continue to hide behind declarations of "bitterness" and their own imperfection they will continue to be unable to develop the type of genuine relationships that truly bring healing. Unfortunately, rather than contemplate what that would mean, I'm sure anyone immersed in the world of American Evangelical Culture who is reading this is too preoccupied developing theories as to what could have possibly made me so bitter.
Christian Culture, you need a new argument.