What Do You Do When You Can’t Seem to Reconcile with the Church?

It is a question I seem to wrestle with a lot recently. I have been struggling lately with being shut out because I don’t fit the “profile” and because I see things I’m not supposed to see and don’t know what I should or should not do with that.

I saw a fantastic blog post in internet land today that I very highly recommend if you’ve ever wondered how to love the church when you see the blemishes. Check out How Do I Love the Church (Or Why Jesus Isn’t An Enabler). The author gives a lot to ponder.

9 Responses

  1. I have struggled alot at times with fitting into some profile as you put it as well.

    It was a good article, and hands you alot to think about.

    I have accepted that I will never be a person of this mold that the church places out there. Its just not me as a person because I see to much ‘lack of faith’ at times in what they see as truth and I see as manipulative statements that wish others to just conform. I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind.

    To me I read much more than words in the bible, but a spirit of whom Jesus is. I don’t need words in all cases as I read it. I see the counterdictions that are placed out there, and they don’t wish to deal with those. Its like they have come click of all the popular people like in high school, and they have enough people to just go along with their way of thinking…….so it must be good.

    Until you see churches truly starting to deal with things that are very ugly…….I think I will always be on the outside. I think I like it there better. I think pretending other things don’t happen, or better yet just not dealing with them at all isn’t a world I want to live in. I did that to myself for to long – of my own doing – and I don’t wish to return to their form of it. LOL!

    LOL If that makes sense!

  2. It makes 100% sense to me, but then I’m “out there” too. 😉

  3. Hannah, it makes sense to me, too. One of the things I have learned this past year is that enabling is not love, it is fear.

  4. Danni, Your blog has given me a perspective I had mostly lost, because I have not been inside a church for the 4 years since I last saw my husband. I lost a huge part of myself. I was a professional musician, and being a church organist/choir director/soloist was the most fulfilling part of my work. I now feel that at least half of my body and my heart has been amputated in order for my spirit and my sense of truth to survive, somehow.

    I cannot bring myself to go back to a church or to trust a group of Christians, or any other group of religious people of any faith persuasion. I have seen too much of the group mentality, heard too many lies and excuses from them, and been rejected or snubbed too many times. I don’t fit in–and I think it is abundantly clear that the Church is closing its eyes and ears and humming a distracting tune on the Sundays where those passages are read about Jesus eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. If they can’t even deal with a woman who is trying to live a Christian life but chooses to save herself and her children from abuse by leaving and, yes, divorcing her abuser; then how are they going to do the other things Jesus did, and that he called them to do, as his representatives on earth–his own BODY?

    I feel very torn about the ways in which I, too, used to ‘fit in’ and conform. When my life was torn apart by abuse and I had no way to go on in that denial and pretense, my integrity was challenged to the point that I had to reassess my relationship to the “tyranny of respectability.” That’s a concept I took from a woman I contacted recently who did a study of the way the Church of Scotland is treating abuse victims.

    Danni, you talk quite movingly and insightfully about the ways in which an abusive man has made an idol of himself in his home. Let’s stop to consider how the Church has made an idol of fantasies about respectability and righteousness of life, to the point that if a woman is forced to or willing to acknowledge the fact that her spouse has already violated their marriage vows and has spiritually, emotionally, and sexually broken that sacred bond, they vilify her. It is the unrepentant, abusive, lying spouse who has divorced his wife; not the other way around. There is no marriage there to break! She just got the piece of paper that enabled her to be seen as a divorced woman in secular society. I cannot see this as a sin or as something the Bible and Jesus would condemn. There is no marriage when one seeks to destroy the other.

    Danni, you’re so good at looking under all the chaos and distraction of ideas and ‘beliefs’ to determine whether they come from a premise of truth. Do that with the church’s teachings and hypocrisy about divorce. Keep in mind that marriage in Jesus day was much different than it is now.

    Let’s get to the heart of the matter–if people are more interested in following their own interpretations and rules imposed upon words written thousands of years ago in a different time and place, they will lose the spirit of the words and their intent. Look at what Jesus did. Look at who he was. Look at who you believe he IS. For me, unfortunately, doing that creates a chasm between me and the errant churches that is too wide and too deep to cross. So I am cut off from people I thought held the same life-affirming, truth seeking values I held. But, there again, they are the ones breaking the bond–not you and me. Did any of them write to me or telephone me when I was living in virtual exile, falling apart, having no idea where to go or what to do, wondering whether I’d end up committing suicide because I had no way forward? No. I heard not a word. Yet, Jesus tells his disciples to visit people much less ‘respectable’ and socially acceptable than myself!

    I find that Christians only contact those they see as unlike themselves in a condescending or patronising way. They want to make others behave like them–that is the end goal, not ministry and love. Quite surprisingly, I have found people who live by those values completely outside the church. For someone who was raised in the church and taught to be apart from the world and be ‘holy,’ this was a real shake-up! Now I look for the heart of a person, and I find that in the most surprising places, there is redemption, real love, honesty, forgiveness, and acceptance.

    This post/comment is much too long, I know. I’d write it in my own blog; but there, I have not yet talked openly about my former affiliations and specifics of my situation in the church. Maybe that time is coming, I don’t know.

    I thank you so much for what you’re doing here, and I am AMAZED at your strength!

  5. edge of raisin —

    you said, “if a woman is forced to or willing to acknowledge the fact that her spouse has already violated their marriage vows and has spiritually, emotionally, and sexually broken that sacred bond, they vilify her. It is the unrepentant, abusive, lying spouse who has divorced his wife; not the other way around. There is no marriage there to break! She just got the piece of paper that enabled her to be seen as a divorced woman in secular society. I cannot see this as a sin or as something the Bible and Jesus would condemn.”

    I have said exactly those same words again and again and again. I can’t understand why people in the church look at me with a blank stare and don’t get it.

    And right now I am in the same place you are describing. I have tried to go on, hoping that if I stayed without bitterness I could demonstrate that I was not angry, and did not get a divorce in a moment of irrational heat. I hoped that over time people would see my theology remained firm and unchanged, and that I would have the opportunity to have rational conversation and would eventually be given respectful consideration.

    I have been proven wrong. I am a misfit in the church. I am desireable solely because of my vocal talent – and who I am is about so much more than that! The things that are most about me are not acceptable. (That’s one thing I love about blogging. It encompasses most of the rest of me!) I am only acceptable to the point at which I can blend in to the socially acceptable landscape without drawing attention to the fact that I am not only a single mother but that I initiated my own divorce, and the only way I can do that is to deny who and what God has created in me and the life message He has birthed in me by the process of life through which He has brought me. How can I deny the blood, sweat and tears we have struggled through together? How can I buy my own “comfort” in church at the expense of the lives of other women and children in churches who are suffering because churches are still refusing to address this issue of abuse?

    Awhile back I realized I am through processing my divorce. But it occurred to me today that I am deeply grieving this issue with the church. God’s church is not supposed to beat its wounded. And one of the hard things about it is, most of the people involved don’t even realize they are doing it. Even if confronted they would not understand. I have precious friends at my church and I love my pastor. He truly does not see what he is doing. If I try to explain, he cannot see it. But that doesn’t diminish the pain or the reality.

    — Danni

  6. Danni, I am with you in spirit, mind and heart. You have struggled so long and so hard with a loving spirit. The message of the church as a people in society is a contradictory one. We are told that God loves us, and that we are his precious children, yet we are being treated like unloveable, throw-away people because we choose to treat ourselves with that same kind of dignity with which Christ treats us.

    It is a lonely life breaking with the church. You soon find that you don’t fit in anywhere else, either. the pursuits of most non-Christians seem empty and superficial. For me, it helped to just look for beauty around me, and that is all I managed to do as a devotional exercise for a very long time, trying to practice ‘mindfulness,’ to really see and hear life and beauty and truth and goodness around me. But I have no more answers now than I did four years ago, and my concept of who God is has become much less certain. I know the Jesus that is presented in the Bible, and I know that that Jesus would not treat me in the way that those who claim to be his followers continue to treat me. I persist by finding the heart of me which I believe is connected to all that is Good, True and Beautiful. As far as I can determine, that is how Jesus lived his life. This core of belief and seeking what is Good, True and Beautiful has remained unchanged within me through all the twists and turns of my life, despite the acceptance or rejection of others, and despite changes in my perception of God and religious belief systems through the years. That light within me is what keeps me loving myself. It is the most profound sense I have of the Divine that touches me and everyone else equally. It does not make distinctions. I just try to follow that light and truth that I know.

    My sincerest hopes and prayers go out for you, that you will find what you need to persist and to continue being a witness to the Truth.

  7. Edge I would like to make a few comments for you to consider. These are just things that I believe. Of course this does not go over well with some folks and that is fine. As an ordained pastor I find myself in the same shoes you describe. I can find no peace in a church because of the intolerance and zero-sum teachings that now occur more and more often. I have added a speech that was given at a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in TN just after the shooting and killing rampage that occurred. I apologize for the length of this comment but truly wanted to add that speech as it hits home as to why I personally can find no peace in a church but do find it outside of a church; it also hits home as to what I feel many people sense is happening in this country.

    From the Prophet Micah: “You know what God requires: Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Every moment of our lives we are given opportunities to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. This in a nutshell is everything in and of itself really. All the biases that are projected into “religion” by people stripped away. This is all that we need to do.

    I have been called a religious progressive (well that’s the nice thing I have been called) due to some of my views. To me a religious progressive is one whose faith is not in religion, but in God; not in the known but in the Unknowable; not in this or that belief but in the realization that belief is simply the projection of ones own ego.

    The religion of a religious progressive is the religion of radical humility, hospitality, and holiness: admitting to not knowing the nature and mind of God; welcoming all to God’s feast regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc.; and using justice and compassion toward all beings as the standard by which to measure the value of any creed or system of belief.

    Let me give what I use as definitions for some things –

    God. God is the Source and Substance of all that is. God manifests as and transcends all reality. God is not other than creation, nor is God limited to creation.

    Self. The individual is a manifestation of God. We are to God as rays of sunlight are to the sun. Sunlight is simply the sun manifest in time and space. It is not other than the sun nor is it all of the sun. You and I are rays of God. We are not all of God, nor are we other than God. This is what the Bible means when it says we are created in the image and likeness of God.

    I am to God as a wave to the ocean. Each wave is unique and distinct, yet all waves are nothing other than the ocean in which they arise. Each being is unique and distinct, and yet not other than God who is all that is.

    And a bit about “faith” and the various religions:

    “At the heart of religion is the promise that we can become like God, or for those religions that don’t use the term ‘God’ the promise is that we can reclaim and live from our original nature which is intrinsically capable of loving-kindness. The extent to which a religion provides you with a roadmap for personal holiness— acting justly, kindly, and humbly to borrow from the prophet Micah— and assists you in following it, its value is inestimable. The extent to which a religion focuses not on loving-kindness but on partisan bickering and internal battles over dogma and creed it is, in my opinion, useless.”

    At the heart of religion, or at least at the heart of the three Abrahamic religions, is the illusion of scarcity. God chooses Jews not Christians or Moslems; saves Christians not Jews or Moslems; and gives the one uncorrupted revelation to Moslems not Christians or Jews. Because God’s love is scarce, the religions that compete for that love share a zero-sum theology: for one to win, the others must lose.

    Religion is like Baskin-Robbins, and God is like ice cream.

    Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream, but even if you taste them all, you still have no idea what ice cream itself tastes like. The flavors mask the actual taste of ice cream. In fact as far as Baskin-Robbins is concerned there is no such thing as “ice cream itself.” If you order ice cream they want to know what flavor ice cream, and if insist that you don’t want a flavor of ice cream but ice cream itself they have nothing to offer you.

    When it comes to Baskin-Robbns ice cream I prefer mocha almond. Imagine you and I go to a Baskin-Robbins, and you order strawberry, and I say, “No, that’s wrong. You are wrong to order strawberry. True ice cream is mocha almond; anything else is something else. If ice cream is what you want, mocha almond is what you must get.” You’d think me mad.


    We live in frightening times. We live in times when shouting passes for conversation, and reasoned dialogue is too boring to air. We live in times when, in the name of free speech, we allow ourselves to be inundated with hate speech. We live in times when it is not enough to disagree with others, we must demonize them. We live in a demon-haunted time.

    Jim David Adkisson, the man who murdered two people and wounded 6 others at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church in Knoxville last Sunday, was slaying demons. He called them liberals, and was fed a never-ending stream of vile lies that told him these demon liberals hate America, hate our soldiers, hate the family, the flag, the fetus, and God. They are out to destroy everything for which America stands. Killing them is a moral imperative.

    What Jim Adkisson heard, and what tens of millions of other Americans hear every day is the steady demonization of our fellow Americans. Demonization is the fifth of a five stage conditioning process Dr. Anthony Stahelski of Central Washington University, has identified as the key to turning people into terrorists. The five stages are: depluralization, self-deindividuation, other-deindividuation, dehumanization, and demonization. I believe that our entire culture is in the grip of this process. We are becoming a nation of potential terrorists haunted by demons.

    Depluralization removes you from any influences outside your group. What you read, watch on television, listen to on the radio, where you worship have to be all of a piece- each reinforcing the other. It is not that you stop thinking, it’s that you no longer have the capacity to think outside the parameters of the group.

    Self-deindividuation strips away your personal identity. What you wear, what you buy, what you eat, drive, drink, think, study, and say is determined by your group. Thinking for yourself becomes impossible, because there is no self left to think at all.

    Other-deindividuation strips away the personal identities of people with whom you don’t agree, your so-called “enemies.” They become the mirror opposite of you, thinking, living, and promoting ideas that are not just different, but demonic. They are a threat to everything that is good, decent, and God-fearing. In short, they aren’t us.

    Dehumanization explains why your enemies feel so alien: they aren’t really human at all. These subhumans can’t be converted to your ideas; they are incapable of understanding them. And yet they seem to thrive, and to threaten everything you cherish.

    Demonization reveals why this is true: the “other” isn’t just subhuman, they are anti-human, they are demons in league with the Devil whose only passion is your destruction. Demonization follows dehumanization the way one end of a Slinky follows the other. Not only are they wrong, they are evil, and evil must be obliterated.

    America today is a nation of demons. The “other” is everywhere. It doesn’t matter if we are conservative or liberal, the disease of demonization has infected our body politic and we are rotting from within.

    What happened at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church was a symptom of life in demon-haunted America.

    This is from a sworn affidavit by one of the police officers who interviewed Adkisson:

    “During the interview Adkisson stated that he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets. Adkisson made statements that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them into office. Adkisson stated that he had held these beliefs for about the last ten years.”

    As any military expert will tell you, it takes time to train a person to kill. Humans are not natural born killers. We cannot just look another human being in the face and pull the trigger. We have to be trained to overcome our compassion and sense of connection with the other, and the easiest way to do that is through dehumanization and demonization.

    It took Mr. Adkisson ten years to deny the humanity of his neighbors. How many other Jim Adkissons are there in America?

    Hatred has been building in this country for a long time. We are ready to blow.

    So what can we do? Not as a nation or a people— those kinds of policy questions are beyond me. What can we do here? What can the Unitarian Fellowship of Murfreesboro do? Three basic choices come to my mind.

    First, we can circle the wagons, search people for weapons as they come through our doors, and worry that every new face is potentially that of a terrorist here to do us harm. This might work for a while, but in the end we will stop coming here ourselves.

    Second, we can align ourselves more fiercely with liberalism and argue more loudly against the evil right wing pundits, and loud-mouthed media demagogues, as well as your run-of-the-mill gay-bashing, misogynist, racist, and anti-human conservatives. But this only perpetuates the demonization threatening America, and does nothing to end it.

    I admit to finding both of these options tempting, but in the end, a third option, the classically liberal option wins out. Instead of closing our doors, we should open them all the wider. Instead of shutting down opinionated speech we should invite our neighbors over for tea and conversation.

    Indeed, if we had the money, we should take out a series of full-page ads in the Daily News Journal, one each day for a week, articulating our approach (we have no single opinion) to the most controversial issues of our most uncivil culture war.

    When I sat down to prepare this talk I turned first to John Lennon’s song, Imagine. I had thought to build my talk around those lyrics:

    Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too
    Imagine all the people/Living life in peace

    But I didn’t do this. Why, because in the end, John Lennon is wrong. There are things worth dying for. If I am going to die, let me die for something worthwhile.

    Let me die because I refuse to demonize African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, women, Muslims, Catholics, or any one else.

    Let me die because I insist that the dignity of my gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered brothers and sisters be honored, upheld, and legally enforced.

    Let me die because I insist upon reason even when dealing with revelation.

    Let me die because I fight and vote to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and resist it being torn to shreds by a government so drunk on fear that it no longer trusts the very values it was entrusted to protect.

    Let me die because I dare to love even in the face of white-hot heat.

    Let me die because what I stand for is worth dying for.

    I’m not saying the victims of Jim David Adkisson are martyrs, though some were certainly heroes. Martyrs die for their faith, these poor people died because of it. They died because Jim Adkisson was infected with the hate that is fast becoming the life-blood of America. Jim Adkisson was as much a victim as those he murdered.

    I don’t feel sorry for Jim Adkisson; I feel sorry for America. I can’t forgive Jim David Adkisson; only those he hurt can do that. Nor will I bury my head in the sand and say he is a lonely, troubled, and sick man deserving of pity. He is not. Jim Adkisson is part of the madness that is sweeping our nation. He is not the first to murder the demons he imagines and fears, nor will he be the last. But until you and I act to end the demonization that threatens our country, Jim Adkisson will just be a footnote to the next demonslayer who acts to save America by murdering Americans.

  8. Hello, All, And thank you to J Davidson. I am an American living in England. England, too, has its national disgraces and shameful societal ills, but it seems, generally, not to have progressed quite so far as the US on the road to self-destruction. There are a variety of reasons for this that I won’t go into. Nevertheless, Americans need to wake up and open their eyes, ears and minds to learn how they are perceived by the rest of the world. What you describe is difficult to explain for an American who lives anywhere else in the world. Having an American accent is not a good thing when American excesses are so obvious to others in the world and the closed-mindedness and jingoism of people in the US is so pervasive.

    But we started here by discussing the way abuse victims are disenfranchised and marginalised by the Church. That is happening to a greater or larger extent everywhere the Church is in evidence, I believe. And it is a result of fallacies in our belief systems and our institutional mentalities, which you have so clearly discussed as a kind of progressive illness.

    It’s not easy to switch horses midstream. I was raised in a church and being part of churches and other faith communities has been the central factor shaping the person I still am. It’s hard to separate what I am from what I am not at this stage. I think these are the issues Danni is wrestling with, too. We don’t want to self-define by what we are NOT. It’s a lonely place to be.

    Thanks, J, for your sound reason, your courage and truth-telling. My blog exists mainly to encourage and support while telling the truth. We know that we can’t be ALL about self-definition, and we can’t be pulled completely into separation and other-definition, either, for the reasons you point out.. Such presumptions are what have victimised and marginalised us when we tried to be who we are in the presence of the prevailing “tyranny of respectability” that infects the churches and prevents real compassion.

    May we all continue to Be the Truth and to Be the Light in this world, wherever we find ourselves. There is no clear answer to the question of when we should call it quits and step outside and away from the madness that infects Christian institutions and other religious institutions in this world. I don’t have the personal strength to go back for another round with organised religion, after seeing what I have seen, learning what I have learnt and knowing what I now know. All I can say is that I miss the ‘family’ that has thrown me away like an unwanted, ill-behaved family pet is thrown away by heartless human families. I wasn’t worth even wondering about when I had no home, no money, no friends, and no way forward while my abuser continued to live in respectability and bask in the admiration of his community, financially and emotionally supported by the church as he continues in his comfortable self-indulgence. A very big part of me has to be honest and say, “If they would and could do that to me, then I must have been mistaken and deluded to believe that they were worthy to be called my family in the first place”.

    I am grateful for the people outside the church who helped me. The heart of God is not limited to dwell only inside Christian bodies or the Christian “Body”. It’s in me and Danni and you, J, and it’s in lots of other places, as well.

  9. Edge and Danni
    thanks for your sharing. I feel sorry for you as neither of you have experienced justice, love or mercy from the churches you have been in where you tried to get your abuse issues properly handled.
    I was in a blind and judgmental church when my marriage broke down for the final time, but after some months of attempting to remain there, patiently hoping and seeking for a fair hearing from the leadership, I had to leave as it was useless and only destructive to my mental health to remain.
    I then found a church where I eventually had a fair hearing and justice was given. Some years after being in that church (and finding I could trust the pastor and his scripturally sound views) I requested that the elders evaluate whether I had biblical grounds for divorce.
    They interviewed me at some length, they interviewed the elders of my former church and they attempted to interview my ex, but he refused to speak with them. After many months, they told me (verbally and by letter) that they had formally ruled I had grounds for divorce under 1 Cor. 7:15 and therefore was free to remarry so long as I married a Christian. Needless to say, I felt vindicated and recognized. Would that all churches followed biblical principles and the principles of natural justice as mine did!
    Some may wonder why I went to the trouble of applying to my elders for their ruling before I went ahead and divorced. I did so because I believed in this as a biblical principle, and felt it possible to achieve in that particular church. But I especially did it because I was writing a book called Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion and I didn’t want there to be any possibility of having mud thrown at me on the grounds that I had pursued a divorce before obtaining approval from my church.
    However, if you are reading this and are in a situation where it is nigh impossible to get such a fair hearing, please don’t feel guilty that you have not been able to do it the way I did it. I know many many churches out there are not behaving biblically when it comes to such matters and are unbelievably hurtful to victims.

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