I am bruised. I have had a bruise on my soul for a long time. I can’t quite tell you when the injury happened but it was well over a decade ago. I, like every small boy who has had bruise, have poked at it sporadically just to keep its colour fresh. At times I have allowed that bruise to fade into the almost normal flesh tones and at times I have pushed and prodded at it until it is a deep black. This bruise on my soul is that at times I’ve been hurt by the church.
This is a phrase I’ve read a lot recently. Whether it be Facebook statuses, christian blogs or tweets, there it is. The church has hurt me. The church has let me down. Now it is my turn to write it. The problem is that I am not being completely honest when I say that. For on every occasion I have been angry at the church in reality it has been an individual I have been angry with. A person wrapped in the same flesh and humanity as me has hurt me. A person carrying they own bruises and baggage, who have been hurt as often as I have, has caused me some pain. It has always felt a little more comfortable to blame some faceless organisation than to have to come face to face with a name and voice and personality.
I’ve poked the bruise for various reasons. When a leader told me they couldn’t see any giftedness in me for youth ministry the day I started a youth ministry job. When I worked hard for someone and received no thanks. When I was subject to gossip and I felt undefended. In moments of real pain I’ve felt let down. On each occasion I blamed the faceless organisation. The church had let me down.
I spent far too many years calling out the church for its wrongs. I wrote blogs that criticised it for its apathy towards to poor or its perceived lack of zeal. I wrote paragraphs in my book pointing out how the church had gotten it wrong on this grey area or that one. Some of that I put down to being an angry young man trying to spread his revolutionary wings but the reality is that the majority of it was that I had forgotten that I was in fact the railing against myself because I am as much the church I was blaming as anybody else.
The internet is teeming with blogs that tell us the failings of the church. Yet we, the writers, are often the flesh and bones of the church they deem a failure. We writers are the eyes, ears, toes and ankles of the body of Christ they deem unfit for purpose. We call for change and yet wait for permission to make those very changes. I wonder when we fell for the idea that when it comes to affecting change for the good of the world in the name of Jesus that we had to gain some sort of permission to pursue that very change. Where do we think that permission comes from? Who are we waiting for to rubber stamp our vision?
I think the biggest mistake I have made in my life is to pick a fight with the church on widely read social media and then claim that I was being ignored when leaders were wise enough not to respond in public. I made this mistake once and paid a price for it. I cringe now thinking about it. The internet has given us great spaces for the debate and discovery of new ideas. It has opened our minds to points of view that were out of reach 20 years ago but we must be careful. We are in an age where we can respond in public and never take it back. We are in an age where writing is cheap and easy but permanent. I have read passionate statuses and blogs in support or against this church, or that leader. Every time this question has come into my head. If you don’t care enough about this to go to the flesh and blood cause of it then you should hold your words in your fingers and not let them slip from the keyboard to the internet.
I know that some of the things I have read will have been accompanied by face to face encounters with those who have transgressed but I wonder if that is the case with all. If you care enough to write about it then please go to the person and talk to them. You’ll get further with your cause that way. It turns out at 33 people seem much more reasonable than I thought they were when I was 23.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us to ‘make every effort to live peaceably with everyone and be holy.’ It’s a big, beautiful challenge. That would mean laying down a lot of what I think I deserve in order to seek peace. It would mean understanding the person who bruises me and taking time to work it out with them. Sometimes the answer will be to go separate ways in order to keep that peace, and that is hard and sad and leaves a scar but it is better than staying together and flinging mud at one another. The church is a family and when a family fights everybody loses.