I’m in the pacific northwest, the None Zone, and one of the sentiments that I run into from former Christians is “I just want to know more about Jesus and follow him but I don’t want to be part of a church anymore that excludes gays, evolutionists, and women.” It’s the regional embodiment of the Bible Belt “personal relationship with Jesus” mentality in that it values the individual relationship/study with Jesus more than the communal expression.
And some for good reason: those who are gay, women, or believe in evolution have some wounds from being cast out from mostly evangelical churches. So the study of Jesus without being involved in a faith community has some coping rationale and could serve to sustain a person for a time.
But I wonder if there are better ways to keep in relationship with a safer faith community rather than cutting one’s self off?
In his book Prototype, Jonathan Martin responds to those who want to follow Jesus without being part of a Church and he recounts a statement by one of his mentors:
Can I just have a relationship with Jesus and not the church? Actually, no, you can’t.
I remember hearing Stanley Hauerwas’s response when he was asked why he stayed in the United Methodist Church for so long when he could be savagely critical of it at times. “I’ve just always believed that you stay with the people who marked you,” he responded. And that sums it up for me. Whatever failings the church may have, it is still my church.
Everyone has a crazy uncle that you want to hide somewhere when you bring your new girlfriend home from college to meet everyone. But you don’t uninvite him from Thanksgiving Dinner. He’s crazy, but he’s still your uncle. (audiobook, Chapter 8, 24:00)
This is a more polite version of Tony Campolo’s “The Church is a whore but she’s still your mother.”
While the Hauerwas quote may be slightly different originally, the sentiment is interesting: you stay with those who marked you. While such a statement could fall down a slippery slope into codependency with an abusive partner, framing the relationship as dealing with tough family member has its merits. It is one where you have a sense of care about how the other person is doing, and that you find moments of connection even if the rest of the time they drive you crazy.
As I deal with both northwesterners who want nothing to do with a church and with progressive/evangelical church members (and pastors!) who consider leaving the UMC, this quote came to mind and I thought I would share it.
Thoughts about this analogy, and other analogies that portray the familial relationship one might have with the church?