You might not realize it, but you’re proving it’s not.
I’ve spent most of my free time over the past several days reading through accounts of fellow post-Christians here on Medium and across cyberspace. I’ve been repeatedly moved, sometimes even blown away, by the abuse many have been through at the hands of self-proclaimed Believers. From physical to emotional to sexual, and combinations of all three, the trauma that these people have experienced is enormous, predictable, and far too common.
For anyone with an inkling about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate — when someone speaks up about trauma they have experienced and ways they have been injured, that individual should be given a certain level of respect and consideration for putting themselves out there in such a vulnerable light. The decent response is to listen attentively, show respect, and learn whatever lessons can be learned, so that the abuse isn’t repeated in the future.
However, when Believers respond to these extremely personal accounts, the replies usually seem to follow the same path:
- The Christian sympathizes with the admittedly awful experiences the Post-Christian has dealt with at the hands of the church.
- The Christian quickly navigates to explaining that their experiences did not represent True Christianity.
- The Christian explains to the Post-Christian what True Christianity is, which is obviously, just that person’s personal interpretation of doctrine.
Here’s are 7 reasons why that response really fucking sucks:
1. You’re focusing on protecting the abuser, not the abused.
By now, you’ve probably read the #NotAllMen discourse surrounding sexual assault and misogyny. If you haven’t, you can catch up quickly here. If you have, and if you can understand why responding to an assault survivor’s experiences by reminding her that not all men are rapists, then you can understand the parallel I’m drawing. Most believers respond to criticism of Christianity by pulling out the #NotTrueChristianity card.
This shouldn’t need to be explained — but, the conversation really isn’t about them, or their personal interpretations of a controversial worldview. The conversation is about real, valid, serious abuse that has been perpetrated by Church and those within it. Whether that Church is what Christianity dictates it should be or not isn’t the topic. And it’s not the time nor place to interject those comments.
2. You’re patronizing the abuse victim’s capacity to understand the situation for themselves.
Christians of all denominations and credentials: None of you has the right, nor authority, to imply that your understanding of Christendom is objectively more aligned with Christ and True Christianity than anyone else’s. You do not have the experience or the insight to interpret Christianity to or for the abuse survivor. The survivor can use their own God-given brain and God-given intellect to navigate their thoughts and their faith for themselves. Assuming that you get it better and then casually talking down to them and re-interpreting faith for them isn’t subtle. It’s condescending.
3. You’re redirecting energy that should be channeled into fixing the gaping problems in your church into protecting yourself and your comfortable worldview.
For me, this is the biggest one. Because, accounts of people leaving Christianity due to serious, serious issues are everywhere. People have left for so many valid reasons. Where are the Christian movements to address these problems? Where are the Christian movements championing dismantling sexism in the Church, where are the Christian movements championing ending sexual abuse and dysfunction in the Church? Where are the Christian movements fighting racism in the Church?
There is a lot of authoritarian rhetoric and culture accepted within Christendom, which translates into power abuses from parents to children, from pastors to congregants, and from husbands to wives. Is anyone, anywhere, addressing authoritarianism in the church?
When we talk about pain your family has caused us, don’t jump in to defend yourselves. Take responsibility for the pain your people created. Use your energy to bring change. Don’t expect us to feel cared for while you choose to spend your time on explaining our experiences away instead of owning up to the harms and addressing them.
4. You’re showing a lack of faith in Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus was explicit that Christians are instructed to take the planks out of their own eyes before attempting to correct another’s faults. When he talked about people who’ve suffered harm, he provided clear instruction in which the Christian should offer support and assistance without agenda or expectation, even if the person has a different worldview. For some reason, Christians brush these commands off in favor of what feels safer and better: to authoritatively instruct non-Christians about what they are misinterpreting while completely brushing off the myriad eye-planks that have been clearly made known to them.
5. You’re being arrogant.
You’re assuming you have the right to interpret what True Christianity is, above all other Christian followers and denominations with differing opinions. There are dozens upon dozens of sects of Christianity, each with its own schools and interpretations and translations and scholars. While it makes sense for Christians to subscribe to the one that fits them best, it’s a bit wild for any of them to claim that their Jesus is more real and correct than anyone else’s — this attitude is dismissive and disrespectful to all of the other breeds. Who are you to say that the Christianity which the post-Christian experienced wasn’t a valid or real form of Christianity? Why do you get to claim that yours is the more real one?
6. You’re all talk and no walk.
There is nothing to show for the alleged True Christianity. If it’s true that your Christianity is somehow better than what we are experiencing then:
- Why aren’t we experiencing it?
- Why isn’t it of greater influence across American culture?
- Why don’t you get busy with more of the showing and less of the telling?
If you have actually got Something Better than what all of us scarred and skeptical Post-Christians have experienced, then you should be living it. You should be building something. You should be showing it. If it’s so real, it will work on its own, without your early-celebratory self-congratulating on other people’s personal posts. If it really works, you should be able to show the results, and we should be able to see for ourselves.
7. Your response is self-defeating.
The people who make these responses are falling right into worn Christian tropes while at the very same time claiming to be not like the others. I mean, you’re changing the subject to fit yourself better instead of meeting the individual where they are. You’re attempting to spread your worldview to others without their interest or consent. You’re talking down to peers as if you know better than them. And you think this is True Christianity? You think this is how Real Enlightenment begins? With you, talking over the survivor, in order to witness to them so that they can better understand and agree with your own doctrines? How is that different from Bad Christianity? What’s the change?
Christians, I implore you:
When your children suffer serious harm at the hands of your community, please respond by doing better, not by getting defensive. Be heartbroken with us about the crimes committed in your name. Express your care for us by devoting time towards ending these crimes. And know that as long as you respond to those who have been hurt by Christianity by pinning the blame on misinterpretation on our part, we’re going to remain wary of all of you. Take ownership of your own. Fix yourselves, not us.