I’ve lived in denial of many things in my life. I’ve spent the better part of the last couple of decades ignoring things in my life and pretending everything was great. I had an awakening that started through the last couple of years, but particularly in 2022, where I’m seeing things more clearly and unwilling to go back to living in denial. I’m growing and shifting and it’s positive, I feel, but it’s also difficult. When you start seeing things around you that are unhealthy, and you are seeking to become more mentally, emotionally and physically healthy, then it’s harder to ignore those things anymore without feeling disingenuous. One thing that is hard for me to witness right now is what feels like a Christian Caste System. A Caste system is a sociological construct that people are born into a particular group or caste in life and cannot move up into a better position just because that is the class they were born into. If you are born in the lowest class in your society then you will always be in that class. There is no room for improving your situation. That is not something that we as Americans tend to subscibe to, in fact, most people would say they love America because we give people options to move up in class, or down as the case may be, depending on how hard they work and how successful they are. It’s obviously more complicated than that, but that’s the general idea.
I see this Caste system in the church sometimes. If you aren’t from a certain family, or of a certain gender, have problems or issues that everyone knows about, are a social outcaste or not “typical”, then sometimes you aren’t seen the same as other more mainstream Chrsitian people. If you aren’t “spiritual” enough you are excluded from certain events or activities or groups. It’s not at all how I interpret what the church should be from a Biblical lense. What I see in the Bible, particularly the Gospels, is that Jesus was all about upsetting the religious hieracrchy of that day. Jesus challenged the religious leaders and their exclusion of people based on class or status. He ate with “sinners”, tax collectors and prostitutes. People that religious leaders felt were not to be associated with. We sometimes read those passages about Jesus eating with unacceptable people and miss the real depth of it. In those days a Jewish man would not eat with anyone who was not acceptable in society. To eat with someone was to accept them. We don’t really understand how upsetting it was for Jesus to eat at Matthew the tax collectors table. It was scandelous. Jesus loved people first and then asked them to change their lifestyles. In church we can often ask people to change so that then they will be acceptable. That is not what Jesus is about. Church should not be a country club of people who are perfect. It should be a hospital for the broken and hurting. We say we accept people but then don’t allow them to really be apart of our lives because they are uncomfortable to us. When people feel rejected by us as a church, then we are jeopardizing their relationship with Jesus. You can’t tell people they can’t be apart of a particular group in a church because they don’t measure up to your standards. That’s not church, that’s a country club. And this generation of young people can see through your BS and won’t be around for it.
Now let me be clear. I am not saying we should let just anyone lead people in the church. We have been too permissive with this at times and it’s led to horrific abuse and trauma. We should be very very discerning in who we let lead others. We have to remain a safe place for people. If someone has unresolved sin in their life that people know about, then they shouldn’t be leading others, particularly young people. When I was in high school and preacher came to speak at my youth retreat. He was preaching all about not putting unchristian music in your mind. That you should only listen to “christian” music. He asked me to run out to his truck to get something for him and I noticed some secular CDs in his truck. I confronted him about it and he brushed it off as “research” or some such BS. I didn’t buy it. And I no longer trusted him or what he was saying. Young people can be permenantly damaged in their relationship to God by a leader with a lifestyle that is inconsistant with what is being preached. We have to be carful about that. Putting someone who is struggling in a leadership position to help them grow is not a good idea and it’s potentially detrimental to those they lead.
Church has to be a place of welcoming and openness. It’s has to be a place of authentic community, not just lip service, but actual trust and community. We should be able to share our deepest hurts and what we are really going through, but so often we can’t because we don’t feel safe to do so. We are afraid of judgement. Jesus preached against that sort of thing 2000 years ago and yet here we are and we are still doing it. To be a safe place for people to be authentic we have to take down our guard and not judge others’ walk with Jesus. Only He knows what’s in the heart. We are all at different places in our walks with God. And years don’t matter. Some of the most mature christians I know are not old in age and haven’t been christians as long as others. And then there are those who have been christians for 40 years and are just babies in their growth. If someone around you is difficult to love and uncomfortable to be around, they need love all the more. The church has to be a place of acceptance and we just don’t have that reputation. We are seen as close minded and jugemental and with good reason. It feels all the more these days as we grow more angry and polarized. I want a place where all are welcome and not judged. Where we love people into a deeper relationship with Jesus and let Him work out those rough edges.