Last week was no exception. As usual, I met up with a friend at the little café-style venue. I brought in a list of teas to stock up on, and I caught up with the owners, a husband-and-wife team. After hearing that I’d just returned from Israel, the wife started sputtering about the “state of affairs” over there. With a look of utmost seriousness, she remarked, “It’s always about religion. Religion just causes all of the problems in the world today.” I was dumbfounded. Seriously, I had no idea what to say to this lady. Here, I’d just graduated with my degree in theology. Words came to mind, but none of them seemed strong enough to both give her the truth that she seemed to so desperately need and heal her broken heart. With a sad smile, I mustered the words, “Yeah, it’s definitely a difficult situation,” paid for my cinnamon chai, and walked out onto the front porch. Needless to say, a cloud of discouragement hung over me.
At first, my heart bled for this beloved owner. How could she think that? How could she be so cold? More conversations from my previous times there flooded my mind. Her statement wasn’t so out-of-the-blue. She’d made similar ones before, but I couldn’t remember if I had ever heard her be quite so open about her disdain for religious belief. In my little Adventist bubble, I haven’t encountered many who wear on their sleeve how strongly against religiosity they are (especially down South). However, my thoughts quickly shifted. How did she get to the point of so hating religion? What must she have seen? What experiences did she go through to make her so adamant? Sadly, her feelings really aren’t so strange in the world today. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that for many, the concept of religion is looked upon with a general feeling of disdain.
I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, I get pretty frustrated about religion, too. There are days when it feels difficult to put one foot in front of the other and walk down the center aisle of that large, looming sanctuary. After all, wherever there’s people, even people who so desperately want to do the right thing, hypocrisy abounds. If you spend any real time in a church environment, even in the best of churches, you will likely see some pretty messed-up stuff. You will see a great deal of brokenness and a lot of pain. You will see mistakes. Because whether we like to admit it or not, the battle between good and evil doesn’t stop the minute you walk through those large, wooden doors and shake the greeter’s hand.
Unfortunately, the pain from well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) Christians seeps out. While it hurts people in the church, it also affects the way those on the outside look in. I’ve seen a lot of friends leave. And, I get it. More often than not, those individuals have understandable reasons for saying goodbye to corporate worship. I think one of the biggest mistakes we make as Christians is to judge people without even hearing their stories. I know. It’s difficult not to judge when we have so many standards laid out for us in the Bible, and we think we’re “keeping the church pure.” Usually, we just want to help. However, even if you desperately try, you can’t pretend you’ve been there. You don’t know how one event or statement affects one person. Their walk is different than yours. Their relationship with God does not mirror yours. And, so often, we need to just listen and be there for them in whatever way they need. Too often, we superimpose our outlook and experiences onto someone else.
But, if I’m permitted, I’m going to tell you why I’m still here. I’m not pretending I have all the answers, but there is one thing that always keeps me here (and as good as they are, it’s not just my love for haystacks). At the end of the day (and there are many days when I have to remind myself of this), I’m not a Seventh-day Adventist because of the people in the church, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist because I believe in God, and I believe that His truth as found in the Bible aligns most closely with Seventh-day Adventist teachings. It’s not a superficial or fleeting belief. It’s a belief interwoven in the fiber of my being, one I don’t think I could escape even if I tried. As much as I love going to potluck with my church family and building relationships with my fellow Adventists, if I were in the church because of people, I would have been driven away long ago. And, this is what I have to cling to. Every time I hear of a deaconess who gives a young girl a pamphlet on dressing “appropriately” in church, see the fall out when a treasured church member is involved in an extramarital affair, become aware of a pastor who is arrested for hitting his wife, or any of the million other things that go wrong, I have to remind myself it’s about God and nothing else.
Like the shop owner said, I agree that religion causes a lot of problems in the world today. However, I don’t believe we should throw out the baby with the bath water and denounce God simply because those who claim to follow Him make mistakes. God brought His followers together for a reason. Corporate worship is a thing, because it’s necessary for God’s people to come together for strengthening, support, and focus on what really matters in the world. Church and religion do a lot of good, too.
So, next time you see bits of sin creeping into the church, comfort yourself with the knowledge that something must be going right. Satan wouldn’t be so focused on bringing down a church unless those in the church actually were working for God on some level.
Next time, I talk to that lady or anyone who believes that all of the bad in the world comes from religion, I think I know what I’ll say. While I’m going to tell her all the good that God has done in my life, I’m going to try to listen to her story. I’m trusting that God will help me to keep showing her through the way I live my life that religion isn’t dead, and there is good left in it.
And, I’m going to keep going to church, because the greatest way to strengthen the crippled church isn’t by walking out the front door. It’s by staying and allowing God to work through you to better it.[/box_holder]