“How can you leave the church.” It’s not a question, it’s a heart wrenching plea. It comes not from those looking for an exit strategy from their church or denomination, but from those staying behind and begging you to stay. Like a child stuck in the middle of a divorce saying “Daddy don’t go”, it’s a cry of bewilderment, supplication, confusion, despair, and fear. They don’t know what else to do. They understand your pain. They understand your hurt. But at the same time they’re afraid that if you walk out the door you will never come back. Your religiosity, your beliefs, your faith, and your spirituality will die. It will never be the same again and you will be lost to them.
It’s amazing what happens when you write something like “Dear Church Leaders“. I would never have guessed that it would have received the response it did. Not just in total views, but also in the connection people had with it. Of course there were those who agreed and those who disagreed, which is normal. They quoted scripture and religious text as if the issue were a simple black and white issue. They missed the point. It’s the third group, who are caught in the middle, who understand best. They respond with earnestness and sincerity like Dr McGuire, Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting, repeating over and over to Will “It’s not your fault”. It’s the text I got from my grandma several days after posting the blog.
“I read your blog to our bible study group yesterday. Everybody wants a copy. It was oil on troubled waters. We all have children and grandchildren we pray for. We love them and young or old we women are traumatized by the church’s action. It isn’t necessary to spook us like that continually. Our lesson was on Acts 4. We read verses 29 & 30 together and pray together for you. Love you. Grateful for you. Grandpa would be proud too.”
“Grandpa would be proud”. A minister for over 40 years who read the bible cover to cover every year. Who spent hours every day in prayer and bible study before eating breakfast. And the man never missed a meal. A man who embarrassingly sobbed like a baby every time he said goodbye to us because he loved us so much. I hear him in my grandma’s message. He comes again as my uncle (his son) emails a week later concluding with the words “don’t leave, your voice is too important”. Those words are neither given nor taken lightly. They are purposeful, heartfelt, and sincere. Everything I feel the church is not.
The personal messages keep coming. The emotions are raw as I read through the stories of disunity with the church. One from a gay man said how much he loved his church and wishes to come back. I hear the pain in his words as he longs for reconciliation and community with his church brothers and sisters. But in the end he knows reconciliation is not possible with the way things are currently. He is outcast.
Over and over the theme is the same. “The church doesn’t want me”. “I’m better off now that I left”. “They’ve pushed me out”. “I didn’t want to leave, but I can’t stay”. As I reflect on my own place in the church and read through the stories it seems like the question shouldn’t be “how can you leave”, but rather “why did it take so long”.
Those standing on the outside looking in don’t understand. To them the answer is clear. You need to make a change. But making that kind of change isn’t easy. That’s the struggle for so many who are frustrated with the decisions of their church. We love the church that we’ve been raised in. We feel deep connection with how it’s shaped us. So the pain is real as we anguish over the thought of leaving. To leave is frightening and relieving. “How can you leave” is the plea we make to ourselves. Where do we go? What is the right decision? Stay and fight or move on to find healing and peace somewhere else.