Thank you for your recent words in, “The Ugly in Christianity.”
Those like me in the Church of Christ need those like you to keep writing such stories, and we need to read them, hear them, and accept them as true no matter how much it may hurt to do so, because they serve as an ongoing reminder of the need to practice humility and graciousness. Stories like yours bear witness to our sins of prejudice, sectarianism, pride, and exclusivity, much less our innumerable lesser sins.
I cannot tell you how many times I have grown frustrated with Christians in my own tribe of the Churches of Christ, as well as other Christians who identify within conservative Christianity. I have several friends, who like the two of us, grew up in the Church of Christ somewhere and upon leaving for college found our adolescent faith and experience in the church wanting – often feeling betrayed by their church or even directly hurt by it for one reason or another.
I imagine there were several folks who read your words and identified with them all too closely. So, to you and to your readers please accept this small apology from one minister who works in a very small corner of Atlanta – “I am sorry. I am sorry for the way in which you were treated by people who claim to represent Jesus and for the ways in which Christians, especially among the Churches of Christ, continue to do you harm instead of good.”
I wish that you knew the kind of people I work with and those who belong to other Churches of Christ in and around Atlanta that I know. It is possible, as you stated, that we are the exception to the rule, but the more I travel and the more people I meet within our small tribe of Christianity the more convinced I am that, to use a very Christian idea for a moment, the Spirit of God is awakening a movement within a group of people who may be conservative in their high view of Scripture, but are downright liberal in their love for their city and their neighborhood.
Take for example our church, Corners Church of Christ, and the work we are doing with illegal immigrants who we believe are treated unfairly (you can read more about some of our involvement here as featured in the Huffington Post in May 2016). Or the work we are doing with disadvantaged (and often immigrant) children all around our city to help improve their educational skills.
[Please understand I am not bragging here – there are more things we could be doing, probably better ways to go about it at times, and it is quite possible we mess up a bit along the way, but these are Christian people caring not just for insiders – those who worship with us, but for some of the most vulnerable outsiders as well.]
Or take Campus Church of Christ who spends every summer feeding children who experience food insecurity during the summer months all around them – children who live in transient/temporary housing, and children who, if it weren’t for their work would lack access to regular meals during the summer because the schools they belong cannot feed them outside of the school year. Or, consider their work with those in the community whose lives are wrecked by substance abuse.
Or take Northlake Church of Christ who is heavily involved in the refugee work in Clarkston, GA. This church works closely as a church and in partnership with other non-profit groups to care for those fleeing war torn countries in the Middle east and north Africa.
Or the countless other Churches of Christ (not to mention so so many other Christian Churches) in Atlanta and beyond who deeply love those all around them.
Why do these churches do what they do? Because this is what a church trying their best to follow Jesus does. Because this is what happens when a group attempts to follow Jesus instead of someone’s politic, ideology or selfish desires – regardless of the name outside their building.
Does any of this undo the damage done to you and countless others by churches with our name on the outside of it? NO, of course not and we should not allow any list of good things happening, including mine, to drown out the bad things being done! You are absolutely right – this is the ugly side of Christianity in general and churches like mine in particular.
I write all of this to say I’m sorry, and to also briefly offer another side to what’s happening in the world. Just as you rightly scorn those belonging to the Churches of Christ for stereotyping others by the worst examples in a group – I would counter by saying those outside (even if they’ve seen behind the curtain before as you have) might benefit from practicing such restraint as well.
If you are ever in Atlanta on a Sunday, you are always welcome to visit with us at the Corners Church of Christ.
Grace and Peace,
Corners Church of Christ