Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

When your church splits, it can feel as painful as a divorce.

BY: Matthew Paul Turner

 

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At first, our new life was lovely. The church's passion for God was inspiring and fresh. The people of that church became like blood relatives. My parents believed we had discovered the path to a truly God-filled experience.

But that slowly changed.

As is true with real families, our church family began to experience conflicts. Disagreements erupted over the pastor's theology, "church discipline," and certain rules-like the pastor asking families to sign over their personal property to the church. No matter how big or small the disagreements, they were--more often than not--simply left unresolved. Sometimes the pastor would lie to get out of handling the issue, and when people didn't agree with him, they were either asked to leave the church or left of their own accord. In a few cases, the congregation voted people out. As people left, the church leadership fed us lies about the "backsliders" to make us feel better about their angry departures.

As time passed, my parents began to question the church's leadership style and its harshness toward those who didn't follow the rules. My mom and dad knew they had chosen a very conservative church, and they were OK with that. It wasn't until they saw the damaging effects of a merciless, legalistic approach to the gospel that they began to worry.

They slowly began to realize that our church was much too concerned with its attendees' lifestyle. Some days it was the "sin" of going to movies, or whether or not unmarried couples were holding hands during church. Other days it was hearing about how one of the church ladies wore pants when she was at the supermarket, or catching one of the school's high school kids with a can of beer.

My parents witnessed our church becoming much more passionate about punishing than about being the message of Jesus. When they challenged the pastor, they were silenced or told they weren't acting "like good Christians should act." But like the wife who consistently takes back a deadbeat or abusive husband, my parents continued putting up with the church's harshness.

It wasn't until I was 15 that I truly began to see how the church's ugly version of Jesus hurt people. One of my Christian high school friends got pregnant. She wasn't the first who got kicked out of my school and church for getting pregnant, and she would not be the last. However, from the church's perspective, my friend's situation was different--because she was white and the boy who got her pregnant was black. When her secret was found out, she was kicked out of church and the school, and told she would not be welcomed back. Having to watch her walk through this already painful situation without her closest friends hurt.

By the time I was a senior at my Christian school, I was pretty sure I loved Jesus, but was beginning to harbor hatred for his house. Eventually, my feelings toward the church got so bad that every time I walked into the building, I got sick to my stomach with anxiety, frustration, and anger.

I didn't know I'd feel such deep hatred for other Christians
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