Shamed and Shunned

Churches are full of people hiding. I'm in the Atlanta airport as I write this, and during this layover I've gotten three messages from people who asked me for advice because they are afraid of being "found out" at church.

One is a man who doubts a lot about the Bible and wonders if God is real or not. Another is a person who told me she's afraid of going to Hell because her beliefs about God have changed–even though she's still captivated by Jesus. The third is a young woman who is exclusively attracted to other women.

All three of these people long to know and feel close to God. All three are terrified of discussing their relationship with God with their friends at Church, and are even more afraid of talking to their pastors.

Houston, we have a problem.

The Church was created by Jesus. We Christians are a diverse bunch–diverse enough to not always accept that other streams of the Christian tradition are even Christian at all. But we all agree that Jesus is our main focus, and that we've made a decision to follow him.

Imagine for a second that people were afraid to ask their doctor about serious medical problems because they'd seen their doctor rebuking or shunning patients. How healthy would we be? The Church is an institution designed to help people know Jesus and grow in their understanding of him. Yet we've created a culture in our churches that is antagonistic toward issues of spiritual health.

It's got to stop. Churches can't be in the "shame and shun" business. We should be the people with the most radical capacity to love, forgive, and accept. We are the ones who should rush toward the broken, never flinching from any "unclean" wound.

If someone says, "I'm not sure I believe in God," then give them a hug and tell them about your moments of doubt. Offer grace to the person who opens up about new or changing beliefs.

I don't care what you believe about marriage equality or LGBT issues. For the love of God, stop shunning and shaming gay people who want to follow Jesus. You are absolutely no more holy than they are.

Church should be the place where people are the most comfortable being open and honest. If you are afraid to share your heart at church, it's time to find a new church. Safe churches are out there.