The Family Church

I feel like the teenager who is watching the drama unfold as their personal hero, a famous athlete takes the stand and admits their guilt for cheating, breaking the rules, fixing the game, accepting bribes, and taking performance enhancing drugs. I feel that sense of loss as that athlete is banished from the game and from the walls of my room – the posters, the magazine, the game saved to watch later and the jersey with their number must go.

I feel like the person who really believed in the candidate for governor. The one that signed up to call people to tell them about how great he is and why they should vote for him in the upcoming election. Only to realize that the campaign is going down in flames because the word is out about his past. People are coming out of the wood works to describe how terribly he treated them – how badly he betrayed them to suit his own desires for power.

When C.S. Lewis wrote: ““You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.” Something about that statement seemed odd. It wasn’t one that brought me any comfort or contentment. Today, this version will do: “You came out of the Southern Baptist Church,” said He. “And that is both honor enough to uplift the poorest soul, and shame enough to humble the richest soul. Be at peace.”

Much of who I am is the result of many years spent as a Southern Baptist, so it breaks my heart when I hear account after account when my beloved denomination perpetuated an evil, hid the truth, and called it good. To me, my church was two different entities at two specific times of my life. As a child, it was a relatively good thing. As an adult, not so much.

Not all of my memories of my SBC churches were bad. Children were always seen as special and usually spared any unpleasantness. I was unaware of everything that my church was teaching the adults because children had a separate curriculum.

Not all of my memories of my SBC churches were good. It wasn’t an easy transition into the adult crowd. The expectations increased as if I was supposed to learn the new rules to the game by playing my part even though I had no idea what that was. Questions of any kind were not welcome. Truth be told, I still feel stuck in-between: too old for the young adult ministries and too young for the adult (married with kids) ministries.

That is to say that it doesn’t surprise me that my beloved denomination is capable of harming people. It doesn’t surprise me that in their overzealous emphasis on all things Biblical living that they are offending, insulting, marginalizing, ignoring, blaming, etc. anyone they think doesn’t match up by the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and countless more.

In the next few decades,  four times as many people are expected to flee from the Southern Baptist denomination than join it. I think I know why – I’ve already mention marginalization: the process of putting or keeping (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group. It’s the unfortunate result of the household codes being the basis upon which God’s household, the church, operates.

The problem is that there are just as many single people as there are couples in the world right now. The household codes tell people how to be a family, but there’s no such provision for single members of the faith other than Paul’s admission that it was “good to be single as I am so that single people can focus entirely on serving God.” The church tends to have only one way of serving God, as a family – so they always turn that around to “but it is always better to marry.” Because then they have a framework for which (former) singles are allowed to serve – as husband and wife, as father and mother. After all, since God’s servants, the overseers, the deacons, and the pastors have to be very good managers of their households in order to keep the Church functioning as it should, then how can single people (the future leaders of the church) serve God without being a part of a household to prove that they are indeed capable and also qualified to do so? Since by definition singles are not a family, they have no representation in a church that is a collection of households.

But it’s not enough to be a family, one must be the right kind of family in order to be able to fully participate – a biblical family. Ancient households consisted of a patriarch, the oldest free male and his wife (wives if he was wealthy enough to support more than one, monogamy was not generally the rule.) All of their sons would remain at home as long as they lived. Their sons wives would move in and have children. All of their daughters would remain at home until they were of age to be married, at which point they would move out of their father’s household and into their husband’s (father-in-law’s usually.) It was not uncommon for the heads of households to be masters that owned slaves, male and female as well as their children. The result is that  a household could very easily be upwards of seventy people; no wonder that Colossians 3-4 and Ephesians 5:21-6:9 had so much advice about managing a Christian household.

Today, the Christian ideal is more like a nuclear family: the husband is the head of the household, he lives with his wife and their children until the children are of age to move out – at some point the husband and wife will be all the household there is as the children have grown up and began households of their own. And we don’t do slavery anymore, so that’s different. Can advice written for a household of seventy or so be true for a household of seven? That also tends to marginalize all other sorts of families, ones that involve remarriage, or divorce or anything and everything non-traditional as being less holy, less God-designed than the Biblical ideal. After all, if they have not been managed Biblically, then it is only right that they have no representation or say in the running of the church.

The two have been inseparably intertwined, the church and the Christian household. Because of the order of things, millions of people have very little, almost no say at all in how the church runs or operates. The ones that do have the say in how the church operates seem to have very little interest in making changes so that more people can have more say. And since the authority works from the top down, then the people with no say have no authority. They tend to have almost no framework for how to serve the church.

Which is why on Southern Baptist forums it’s not uncommon to ask: “I’m interested in leading a ministry, but I’m single. Is that acceptable?” For which the answer is usually no. Ministry is for the married, the managers of households. “My husband refuses to come to church, what can I do?” Nothing, if you’re husband is a no-show, then you’re barely better off than being single – but not by much. “I’ve just graduated high school and really want to serve God, what’s the best way to do that?” Get married and have children – only then will you be able to experience the full meaning of the gospel picture of marriage and be able to serve the Church.

And that is how Christianity becomes Churchianity, a nudge away from the teachings of Jesus, a dubious interpretation of a confusing translation, and usual emphasis on the wrong ideas gets us off track. Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. The Church says that we can only get to Him through them. Which is why I feel so betrayed by my former denomination – it’s bad enough that they’re doing this in Jesus name, it’s worse when their teachings perpetuate abuse and marginalize the lives of hundreds of thousands of people that Jesus died to save because they don’t fit God’s household for a lack of households of their own.

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...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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