As you may have heard, a few years ago I stepped away from my faith. Since then I have been wrestling with rebuilding my identity: which elements of Christianity will remain a part of the core of who I am and what I will fight for. I don’t regret my days in the church because I lived a life that enriched those around me, and for that reason I have decided to keep the following Christian virtues (among others): community, self-sacrifice, and taking care of the poor and marginalized.
Now that I am weeks(!) away from bringing my first child into this world, I have been confronted with the need for me to improve the world she is coming into. Right now, unfortunately, America is not a good place to raise a mixed-race child of a non-US citizen immigrant. To you, my Christian friends, whom I’ve spent years within the church worshiping, praying, bible studying, and boba slurping… what exactly is the church doing about this?
From my perspective, there are two American Evangelical Churches. 1. The mainstream Evangelical Church: the majority, is more effective at communicating its message, more unified, and better funded. Its voice speaks the language of FEAR: fear the latin immigrant, the black male, the Arab refugee, the female with an accusation, the Central American seeking asylum… the list goes on. This church acts and votes and donates in step with the extreme-conservative-political machine.
Church 2. The remnant Evangelical Church is the minority, the representatives of the true faith of Jesus. It is poorly funded, disunified, with no message, meandering without leadership. This church should be loudly using a language of LOVE, boldly proclaiming that Christianity is about accepting and taking care of the most desperate of people (James 1:27). I believe that these Christians should be at the border ready to receive this migrant caravan from Honduras with an offer to shelter them in their own homes and churches. These Christians should be writing their legislators asking for Syrian and Yemeni refugees to enter the US so they can give them new lives in their own homes and churches. From my knowledge of you, this is the church that I know you belong to. But I don’t hear your voice, I don’t see what your church is doing.
I’m genuinely curious, what is the dialogue in your church today? What is the plan? Is the mainstream church the “elephant in the room” no one is talking about? Are the sermons in church about benign day-to-day Christian issues? Or are the leaders of the remnant church preaching fiery rebukes of the mainstream church and admonishing Christians to love the poor and marginalized? I cannot possibly summarize all of the hypocrisy of the mainstream church but one passage from scripture addresses the greater issue: 1 John 4: God is love, and perfect love drives out fear. In other words, Christians should be speaking the language of love and driving out the message of fear.
Even though I work outside of the church I soundly reject the mainstream message of fear, I condemn it as the work of lost-believers gathering leaders around them telling them what their “itching ears” want to hear (2 Tim 4:3). I loudly proclaim through social media, through protest, through donations, and through my voting that we should care for the poor and the immigrant. But lately I have found that it’s atheists and secular activists who are joining me in this message, why is the remnant church not out here defending itself? As a professing Christian, how could you allow this to happen? The mainstream church espouses a selfish, fear-based interpretation of scripture, non-Christians like myself defend the true message, and true believers like yourself seemingly remain silent. I am genuinely asking, what’s going on?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here that on Tuesday you do have an opportunity to make your voice heard and do something to correct the hypocrisy of the mainstream church. After pouring millions into getting Evangelicals to vote, the mainstream church is expected to vote similarly to how they did in 2016, a huge majority in favor of the extreme-conservative platform. I am urging you to stand up for your faith and stand with me by voting for policies that demand our government do what Jesus would do: advocate for the poor and needy.
I am mainly asking you to engage me here. If there is a movement among the remnant, tell me, I want to be a part of it. If there is no action and you are wanting to do something, engage me here and let this conversation be your first act. If you genuinely think that the mainstream church is acting in line with scripture then please allow me the opportunity to try to convince you otherwise. One thing I know for sure, now is the time to act, because if we stay on this course in one generation our country could be an unrecognizable and hostile world for our children live in.
6 thoughts on “An open letter to my Christian Friends:”
Having an open dialogue in such divisive times is so important. Thank you for reaching out.
My pleasure, thank you for reading
Hey Kai! Thanks for reaching out.
I can start with what my local church is “doing.” I don’t know if you’d personally categorize my church as “mainstream” or “remnant,” but from my perspective, I would categorize us as “trying:” trying to work out what it means to be under the kingship of Jesus. Under our newish senior pastor, we revamped our mission statement from “helping one another mature, so that we can impact our world for Christ” to “we are a community, helping everyone discover faith in Jesus, grow in love for God and others, and live as ambassadors of hope in the power of the Spirit.” Given the diversity of experiences and passions of any large group of people, there are so many different ways that people in our church are putting their faith into action, but I’m going to highlight just a few (either because they are supported from the top-down, or have a significant grassroots presence, or because I personally really care about them 🙂):
– We used to do a thing called iCare, where we led other churches in the community to have a day of service — usually helping to clean or garden at schools. This has shifted in the last few years to have a specific focus on supporting foster families and foster kids. With over 55,000 foster children in the CA system, our church can’t put a big dent in the problem, but I can see the ways we are obediently working to serve and love the “least of these.” There are probably over a dozen core families at our church who have chosen to foster or adopt these children (who are high-risk because of their trauma), and my hubby and I are personally invested in many of these families by providing friendship and tangible, real-needs support. Our church has also put on some really cool practical-needs-meeting events and initiatives, too — from organizing an iCare day-of-respite where volunteers went to different foster families (not just Christians or members of our church, but the community at large) to perform around-the-house projects for them, while the families came to our church for bounce houses, fun times, and a BBQ, and other people cooked and packed a complete hot meal to take home. This kind of care has been extended by different groups (including my small group of high school girls) to include putting together freezer meals that can be handed out to families who are in a crunch and putting together “welcome boxes” for kids who enter the foster system.
– Our church supports a missionary who has just been re-sent out to work amongst Syrian refugees in Jordan. We put together a well-attended event last year to highlight Syrian refugees and the work she would be doing in Jordan, and I thought it was a really great presentation that provided some of the historical and social context of the refugee problem and gave specific info on what the refugee Iraqi church in Jordan is doing to help refugee Syrians (which was what she had been part of). We are hoping there will be interest in our church to send a team this summer to work with the refugees, but in the meantime, the church and many individuals in the church financially support her in her work. Closer to home, there are individuals who have faithfully served in Sac with the Arab American Learning Center to help refugees get settled and find what they need. Again, the youth group got involved and refurbished furniture to donate to these refugees.
– There is a segment of our church who is very passionate about sex-trafficking and modern-day-slavery. Several individuals support local organizations that educate and rescue trafficked girls. Significant interest has resulted in lots of grassroots fundraisers. As another example, one of my best friends founded a non-profit online store to sell items made by former victims of trafficking, homelessness, forced labor, etc. to help provide the former victims sustainable income. As of today, her little store has raised $100K, which even after taxes and fees, provides quite an amazing amount toward keeping these women and men safely employed.
– This is not so much social justice-related, but our church has been growing in the area of integrating emotional and spiritual health. When the new senior pastor first joined on, he had the staff go through the Emotionally Healthy Church, which I agree was a much-needed step. Since then, the church has also offered the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality course, and is finishing up the Emotionally Healthy Relationships course. If you’re not familiar with that series, the main crux is that Christians need to be emotionally healthy people, not just full of “spiritual” knowledge, who can recognize and feel emotions, avoid unhealthy patterns, learn skills for healthier relationships, etc. I’m a big fan of this change in our church atmosphere; it’s really led to vulnerability and authenticity at all levels. Another never-before-seen change is that we’re hosting a conference in the spring called (for now) Theology of the Body, to actually start a conversation about sexuality. What the what?!
To be sure, I think our church would disappoint you in some ways. We just aren’t very diverse, and the lack of voices of color means that racial issues are not getting the focus that you would probably want to see. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been an organized attempt to educate our congregation about racial injustice or how to even talk about racial issues. I’m personally only just becoming more aware of these long-standing systemic abuses and injustices in the last several months, and I regret not taking the time to learn and mourn and take action sooner. (At the same time, I also recognize that we can’t ALL care about EVERYTHING to the same level of intensity, so I also accept myself for who I am and what things have come across my path to care about at this particular point in time. 🙂)
Our church has historically stayed away from “issues” that might be controversial, and I can definitely still see the same reticence even now by not drawing a hard line on the areas they consider “grey,” and sometimes I wish they would just make a decision: can women preach or be “pastors” yet, and why or why not? are we affirming to gays, and why or why not? I have appreciated, however, the oblique ways that our pastors have shed light on the incompatibility of Trump’s policies and comments with what Jesus and the arc of the Bible teaches. Without actually naming Trump, there have definitely been moments where the mostly one-sided incivility of our political dialogue has been lamented and where racist and anti-immigrant policies have been held up next to what the Bible actually says. I haven’t talked to the leadership personally to know their individual reasons for not speaking more strongly, but I imagine it’s partially rooted in a respect for the diversity of opinion at our church and a strategy to focus on the truth of the Bible, allowing it room to work in individual minds and hearts as the spirit wills. Also… we are a church full of broken and flawed people, and definitely are learning and growing and making mistakes as we go.
Outside of our local church, I think there ARE so many Jesus-followers who aren’t Franklin Graham or Paige Patterson followers, who ARE making significant impacts in the areas of social justice. I’m not super well-read or well-informed, but I am a fan of organizations such as International Justice Mission (sex trafficking and modern-day slavery), Preemptive Love (work in Iraq and Syria), Compassion and World Vision (taking the child-sponsor approach), a Pregnancy Resource Center (because I still firmly believe that the unborn are human, too), and Together Rising (the most liberal org on our list who do really awesome things with refugees, detained immigrants, single moms, racial injustice, and pretty much any hot-button issue that comes up), among others. I’ve attended the Global Leadership Summit for the past two years; I’m super deeply disappointed in Bill Hybels’ recent sexual harassment revelation (he’s the former head pastor of Willow Creek church, which puts on the GLS), but one of the value of the GLS for me has been hearing about some of the initiatives being done around the world by Jesus-followers, whether it’s transforming healthcare in African countries or fighting corruption in South America. These are the stories that mainstream media doesn’t cover; seems like when I scroll through Apple News, I only come across the latest crazy and inflammatory thing that Paige Patterson or some other “evangelical for Trump” has said.
Anyway. Those are my thoughts. I’d also love to hear from you at some point about your journey — what led you out of faith/belief, and what keeps you out. It’s a loss to the church, in my opinion; we need the prophetic role that you could play in calling the church to be the church, in holding the plumb line against us to see where we’ve lost our way. The body of Christ needs our activists as well as our contemplatives. I’m also genuinely curious what your reasons are for unbelief; from my immersed perspective, the evidence for Jesus and the reliability of the Bible seems such a given, that it’s hard for me to see a different perspective on why someone would believe otherwise, and what basis one would have for morality and justice and self-sacrifice without it (edit: I guess if you believe in a different spiritual reality/higher power, you would have your own logical basis for that, so I think the latter half of that statement is more for someone who doesn’t believe in any higher power — and I don’t know where you stand on that!). If you’re up for it, I would like to grow in understanding what goes on behind the scenes when someone walks away from the church or Christianity or Jesus.
Thanks for reading all this (I know I can be wordy)! I am so excited for your upcoming transition to fatherhood, and I still think of our high school and college years together fondly.
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Corrie, sorry for the delay in my response. I had a baby. Thanks for posting here, at long last, my response:
I have found that a lot of the “remnant” churches put their coin and time toward work with foster kids/adoption. I admire what your church is doing, but in sticking with the message of my blog, how could you allow certain members of your church vote for and/or not speak out against imprisoning children at our border? Why isn’t that passion for helpless children translated into action when a MOVEMENT of evangelicals is supporting denying help to refugee children?
I also greatly admire your church’s work with Syrian refugees, that, along with the work with orphans, really strikes to the heart of James 1:27. I praise your church for that work and coin, but my question again is this: your work with Syrian refugees should only heighten the necessity for your church, clergy and lay, to link arms and DEMAND the muslim ban and the limit on refugees from Syria be lifted immediately! Why was it liberals, atheists, secularists at the airports protesting? Where were your church members?
Fuck sex-trafficking. When I was a Christian I found that to be the most embarrassing thing that happened under my church’s watch. The next time your church proposes $X for a new building or parking lot or something I think you and Steve should demand that $.5X be spent on releasing more women from that bondage. Just my opinion.
“I imagine it’s partially rooted in a respect for the diversity of opinion at our church and a strategy to focus on the truth of the Bible, allowing it room to work in individual minds and hearts as the spirit wills.” This excerpt from you I think really gets to the bottom of what I’m asking. I believe this summarizes the gooey grey reason clergy and lay Christians aren’t standing up to this heresy. Respect for being able to articulate it, but I hope you agree, and it’s the point of this blog to get others to agree: I respect church’s desire to focus on Truth (big T) and diversity and for the sake of unity staying away from controversial issues, but the SEVERITY of the situation has long ago usurped the reasoning behind your quote above. And I think history will judge you poorly for not speaking up while you could.
All those other organizations you listed, YES, more of those. Christians who are digging wells, getting mosquito nets to Africans are doing the unglamorous work that help people that don’t get the media attention. But I keep going back to my same question, why hasn’t the severity of the situation brought this arm of the faith, the remnant arm, to unify in a message of “enough of this bullshit!!”?
Corrie, I’m flattered by your penultimate paragraph. I’m hoping that I can still hold a plumb to the wall as a post christian with 18 years in the church. I would love to tell you about why I left the faith, but honestly, I should do it publicly in a blog engry because it’s a necessary part of the puzzle with the whole postchristianity.net thing. I laude you for your curiosity on my experience and I promise I will respond in kind.
Okay, let’s try this again.
A few thoughts on the post:
First, your distinction between the “mainstream” and the “remnant” churches is a good one (as you know, the language of the “remnant” comes from the Old Testament — God preserving for Himself a faithful people even within the midst of a faithless nation). Another way of looking at it is the visible vs. the invisible church — that is, those who belong, outwardly, to the church, and those who are truly saved (known only to God). Not all of those who go to church are truly following Jesus.
Second, I think that to some degree it’s a matter of optics. I do not believe that the mainstream media is a vast liberal conspiracy; I do think that most media tends to lean left, and that most media is generally unfriendly, at the least, to faithful Christianity. And that most media, right, left or up and down, is looking for the juiciest stories. Which would be more likely to be covered by national media and reach a wide audience: a church whose members are welcoming Syrian refugees into their homes and sharing Jesus’ love with them, or a church whose pastor is accused of a scandal? Plus, as you said, the “remnant” church is underfunded and disunified. There are churches all over the country that are doing amazing work, but don’t receive recognition for it. When we first moved to Kansas City, I led worship for a Southern Baptist church that worked with a high school down the street — mostly poor kids of color. They raised money for the school, cooked meals for the football team and cheered them on in games and formed relationships with the kids. When a 14-year-old girl with autism was raped at the school by fellow students, the church led the way in fighting for justice for her in the legal system and finding the resources (finances, counseling, medical care) that she and her family needed. A few local news stations took a little interest in the story — a five-minute segment on one or two nights — but most of the city never knew about the girl or the church that helped her. I’m positive stories like this play out across the country every day, but because the churches are focused on actually doing the work and because the media isn’t very interested, for various reasons, we don’t hear about them.
Third, I disagree with your statement that “Christianity is about accepting and taking care of the most desperate of people.” Christianity is about a holy God who sent His Son to die and rise from the dead to redeem a sinful people, and to restore everything that was broken by the fall of humankind. As a part of that restoration, we are called to take care of the most desperate of people; by doing so we are proclaiming a coming kingdom in which there will be no poverty or addiction or hunger or homelessness (or racial divisions, or sexual abuse, or governmental oppression). But that’s the effect, not the cause.
Fourth, not specifically to the point of your post but in a broader sense, there are many Christian leaders who have spoken out against Trump and his policies, including Al Mohler and Russell Moore (arguably the two most influential voices in the Southern Baptist Convention), John Piper (a Reformed Baptist), Tim Keller (a Presbyterian pastor in New York City)… the list goes on. If someone says there are no faithful Christian leaders who are standing up for what they believe in the face of Trump and evangelicalism with no backbone, they’re not looking very far.
Finally, I would take issue with this statement: “I am urging you to stand up for your faith and stand with me by voting for policies that demand our government do what Jesus would do: advocate for the poor and needy.” There are many followers of Jesus who are deeply committed to caring for the poor and needy who believe that giving that responsibility to the government is, to put it mildly, not the best way to do it. The government is one among many options, and faithful Christians differ on the best strategies. Just because someone doesn’t think the government should be given the primary care of the poor and needy doesn’t mean they don’t care about them (many would actually think the opposite).
More than two cents, perhaps, but those are my thoughts for whatever they’re worth. Thanks for the invitation to comment; we all agree that more open-minded, thoughtful and courteous discussion can only be a good thing!
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Love your writing and self realization. I experienced that fear based manipulation. Child abuse. Paranoia. Complete hypocrisy. Opposite of love.
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