Looking back on 2020 is humbling.
It’s been a tough year with COVID and plans crumbling and retreating into small bubbles, but on the other hand I’ve also written two books, created The Orgasm Course, and gotten so much done because I haven’t been speaking!
But on a personal level, we feel as if this has been the Year of Feeling Homeless. As we have analyzed our survey results of 20,000 women, and seen those in power unwilling to admit that what they’re saying about sex hurts people, it’s caused us to feel adrift. So today, on the podcast, I talk first with Rebecca and then with Keith about our own faith journeys this year. A bit of a different podcast–it’s just really personal and doesn’t tackle any particular topic. But it lets you in more on our hearts!
And, of course, you can watch on YouTube too!
Timeline of the Podcast
0:36 How we’ve felt ‘homeless’
7:20 How in 2021 we will burn bridges with the truth
15:31 What is important in a ‘safe’ church
27:58 How we want 2021 to look for our ministry
30:16 Keith explains how he feels about speaking up
33:49 Sheila shares a tough personal story of church leadership in her own life
39:00 We believe what we believe about women BECAUSE of the bible
47:36 What you unknowingly communicate with church attendance
52:07 Sheila leaves you with her personal verses and encouragement for the future
Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- The Great Sex Rescue (you can pre-order now and help us!)
- 98 Ways You Can Sin Against Your Husband (that horrible hand-out from biblical counseling)
- Marg Mowczko’s site looking at women and Scripture
- Paul and Gender, Cynthia Westfall’s book that was mentioned last week
- The Unconditional Respect podcast from last week, where we tackled Love & Respect
- The Stumbling Block podcast from two weeks ago, when we tackled another sacred cow
- How you can spread the word and make a difference! Follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook–and sign up for my emails!
Why Do Faith Communities So Often Go Astray?
On the podcast we were personal, and I’m not going to sum it up today. I just welcome you to listen in.
But I’d like to share a few thoughts I’ve had since about why it is that things often go haywire in faith communities.
When faith becomes institutionalized, then doctrine usually gets stressed over practice
Here’s what tends to happen: A great revival sweeps through, and more people come to know Jesus. They form churches, and denominations. And those grow in size.
Then the challenge becomes: “how can we keep going and keep what we have and grow?” And the answer usually becomes: “we need to show people that they have a reason to belong here and not somewhere else.”
In order to maintain the institution, you need to cultivate an “us vs. them” mentality. People need to feel as if they’re part of the “in” group so that they will keep coming and dedicating resources.
Now, obviously we know that we’re part of the “in” group and that we have a certain identity because we are in Christ. But lots of places claim that. So it has to go deeper than that.
What usually happens is that power structures (like denominations, or big churches, or big organizations) develop elaborate doctrines, and elaborate rules of how one acts to show that one is part of the “in” crowd.
So this group may believe X,Y and Z about the Bible, and may also not watch these movies, and may all vote for this political party, while another group does it differently. But the point is that once something is institutionalized, there is an inevitable pull to maintaining that institution by codifying beliefs and by creating identities that revolve around how we act. You may say, “well, it should, because Jesus told us that we were supposed to act differently than the world!”
Yes, He did. But the actions that He was calling for were those that would transform the world and draw others to Himself. The actions that institutions often call for are not those that are directed at the world, but instead those that we practice in order to distinguish ourselves from others.
I am not against institutionalized religion, by the way.
I actually think it’s important, because otherwise doctrine can go way off base, and we do need accountability. But we also need to be very aware of the pitfalls that come with it to guard against them. And we can see those same pitfalls throughout history.
When Christianity becomes institutionalized, it often focuses more on maintaining identity than on kingdom work.
Again, I’m saying “often”, not “always”, because I do believe that some form of institution and organization is inevitable when you have large groups of people coming together for a common task.
But what we have done is emphasized what you need to believe and how you need to act over fulfilling our mission to transform the world.
This doesn’t mean that doctrine is unimportant, or that there aren’t “must haves”. I believe that the Apostle’s Creed sums up well our must haves, and most relate to the personhood, divinity, and work of Jesus. And as Scripture says, whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:13).
The problem is that, because we have become so institutionalized, we view our mission as making sure that others become like us, rather than the mission that Jesus gave us. Yes, we’re to preach the good news. But I think we’ve forgotten WHY it’s good news. It’s not only so that you can get into heaven and have eternal life. Think about what Jesus said when He introduced His ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
When jesus came, He changed things. The blind could see; the captives were freed; the good news was preached to the poor. And the good news was not only salvation. It was that the kingdom of God was at hand, a kingdom that was not about power (Matthew 20:25-28), but was instead about love and justice.
We have forgotten so much of that because we have focused on orthodoxy (believing right) over orthopraxy (acting right), as Rebecca said in the podcast this week.
But what did Jesus emphasize?
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
And love, to Christ, is active. It’s sharing your tunic with one who has none; it’s sharing your cloak with one who has none. It’s part of bringing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
As you look back over history, the institutionalized church has more often than not gotten important things wrong–while Christians outside were always calling the church to more.
This is a very important distinction. Christians did not get things wrong. Jesus did not get things wrong. The institutionalized church got things wrong.
During the Crusades there were monks calling for the halt of them. During slavery there were SO MANY calling for the abolition of it (including my ancestors). William Wilberforce powerfully called the British government to outlaw slavery, despite the personal cost to himself. In the United States, abolitionists, even in the south, fought against the church that enabled and supported slavery. And many denominations themselves fought against slavery.
It was Christian movements outside of institutionalized religion that fought to end child labour. My great-great grandmother fought in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in London, calling for an end to alcohol sales, largely because alcohol was responsible for so much abuse of women and poverty for children, since men would drink their paycheque away.
Here’s a bad picture of me outside the pub in London where my great-great-grandfather drank before he came to Christ–and a picture of my great-great-grandfather afterwards.
It was Christian women in Manitoba who fought for the right to vote, and who fought for women to be considered “persons” in British law, all the way to the British Supreme Court.
And yet, in all of these efforts, they were fighting AGAINST their churches at the time, who wanted to maintain the status quo.
When you want to see where God is working, throughout the Bible, throughout history, even throughout modern history, it is more often those “calling in the wilderness” than those on podiums and stages.
This actually gives me hope. When I get dismayed that the powers that be aren’t doing anything about something, and aren’t showing Jesus, I remember that it is a cycle: people call the church back to a real relationship with Jesus; that becomes institutionalized and calcified; and prophets once again call the church back.
And each time we call the church back, I think we get closer to listening to King Jesus. We see more of Him. When one big issue is resolved (like slavery), it’s easier to see the next one.
So as we’re talking about in this podcast, we’re feeling homeless right now from the institutionalized church. I do think it’s temporary; we’ve found a new church online that we like, and that after COVID we will likely join. But we know that in the broader Christian world, I am becoming anathema because I am calling us to more than really, really bad and toxic marriage and sex teaching.
But the history of the church is those outside the halls of power calling the church back to Jesus. So we must never mistake the institutions for Jesus. That’s how we get disillusioned. That’s how we get complacent.
This advent, as you’re waiting anew for Jesus, and reflecting on this year that’s past, ask Jesus to show you in a fresh way why He came.
It wasn’t only so that we could all say the sinner’s prayer. It was also for transformation. I pray for more and more of that in my own life, and in the church, in 2021.
What do you think? Have you felt homeless this year? Or have you found a home? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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