DISCLAIMER: I hope the anger that inspired these words and thoughts will not take off in a convoluted rant that turns the reader away. I hope to write the rest of this post with clarity of mind, strength of spirit, and honor to God Almighty. Religious types can either read on and be informed or turn away and remain in your judgmental fog of ignorance.
This Sunday morning, as I always do, I poured my coffee and joined my husband who is already up most days, watching the news or on Sunday morning, televised church services. Today he had the channel already tuned in to “In Touch” with Charles Stanley, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta (not the denomination that I am a member of but was ‘raised in’..so-to speak.) I already have a history of sorts with this pastor because he has made me angry on several occasions over other sermons concerning “courage” and “depression” that always brings up the topic of suicide. To this man, if you lack courage and have depression, you lack God in your life (again restated in his sermon this morning.) Of course, I am always sensitive to the subject of suicide because of my son’s manner of death. Those who are faithful readers of my blog know that I am a Christian and so is my entire family. Because of this my radar goes up when religious people make any statements of their understanding of suicide…or rather, “committing suicide”..which, by the way, needs to be changed to “died by suicide.”
I wrote an email to Charles Stanley during the first year of my son’s death by suicide, pointing out his ignorance of suicide and mental illness. His overall sermon unfairly judged depression and those “who give up or do not have God in their lives.” I could not finish hearing because of my raw nerves and anxious heart. If he finished that sermon with any understanding of suicide or mental illness, I apologize for my own judgment of him….but, as it was going…his words were ill-fated to me, a grieving Christian mother who was searching for comfort and answers from God by way of those “chosen” to impart it. I have learned a valuable lesson from the slap in the face I received: to get my understanding straight from God and not the so called…”called.” Stanley did, however, have his staff send me a comforting letter concerning the soul of a Christian. As a matter of fact, it was not Stanley who answered my email…again, someone on his staff.
Religious types look at all the flaws in the human character as sinful. And certainly, God’s Word tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the wages of sin is death”…which tells me that none of us are getting out of this life alive unless Jesus returns. I don’t know if the reader will have an understanding of the Christian faith unless they have accepted Christ by faith and are on their own path of learning how to live as Jesus would want for us. The Bible demonstrates God’s character and love for His creation. In saying all of this….I am tired and fed up with preachers who have no empathy, compassion, and understanding of just how bad it can be for everyone “out here.” I am sick of the moralists who have passed judgment, using the very word of God who warns us NOT to do that. Jesus was not happy (as in ANGRY) with the religious people of His time and I am sure that prevails to this day. Religion has given Christianity a bad name, throughout time, all in the name of Jesus. What was meant for good has been turned sour by mankind…could it be the whole of it is flawed because of this? Could it be that people who dare to say they were “called” to the ministry weren’t really “called” but rather chose their career so they could have “free housing” and a more than handsome salary paid by a congregation that wants to “hear” more? I do not profess to know their hearts. I can say what I see and feel from my own experiences. Not everyone operates on “selfish” and there are very sincere people who know how to show love in the holiest of ways. But church people have filled my mouth up with profanities as of late. Please forgive me.
My understanding of the Church is that it was established for believers to congregate and encourage one another, as well as, to worship our Lord…to pray and have communion. But that is just the building or place ….the real church dwells within us who have Christ as our Savior. I am the church wherever I go. I am the church, sitting here posting this blog. I do not need the building to give me value. In fact, it is within those walls where I have felt more or less “unloved” by my fellow congregants. “All have sinned….” yes, even the lady who sits on the front row who “gives her money” faithfully, the man who shakes your hand vigorously and loves you with his smile, the deacons, the elders, the nuns, the priests, the pastors, etc….ALL.
Most of my life I have been a church goer. As a member of the Methodist faith for the past 22 years, we have seen a number of ministers who have come and gone…as it is the Methodist way of doing things. They serve about 4 years and then are sent to another church. They all differ in style of message and delivery; some draw the congregation in and we learn from them, some inspire, some are just plain boring, fulfilling the last duties before retirement….some are all about bringing in money and some just “following in the family footsteps”…whatever the reason…people can feel if the “calling” is sincere. More and more I have found fault with the church/pastors since our tragedy because it has not lived up to my expectations as has been taught to me all these years. It was during the worst time in my life that the church has failed me in many ways.
I am home today instead of being at church…the message we heard this morning on tv turned off because of some man’s interpretation of what he believes is truth. I am learning that I must be inspired only by the Word as I read and seek out the answers through prayer and expectation from God…not mankind. My son is gone because …well, we die. He was injured and maimed by all the things in this life that should have been a positive…LOVE. His sad emotions and mental state were not something he would have chosen for himself….nor others who have died this way…or face it, any other way.
The Church is supposed to be about love. It is supposed to teach it and show it. We are all supposed to love because GOD IS LOVE. We were given passionate love and physical love by the God who created it…and yet, mankind has poisoned it. The secularized kind of love is an indictment of sorts as to how that poison is awash in our society. Holy love is what the church professes to have and yet, it fails and is no better than that of the world’s view.
Recently, I sent a lengthy email to our fairly new pastor. I expressed my personal and heartfelt concern about the need for the topic of suicide/mental illness to be addressed from the pulpit as a means to those of us (several in our church) to cope with the tragedy and to more or less educate the spiritual aspect to our members. I told him of my blog being dedicated to the subject of suicide. Here is the reply:
“Thank you Dale for the email, I was not aware of your son. The response of the church should always be one of love and care. I will read your blog and I look forward to speaking with you. Mike remains in my prayers.”
My husband had surgery on his hand a few months ago (reference to Mike) …..other than that short response pointing out what I already knew, there was no “I am sorry to hear about your loss” kind of compassion…only that he “had not heard about your son.” The overall edict about the church is a generalized statement about how a church should be, what one hopes it to be, what God would have it to be. His brief response to me is indicative of how the church and its leaders is an insipid arm that very seldom practices what is preached. Pastors included.
I have yet to hear from this pastor who obviously has other more important things to attend to…this the season of stewardship and money gathering in our denomination. Oh we of little money and position. Meanwhile, I will garner from the Bible what I know God wants me to know and be comforted by that. I don’t need interpreters. I will not look to the church for anything more than the concrete and brick that it is, that houses hurting, imperfect people, that gives the appearance of holiness to an unsuspecting outside, that would suffer at the hands of an angry Jesus if He were to return today to turn over the pews and pulpits for all the corruption it symbolizes.