Church Outside the Walls

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This is why I haven’t been to a local church in over a year. This is why I am finding my own understanding. This is why I call myself an agnostic theist more often than outright “Christian,” because if these men are the allies we women are supposed to have, then I am unsure I want to align myself with their institutions and their theologies and their research. This is the bombshell, to some.

No, I’m not announcing a turn to atheism or a rejection of the church universal. Nothing so bold. Instead, I am granting voice to merely a disillusionment with the entire theological process. As I wrote when Roger Olson first issued his non-sequitir point about feminism and being anti-male, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Many, in their lack of generosity toward my writing, will interpret that as “men are the enemy.” Anyone who bothers to talk to me for more than five seconds will understand that this is not the case. And yet, even with men who are supposedly my allies within the church – the outspoken egalitarians, the men who have no problem with women being preachers – I am suspicious. I regard such allies with caution – because I have been betrayed far too often.

This is, as Melissa McEwan at Shakesville says, the terrible bargain we have regretfully struck. Within the church, pressures to forgive, to remember that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, to be a big happy family, mean that my terrible bargain becomes an untenable burden. If I challenge, I must do so nicely, whilst my brothers write off my identities and labels and personhood. I must never remember abuse, because if I do, I am bitter and will not let go – rather than protecting myself and others more vulnerable. If I call someone out on their privilege, I ought to be perfectly recognizing my privilege myself, or I will be undermined, undercut, and misunderstood.

This is how the church has trained me. This is how my brothers and sisters in Christ have trained me to understand my world – challenges, pushes to be better, claims to the label of feminism, are to be regarded with skepticism, while displays of privilege, oppression and abuse are to be “forgiven.”

I’m tired of functioning that way. I stopped going to church because I was tired of the search – finding a church where I didn’t feel like I had to be on guard during every sermon, waiting for the joke about “what women are like,” or the instruction about marriage based on June Cleaver.

Perhaps I, like Roger Olson, could be accused of looking for a way out, looking for a reason to reject the American Church. And perhaps I am. But, this is not without warrant.

When the man with a history of domestic abuse is given speaking gigs to talk about boundaries in the church (the man whose name we must change to a euphemism so he does not discover our Twitter conversations and butt in where we do not want him), I have trouble understanding how I am to be a part of this church.

When men who are egalitarians can say, without irony, that their home church has not a trace of patriarchy, I have trouble understanding how I can have allies.

When it is proclaimed that Christians are not perfect, just forgiven, by those who hold me to an unachievable standard of perfection, I have doubts.

When the question posed to me is not “How can we come to an understanding” but “What more do you want,” I get cautious, suspicious, distrustful.

Church is supposed to be a safe space, but I find, more and more, that feminist Christians are forced to make our own church, to worship in ways that are comprehensible to us, to go outside the brick and mortar to find ways to enact the radical equality and intersectionality that is our embodying Christ and loving our neighbor. This is our church, outside the walls, outside the faux-allies who betray us, outside the demands for forgiveness that denies the agency of the abused, outside the gender roles that deny the identity of all those to whom a gender binary is inadequate, outside (inasmuch as we can escape the system that pervades every fiber of us) the patriarchy.

This is what keeps me going. The hope and love of Jesus I see displayed in those whom the church rejects. The glory that comes from working to be diverse not for the sake of numbers but because the contributions far outweigh a monochromatic and monotheological perspective. The beauty of seeing people whom the church long rejected find a place of peace and safety where they can recover from their pain without having to open that wound again to “forgive” their abusers.

This is my church and this is my Jesus. If men like Roger Olson refuse to accept me as I am – bell hooks quoting, intersectionality promoting, privilege checking me – then I don’t need to keep grappling for a place at their table. If God is where two or more are gathered, then God is with the chorus of feminists, the oppressed, the ones who distrust the institution because the institution refuses to trust them.

I refuse to let my church be co-opted by those who refuse to exercise grace and charity and restraint in judgment. I refuse to let my faith be overrun by men who consistently refuse me and others with deeper oppressions that myself space and dignity to be seen as human. I refuse to let my worship be co-opted by those who would remind me that “wife-beaters are forgiven too” on a day dedicated to fighting violence against women.

I don’t have space for men whose theologies leave room for abuse. I don’t have space for “radical forgiveness” that demands I pretend everything is okay.

My Christ, my Church, and my love is bigger than that. I pray that, someday, they see it.

But until then, do not demand of me forgiveness without repentance, grace without love, or church within your boundaries. That, I cannot give.