1. General Christian

Why I Cannot Stay: A Letter to My Church

I sat in your pews every Sunday. I shook your hands during greeting time, socialized in your hallways after the service, attended your small groups and Bible studies. 

Every week, I took communion with you. I held in my hands the body of Jesus, broken. I brought to my lips the cup, his life, given for us. 

One body, I thought, all of us. 

But the week after the the killing of George Floyd, I knew I didn’t belong. Your silence stunned me. You said that you needed to stick to the text. You said you could preach only what you saw in the verses in front of you. To protect the Word, as if to keep it from being soiled somehow, you made a wide berth around the body of a man and went your way. 

But Jesus was in the body. 

Jesus is the body.

Your silence says that the Word has no words for our darkest moments. You claim to teach the Truth but cover its piercing light, allowing the church to become a sordid breeding place for name calling, guns, and conspiracy theories.   

Until we believe that Jesus has something to say about all of life—about epidemiology and systemic racism, about policing and politics, about the way we vote and the way we engage on social media—until we believe that he has something profound and paradigm-shattering to offer, we will relegate him to Sundays. We will contain him in a placid face muttering mild admonitions to “be nice” and “love each other,” not allowing nail pierced hands to explode our conception of what a crucified life looks like.  

Today, days after an attempted coup by people waving “Jesus Saves” flags and brandishing Bible verses, I am more sure than ever that I cannot return to your space. That day, the world witnessed the unholy marriage of evangelicalism and nationalism, of Jesus and Trump—a sickening ceremony now seared into my memory. The faces of those in the crowd, I could’ve met in any church dotting the interstates connecting our country together.  

There is no use pointing fingers. That is not them. That is us. 

We dragged Jesus—the one who died for us—into our tryst with Trump, while the church sat by with a nod and a shrug.

What we do to the least of these . . . the noose on the Capitol, that was for Jesus. I saw Jesus’ body mangled by the contortions necessary to sustain our quest for power. I saw Jesus’ body trampled so that we can step over each other in our own grasp at success. 

Look.  

Do we see his body beneath our bloodstained feet?  

Do we see the faces of those fleeing with such reluctance from the pews of our churches? No need to pursue them with more Bible studies and events, with offerings of prayers or words. Simply look into their faces and see—Jesus is in the body. His body is sacred.

Perhaps we have grown accustomed to allowing the desecration of sacred spaces—women, expected to submit in abusive marriages just because their husbands did not technically commit adultery; children, unprotected from youth leaders, lured into church by fancy programs so that we could count how many we saved; asylum seekers detained like lost puppies in a pound; immigrants, denied the opportunities we breath like air—all while we enjoy the comforts of our home. 

Jesus’ body lies at our door. 

What is the gospel we are preaching? 

We say that we want people to be saved. But, saved from what? For what?

I am afraid we are saving people into a gospel of niceness and comfort, a social club with its special language of worship and faith. We’re offering a nice Jesus—a Jesus who matches with the furniture. 

Where do people go when they are hurting? Do we have only prayers and “trust God” to offer? The church doesn’t seem to have answers—not when another Black man is shot, or when hate is paraded, or when the world faces death daily dealt by an out-of-control virus.

Jesus’s body is hurting, and we dismiss him with a blessing. 

It seems as though we have some kind of spiritual leprosy, where we feel no pain as our own digits rot away. Truth brings pain—healing pain. Truth shakes us to the core. It unearths our darkness. Truth should make us uncomfortable, should make us tingle with blood flowing through blocked veins. Truth disrupts. When a church does not speak Truth, it loses credibility. It satisfies the complacent and comfortable, but leaves the hungry . . . well . . . hungry. 

So where do I go from here? I am not sure. All I know is I must keep looking for Jesus and his body. Because I too, am a part of it. I still love Jesus. I do not love what those who use his name have done to him. But I still love Jesus. 

For now, perhaps I just need to stoop down to caress his calloused hands. I need to kneel and weep over his lacerated skin. And I need to look into his eyes, whisper, “I am so sorry,” and let the pain and the forgiveness in his face break my heart.

Because following Jesus is not a way to avoid pain. Jesus is the path to facing pain with courage. We have died with him, and now, it is his life that we are to live—his life of giving, of suffering, and of confronting our shame. 

We hold in our hands his body, broken.

May that truth break us.

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