I had the emotional experiences back then but I have the language now. Vulnerability without safety is, at best, harmful, and at worst, abusive. Such is the social construct of church. And, unfortunately, this idea of vulnerability without safety is lost on many a church leader and many a church group, instead a conformity to the micro-community’s relativity and constructed truth or as I like to call it, “mob mentality”.
Church is and was always supposed to be a place where like-minded (although it is far more emotional then cognitive) individuals could come and gather to share similar experiences, to be encouraged, to be taught, to be loved, ect. and yadda, yadda, yadda. Although I have studied and participated with other religions as part of my own spiritual past, I speak of church as only within the Evangelical context, and this is important to understand – especially when I get around to placing the word ‘cult’ next to it.
I am not at all saying that Evangelical churches are a cult. No, I am writing the prologue to my experience of being a part of an Evangelical Cult, and having survived that experience, which lasted several years, it has become a significant part of my story and consequently finds itself into this body of writing. I certainly did not set out to join a cult and I suspect that is the case for many of us, but by the time the experience was ‘over,’ and my wife and I had found the language to describe it, the most fitting description that I could come up with was cult. Indeed, my pastor non-pastor friend turned pastor again could now be called a cult leader.
Church is not a safe place. It never was and I suspect it will never be. However, that does not make it a place to avoid but it does make it a place to understand better. My wife has said about church that, “They love your potential.” Such is true in the sense that it has formed my experience over these last two decades, at least in which I would identify myself as being a Christian, and by consequence, attended and have been a part of many, many churches.
The best experience of church has always been in the first few weeks, or months, of attending a new church. They don’t see my mess or my brokenness or perhaps they do and they tend to it in various ways that they know how – all optimistically, all driven out of their own various Biblical interpretations of such things. But inevitably, the honeymoon period wears off, the newness and sheen dulls and a behavioural expectation lowers upon you. “Get your shit together or get the hell out of our church,” they all seem to say as you arrive obediently for another Sunday experience.
This is, of course, what makes up the primary argument of church not being a safe place. If it was a safe place then much care and attention would be given to help you feel safe, regardless of what that might look like and then we could explore our own vulnerability, our own hurts and pains, our own brokenness, without the fear of being harmed once again. This is the juxtapose of Church – the idea that in entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, one is vulnerable, yet safe, based on various ideas of faith and salvation but part of the Christian experience requires this other piece – that being Church – where we tend to want to approach it the same way we do Jesus Christ, laying out all of our brokenness, all of our ugliness, all of ourselves, but then realizing that the Church is not Jesus Christ and that the Church is not offering forgiveness or love or salvation. The Church, of course, is just as broken as we are and in the same desperate need of Jesus Christ. The irony, the parallelism, the tragedy of it all.
I could not imagine any type of relationship with Jesus Christ if I needed to have my shit together first. It is based on that very fact that I am invited to draw near to the cross with all of my brokenness that I have done so. It is a place where I can go and because of the religious truth of it all, I can be safe, and out of that place of safety I can be vulnerable, and in my vulnerability I can find healing from my hurts and my pains. I can seek comfort for my loss. But when I rise from that place and open my eyes and see myself sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning, next to other people, I am filled with fear and dread as I try to divert their stares of judgement at my lack of community conformity and behavioural expectations.
No, not at all is Church a safe place.
But this does not make Church irrelevant. It remains a place that I seek to be a part of, to join with a community of like-minded people, who individually share similar experiences to mine but who collectively act like a bunch of morons, bringing about harm to many who try to enter those doors without even realizing, perhaps, their own hypocritical actions. Church does not need to be safe but it needs to be open and accountable. Remove those two elements and I am afraid, what you are left with is a cult.