Shortly after moving to this city we had focused our efforts on finding a new church that we could connect to. Our first church was a Baptist church located in the same neighborhood where we were leasing the home. It was a fairly large church, approximately 1,000 people or so and there was a fair bit of programs available for all of us to connect with. After a few Sundays in attendance my wife and I had signed up to become part of a small group. However, instead of simply finding a group that met in a home close enough to ours, on a day of the week that worked with our schedule, and with people similar in age and interests / life events – we were told that we would have to first attend a particular kind of small group.
This small group only had a few weeks left before they broke for the summer and it was located in the opposite corner of the city. The hosts were told to expect us and obediently my wife and I made the effort to juggle our schedules around in order to attend. After all, perhaps they were just wanting to get to know us a bit better so the least we could do was to help that process happen. However, shortly after arriving at the first of these meetings it became clear to me that the hosts were given specific instructions to find out all that they could possibly find out about us. It was like being part of a really bad spy movie from the 1950s where trailing someone meant walking right behind them, and listening into a conversation meant having your back to them at a table while ‘reading’ a newspaper.
My wife and I caught onto the charade almost immediately and complied for that first evening and for the next few, giggling about it to each other on our drives home. At some point, shortly after the last gathering we were approached by a leader in the church who told us that we were now invited to be a part of a small group that will start up in the fall. The experience was strange but we were happy to have found a place to connect and to meet people. I took it one step further and found a men’s bible study to become a part of that also started up in the fall. I was looking forward to both.
Fall came and my wife and I settled into our bible study group. Over the next few weeks we began to connect with the other couples there and felt like we were creating some good friendships. It was a late start but the men’s bible study finally began. We all gathered in a restaurant one morning and were presented this new book that we were going to work through. Out of a desire to be transparent with this group and a cautionary sense that this book was going to present some interesting perspectives I decided to let them know that I was an egalitarian, feminist, post-modern thinker. The other men seemed fine with this and so we continued. However, it was abundantly clear in the first few pages of this book that the author was not okay – taking direct shots against such thinking. Needless to say the conversations over the next few weeks were interesting but still manageable and even respectful.
We made it through that book quite quickly and the men’s group was growing so it split into a few different groups. I now was meeting in the mornings at a local coffee shop and I had the chance to meet an entirely different group of men. But then things began to get interesting. There was a growing tension at the small group that my wife and I attended. Finally it came out that the husband had met with the leadership of the church, a breakfast meeting where I was the topic of conversation. As a result of that meeting this house group leader approached us and told us that we were to stop attending his group until we had met with the church leadership.
At the same time some of that same church leadership were running the men’s group that I had been attending and they approached me asking for a meeting. I complied but opted to bring my wife with me, much to their frustration. The meeting lasted for close to an hour and at the end of the meeting my jaw was on the floor in disbelief to what I was hearing. I was thankful that I had brought my wife as I had no idea how I would have explained this meeting to her. She was also quite taken aback by what they had to say and so in an attempt to seek clarity she asked them to be quite clear in what they stated were the three problems the church had with me.
The church leaders were concerned because in their ongoing observations of me, unknown to me that these deliberate observations were going on for months now, they had drawn out three concerns that they had with me. Consequently I was not going to be allowed to participate with these types of church activities until I changed what I was doing and the church leaders were convinced that I was no longer a threat. The first was that because I had gotten my Masters degree the types of words that I used and the fact that I only spoke at the end of the conversation – after others have spoken – was concerning to them. The second was that my arguments were well formed, spoken logically, and were convincing; and this was another concern to them. Finally, the third reason was in the way I held myself.
Those were their exact words, “the way you hold yourself”. My wife and I could not believe our ears. How was I supposed to ‘hold myself’? I had no idea that there was a proper way to ‘hold’ myself while participating in the activities of the church. If I were to continue participating with this church I needed to be less persuasive with my words, hold myself different, and participate in a different way in every conversation I had. My wife and I left that coffee shop frustrated, confused, and also laughing. We were laughing out of amazement – out of shock – out of the absurdity of it all. What a way to leave a church – to not be welcome into a church because I held myself incorrectly – or perhaps even more disturbing was out of a fear that my words were too logical – too persuasive. This combination seemed too much for them to handle and so the doors closed on this Baptist church and we found ourselves looking for another church home once again.