Religion and Spirituality

Sinners in the hands of an angry church

Repost: originally published June 22, 2013. I no longer believe in God but this post remains important. 

Earlier this week, a ministry of gigantic proportions shut itself down. Exodus International was known for decades as the most prominent “ex-gay” organization in the nation. This meant they tried to make gay people become straight with counseling and therapy. On Wednesday, the organization announced its board’s unanimous decision to shut down. Multiple apology letters were published, and the leaders made television appearances to take back their former stances.

What stood out to me in the president’s apology was this line: “Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.”

He was talking about moving from one side of a controversial debate to the other. Once, he explained, he was part of an ignorant system that hurt people, and now he’s been hurt by the same mindsets he once had.

This realization goes far beyond the marriage issue, and has reached almost every Christian church and organization in the country.

It’s a play on words from Christian history. In 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached his most famous fire-and-brimstone sermon called “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” His message is among many still disputed in the Calvinist and Arminian debate. However, it’s hard to find a Calvinist today who is extreme enough to paint God in as unloving and angry a way as Edwards did.

The angry party isn’t God. It’s the church. Whenever someone sees something as true, or even chooses to try something uncanny, he risks being shunned by his church. It’s what Christian persecution looks like here in America. Ironically, the American church was founded out of persecution and passed on the recognition of Christian persecution to each generation. My generation learned about being Jesus Freaks from DC Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs.

The history of American Christianity gave this mindset: it doesn’t happen here. We’d come from persecution, and persecution didn’t happen in America.

But thinking you’re immune to something is a surefire way to become it.

Thinking Christian persecution can’t come from within the church is the same thought process that made a free church in Salem kill alleged witches. It made a corrupt religious hierarchy justify itself in killing the Messiah. And today, it leaves kids in my generation forsaking the faith of the parents they watched abuse it.

The issue of sexual identity will sort itself out because awareness is spreading like wildfire. I don’t have to make this post about a symptom.

What I know is there are hundreds of stories across the country of unforgiving, hypocritical Christians who put others through persecution. I’d much rather be in the hands of God than in the hands of the American church. Mostly because I thought Jesus was serious when he said not to fear men, but to fear him who can kill both body and soul—the guy worth trusting is God. The church is far more ruthless.