This is a letter to the men who called themselves my “authorities” before I left the church.
For the longest time you’ve claimed to be my protector.
You’ve claimed to be the mouth of God to me. You’ve claimed to be the leaders, by birthright, that stand in strength to care for your women and children and communities. Old fashioned, gallantry style.
You haven’t been any of those things.
It took me a long time to put these pieces together, because I wasn’t out to find your flaws. I’d chosen you over all the churches in my community, because your church was the defender of doctrine – a bastion of truth.
I started noticing other things, though.
Like how almost every single congregant was a white, upper-middle class man and his family.
Like how the word “woman” only appeared once in your doctrinal statement, and it was to explain that we are not permitted to lead. (But we do have many gifts, it explained! Exactly what they were just weren’t mentioned.)
Like how submission and depravity were the topics every single Sunday morning, because they were necessary for understanding the gospel. “Without the bitterness of sin, the gospel wouldn’t seem as sweet,” you said.
Like how the weekly emails you sent to your congregations frequently linked to websites that touted barely-concealed white supremacist ideas disguised as theology, mocking terms like social justice, feminism, and critical race theory. “God’s kingdom is not of this world,” you claimed instead.
Like how the books you recommended to parents said that children must be reminded they are sinners as often as they misbehave, who must be trained to obey without question.
Like how the only way LBGTQ people were welcome at the church is if they were celibate. And silent.
Things were starting to feel familiar. Viscerally familiar. What I observed, I also experienced.
But you don’t count “lived experience,” because lived experience isn’t theology. It isn’t objective.
It doesn’t count.
And I fell for all of it. I groveled for you. I shut up for you. I folded for you. I became a vacuum so that you could fill the space I thought was your God-given duty. I happily became invisible so that you could thrive.
I internalized your narratives of shame and unworthiness, which made it impossible for me to lean into the stories of LBGTQ people because I thought it was a sin to not be sure of the truth.
It wasn’t until after I rejected your doctrines of shame that I realized that anti-racism work is built on a foundation of inherent worthiness, because it’s impossible to really listen to someone else’s story when deep down, you hate yourself.
I know better now.
I’ve had it easy, compared: All over the church, my sisters have been abused: emotionally, psychologically, physically, sexually. You’ve shamed them too. You’ve silenced them. You’ve belittled them and turned their own words against them. You’ve told them God wants them to suffer, because it makes them good. You’ve said your logic trumps their lives, and justified your ignorance with exegesis.
You are not a protector.
Instead, you’ve found ways to claim God’s voice to justify keeping your power. You’ve wielded your tools of logic and reason and objectivity to create a world that leaves truth outside, along with the people you don’t want to dignify.
You don’t speak up when other Christian men spew vile, hateful, harm-inducing words in the name of God. When men posture as gentle leaders but their fruit looks more like ravenous wolves.
Or you justify their behavior with your doctrine of sin: “Everyone makes mistakes,” you say.
Meanwhile these men go on leading churches. They go on abusing their wives. They go on indoctrinating their children with lies that take a lifetime to untangle, if ever at all.
You’re so scared of your own worthlessness, you think you have to own the women who love you because if they leave, you are erased. You’ve built an entire theological framework around it, nailing your God-given agency and authority to heal the world onto another suffering Man, and crying “Sovereignty!” –and then sitting back in your righteousness, that bears no fruit. A righteousness of passivity. (Is that really how your Bible defines righteousness?)
Two things can be true at once.
Here are two truths, and both might be excruciating:
I am ANGRY.
And I love you.
Under the desperate grab for some semblance of control over your own perception of yourself and of the god you make in your own image, maybe there’s a scared little boy? Maybe you’re scared and you’re fronting because you don’t want to be stripped away to be seen for what you really think you are:
Not enough, too much.
The need to control manifests in many ways: the subtle, from the Bible toting, pulpit-rattling power, to the “service first, family first” veneer, even the “Jesus loves me even in my sinfulness” cop-out. (It is a cop-out, if it justifies your apathy!). Most of all it manifests as the Pharisitical frenzy to have the Truth hewn and razed to fit the exact contours of your individual minds.
I’m angry at you for abusing your power, and I love you for who you are. I used to be ashamed to say “I love you” because you’d find some way to taunt.
But maybe, you taunt, because those words are too much for you to accept?
I LOVE YOU.
Maybe you need these words like you need water, even if you feel rage or disgust roaring up in your throat at the sight of them:
I LOVE YOU.
You pay lip service – so much lip service, to something you call humility. The irony, though, is that true humility isn’t groveling. It isn’t self-deprecation. True humility is accepting your own worth, quietly. Without performance. No power needed. No semblance of toughness or even godliness.
Just the excruciating openness of letting yourself be loved for exactly who you are.
I think I can see part of your desire. How angry you get when you feel your intentions are misrepresented. (I know enough about anger by now to know that those feelings are valid.)
I think I see your deep desire to rise up a true protector, after the Suffering King you worship. I see you longing to show it, take a bullet (or a cross) for the people you love. I see the burning desire, raked over with the hasty coals of control; of logic, of authority and certainty and fear.
I see you want to be good.
And I don’t have the answers and I’ve never lived your experience, so my reach is limited. But may I offer this what-if for you to sit with if you are able:
What if letting yourself be seen and loved, including the out-of-control, fear-of-failure, uncertain-about-truth parts of you, is what would actually turn the tide to become the healers that you were meant to become? What if accepting that you don’t need to use god to control others would allow you own the authority of your lives? What if accepting your desires made space for your intentions and your fruit to come into quiet communion with one another?
I mean, do you really need another voice saying, “Tough it up buttercup” or “read your Bible more?” (How is that working for you?)
Instead I will quote the Jesus who you claim to serve with all your hearts, minds, souls, and puffed up, ego-bruised strength:
“And [Jesus] said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I’m not going back to the places that choked the agency in me and so many others. I’m not going back to places where you wield power, where you think your authority heals and protects. I don’t believe the lie any longer. But rejection of your power doesn’t mean rejection of your own worthiness, either.
You were wrong about that, too.
I am angry.
And you are loved.