Monday, September 11, 2006

For Christians: Is it Fair to Criticize the Church?

Today I got an email back from someone (M) in pastoral leadership. I had sent M an essay that was, essentially, a critique of the church's misogynist ways of thinking and practicing. Her response was that she felt it was "too sarcastic without being uplifting."

And I wonder: As a Christian, and as a writer, am I always called to uplift? Aren't we, as Christians, called to speak the truth (I admit, we see imperfectly what the truth might be and quite possibly, what I wrote was bullshit) even if it's not pleasant?

Then there's the issue of myself as an artist: Which means I might employ hyperbole and sarcasm to make a point. I know this might mean I'm standing on thin ice with many audiences--and maybe what I write will alienate them. But this leads me to my third point:

As a nonfiction memoirist, I am writing my experience in the church, experiences that were of being excluded in one form or another because I am a woman (among other things). If those experiences sucked, and are not uplifting, does that mean I shouldn't write about them?

I'm finding my way back into a community. I'm figuring out that nothing's ever perfect--but I still recognize traditional ways of thinking about men and women that are harmful and far, FAR, from perfect. I think we can get closer.

When I wrote the essay that M. responded to, I was unchurched. M knew me intimately for a long time, however, and knows about my relationship with Jesus. But I became unchurched because in many ways my church community, of which M was a part, failed me. I wonder if an unchurched person wrote what I did if there would be a different response not just from M, but from pastors and laypersons all around: What an awful experience she's had at our hands! What can we do to make our church more welcoming to women so these same wounds are not inflicted again? Can we get her back to church?

Because I wrote the essay while I was unchurched, I was on the outside in many ways. Perhaps the church would have afforded me the luxury of criticism then. But now?

I don't want to diss Jesus and my responsibility to him in loving and preferring my neighbor (whatever that looks like I'm not sure in this case), but I also feel like quite possibly there's a double standard--if you're part of us, don't criticize us.

I've got no answers. Do you?

3 comments:

ph0rman said...

If you're not a part, what are your credentials for criticizing? And yet once you become a part you should not criticize either?
(seems a bit more like self-imposed denial)

I know there is a strong tendency, especially in Christian circles, to try to ignore uncomfortable or difficult situations - including that of addressing criticism. There is often a greater desire to protect the status quo than to examine and discuss.

We can see this affect in pretty much any scandal, be it televangalist, molesting priest, or emotionally abusive "leadership".

Pretending problems don't exist will not make them go away, it will only provide the means whereby those problems can grow into larger problems.

-abf

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you can uplift and say unpleasant things at the same time. Maybe it IS uplifting to be confrontational in some situations.

Jesus criticized religious leaders all the time. I assume he would do the same with "the church". Jesus constantly challenges everyone he comes into contact with...sometimes more gently than others.

I think those who consider themselves part of the church have more responsibility to bring up any issues with the church than the people it ministers to.

I think criticism just hurts more if it comes from "within". You know, like if I were to criticize my mom, it would definitely hurt her more than if a stranger criticized her. And your friend considers you a Christian and an insider more than an outsider, you know?

Just like anybody (within the Church), your reader might be looking for a bit of redemption in your story. Something to soothe the wound a bit. I am sure if you were writing to tell the church about your experience, you would have written it differently. But this was a creative essay.

What do I know? If it was wrong of you to write your essay, then a lot of us Christian writers are in trouble. You were expressing yourself, bringing an experience you had to the table and without apology. It's legitimate. Right?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you can uplift and say unpleasant things at the same time. Maybe it IS uplifting to be confrontational in some situations.

Jesus criticized religious leaders all the time. I assume he would do the same with "the church". Jesus constantly challenges everyone he comes into contact with...sometimes more gently than others.

I think those who consider themselves part of the church have more responsibility to bring up any issues with the church than the people it ministers to.

I think criticism just hurts more if it comes from "within". You know, like if I were to criticize my mom, it would definitely hurt her more than if a stranger criticized her. And your friend considers you a Christian and an insider more than an outsider, you know?

Just like anybody (within the Church), your reader might be looking for a bit of redemption in your story. Something to soothe the wound a bit. I am sure if you were writing to tell the church about your experience, you would have written it differently. But this was a creative essay.

What do I know? If it was wrong of you to write your essay, then a lot of us Christian writers are in trouble. You were expressing yourself, bringing an experience you had to the table and without apology. It's legitimate. Right?