What to do When The Church Doesn’t Want You?
There is a strange place in the universe that I have known about for some time and now find myself in. The strange thing about this place is that some people claim it is real, while others claim that it is a made up concept with no basis in rational thought. This sort of divide is not uncommon between Christians and the irreligious, but there is a twist. In this place it is the Christians who are the doubters, and the skeptics convinced of what cannot be seen. The place I speak of is not Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone, it is the Not Welcome In Church Zone.
Most Christians (aside from the most ardent Fundamentalists) deny that any person is not welcome in church. But countless people will attest that this is a very real place to be. For as many people who have been asked to leave the church, many more have been pressured beyond what any reasonable person can endure to leave and never come back.
Church-going Christians will counter such accusations with outright denial, proclaiming that church, like the love of God, is open to everyone. Churches freely admit that everyone within their doors are sinners and all come before God as equals, thus exclusion from the church would surrender it to legalism and negate the very grace that they preach. Great in theory, but virtually non-existent in practice.
Meta-examples are obvious; African-Americans and other minorities were excluded from many denominations throughout American history. But that subject has been well trodden before.
A far more insidious excommunication (literally “to be excluded from community”) takes place today, and that is the excommunication of the individual. I can tell you from personal experience that there is no worse feeling than being rejected by the Christian community to which you have dedicated your life.
There are endless reasons people are pushed out of the church. Being gay is probably the most publicized, but it is far from the only reason. Being too liberal and voting the “wrong way” will get you ostracized from many churches, as will watching the wrong TV shows or listening to the wrong music. I have even heard from a woman who was encircled in prayer and judgment for committing the sin of wearing a sun dress—as a 12-year old girl! Oddly enough, taking the words of Jesus “a little too seriously” is bound to get you thrown out of many Bible churches.
The common thread seems to be that the only unforgivable sin worthy of excommunication is not fitting in with the religious culture of the church. I am guilty of that sin, and for the most part I have been pushed to the margins. While excommunication may be a lonely place to be, it is nice to know I have plenty of company.