The Privilege of Fitting In: A Tale of Two Churches

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are articles about why people shouldn’t leave church coming out every week? Most of them boil down to pretty much the same argument: quit being so narcissistic, get over yourself, and stop being so selfish. Suck it up and take it or get off your lazy rear and start doing something to change your church rather than just complain about it.

This kind of remind me of a scene from The Big Bang Theory, in an episode that deals with adults confronting their past with bullying. Penny seems to be convinced that she wasn’t a bully. The girls she picked on where just in on the joke and were having just as much fun as everyone else.

When you are the one that fits in, that is part of the main group, that never has to try and connect, your view of the group is usually vastly different from the outsider, the weirdo, the one that doesn’t fit in so well. It may be really easy to call someone a narcissist when you rarely have to consider your own needs because they are already being met. But you have friends, you have connections, you have community. The whole idea of “not being fed” seems weird to you, because you have rarely ever gone without spiritual nourishment.

Would you tell a starving beggar not to be a glutton? Because that is what you do when you call someone a narcissist when they leave a church for “not being fed.” Narcissism is usually defined as “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity,” or “pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride.” Do you see the extreme words there? Narcissism is an extreme issue that is about as far away from “wanting to be fed” as starving is from gluttony.

Look, Jesus just said to “think of others before you think of yourself.” How did we turn that into “think of others and never think of yourself“? because we put the cool kids in charge of everything and left the weirdos on the fringes, silently hoping they will go away and leave us alone. And then calling them narcissists when they leave so they will feel guilty about leaving… but not guilty enough to come back.

Because, let’s face it – it is a lot easier to lob guilt bombs at those on the outside than it is to actually leave our comfort zones to draw them in.

Whether someone fits in with a church is not just a matter of whiny teenage angst. It is an emotional health issue that can severely affect physical health if not resolved. So if you are going to tell them to stay and tough it out, you also might as well just buy them a lifetime supply of Twinkies and eat those for the rest of their lives.

And telling them to stick around and change the church? Really? Have you ever tried to change a church? I mean, really affect change and not just enhance the direction it was already going? Probably not. Usually, those that benefit from the privilege of fitting in think that it is easy to change a church because they think were able to affect changes. But what they were really doing was just furthering their church in the direction it was already going. Those hairline changes they made seemed huge to them because they were so close to home to begin with. To those on the outside, the changes that need to happen are massive tectonic shifts that are impossible to affect outside of an “act of God.” I know, I have tried in many churches. It is impossible to do so as someone that doesn’t fit in, no matter how much time, effort, and love you put into it.

This is one of many “tale of two churches” in America, albeit one that is just now starting to come into focus. Its usually the tale of the same church, from two sides with different views. The one side with those that fit in, who think everything is great and people just need to quit being so narcissistic, and the other side that doesn’t fit in because it sees issues that makes them want to bail.

Pick a sport you don’t like – like say, golf. If you love golf, pick another sport that you hate. What if the church you went to suddenly became all about golf. Golf was mentioned in every sermon, every Facebook post, every thing the church did. It even started being a part of the music that they sung. Soon, the church starts meeting at a golf course. They may even rename their church meetings to have golf themes. To someone that loves golf, this all seems great, and they can’t see why people who don’t like golf can’t just get over it and ignore these “minor” issues and worship God. But for those that despise golf, it is everywhere. They can’t get away from it. It is everywhere they look and a part of every conversation. How can it be healthy to tell someone to even be in a situation like that?

Look, I’m not talking golf here – the real issue may be speaking in tongues, or gay rights issues, or political leanings, or the nature of Genesis, or the safety of vaccines, or a hundred other topics that divide us in the Church. Every church has certain topics that everyone has differing opinions on. So this is not just about differences that naturally occur. This is when a church creates a major focus on certain issues, big or small, and thinks that everyone in the church should get on board or get over it. For those that fit in with that stance, those who are “on board”, its no big deal. And they have a hard time seeing why others find it a big deal. Kind of in the same way people who aren’t allergic to peanuts don’t often seem to care much about those who are; even when they find out they still eat peanut M&Ms right next to them. Certain things may be small to you, but they could be a huge deal to others because we are all individuals that are wired differently.

Maybe instead of always pointing fingers at people for the “bad reasons” they use for leaving church, we could actually use it as a time for self-reflection to consider what we may be doing wrong as church? Maybe even make some compelling arguments for coming back? Or even yet, try to reach out  with no strings attached to the people that left? I have tried that before, and I was shocked to find very few people actually leave churches for any of the reasons anyone is writing about. Their reasons are usually pretty compounded and complex.

metamodern-faith-avatarLet’s face it – compounded and complex is more than most people want to deal with. And it won’t make you a popular writer by writing about it. Just lump everyone into five categories and bask in the glow of all the yes-people that will agree with your column without even really reading it. It is past time to get real about the reasons people leave church and stop with the :Sunday School” answers to everything

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