This betrayal merely compounded my bewilderment over the past few years in watching leaders I once respected and principles I still believe in being co-opted and distorted in the name of political power and expediency. The relativism and rejection of absolutes I was warned to resist in the world have come to the church — and nothing prepared me for this.
And yet, I am part of this.
I have wept these past days, weeks and months. I have felt the truth of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, pronouncing woe upon “the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.”
Woe to us, indeed.
Yet, Jesus’ invitation still stands, offered in the verses that immediately follow his words of judgment: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Over the past few years, in the midst of the turmoil the church and the country are enduring, I have received countless messages of pain and lament from fellow evangelicals (and especially Baptists), asking me what to do, where to go, whether to stay in the church or to leave.
I understand many have been hurt or betrayed by the institutional church. And while my wounds are not as deep as those of so many, I now count myself among them. I don’t always know what to say to people in their pain. But one thing I do know to say is, “The bride of Christ needs you. Don’t abandon her to those who exploit and abuse her. Christ loves his bride too much for us to let her go.”
My childhood church has come to mind a lot lately, perhaps because these days in church life have so dismayed and disoriented me. I smile now at my long ago worries about the aesthetics of my someday wedding. Yet, when I reflect a bit more, I see now below the surface-level worry was something deeper: a young, innocent and earnest believer who simply couldn’t imagine a future apart from her church.
I still can’t.
But I know better now what that future looks like, what it means to be a part of the church, not merely a daydreamer in the pew. I realize while churches are led by fallen humans, Christ is the true Shepherd, my real Groom.
Yes, the bride of Christ — the church — is seared, spotted, smudged and smeared.
Yet even so.
The gentle and humble can still be found.
Like Pastor Vern. And like countless other pastors, missionaries, teachers and servants who spend hidden lives of no name or repute, toiling for God’s kingdom in The Middle of Nowhere, day in and day out. Who preach the Word on Sunday and deliver the mail Monday through Saturday.
Who drive long country miles to bring meals to the sick and lonely. Who cut out construction paper hearts for toddler hands to cover with glue and glitter. Who pore over obscure footnotes in search of deeper understanding.
Who shoulder the cries of confession for those who’ve gone astray. Who shoulder the tears of torment for those who’ve been abused. Who don’t headline conferences, or sell books they’ve not written under their name, or tweet their way to feeble fame. Who love because they were first loved.
The eyes of these are on the coming perfection, the future glory, the feast that is still being prepared. From either side, or maybe the middle, they walk down the aisles. Because they see only the Groom, they are moving toward him, their feet firmly placed on this present ground, gently tapping out the time.
This article originally appeared on ReligionNews.com.