The church is an imperfect institution—filled with imperfect people, imperfect traditions, and imperfect theology. We live in the kingdom of earth, and not the kingdom of heaven. So, we have to deal with all the messy, torn, smudged realities of a body of Christ that will always fall short. The church may not answer every question correctly—because sometimes, it simply doesn't know the answers. At times, our theology may falter and fail to explain, comfort, and liberate in an imperfect world.
There are many people who have felt alienated by the church. Some have been patronized by promises of tangible success, security, and rewards in exchange for unwavering belief and prayer. Others have screamed so loud and long at injustice that their spiritual voices are sore and thready—and still the walls of the church can seem too high and too thick to penetrate. Many souls have made desperate, holy-grail bids for the church's attention, but their petitions somehow fall on deaf ears. And still others quietly fade away into obscurity, their flight so silent that they might never have sat in a pew at all.
This is the experience of many US Christians in my acquaintance who have walked, broken-hearted, out of the sanctuary. I've asked myself why I still have faith in the church. So many millennials have walked away, because of its seeming hypocrisy and inauthenticity, and its hungry bids for relevance in an increasingly lost world.
So, why do I still have faith in the church? Every once in a while, I'm forced to ask myself that question again. Why am I a member of the body of Christ?
I ask it after a particularly difficult conversation with someone who thinks he or she can reject my womanhood, but still uphold my humanity. I ask it after a man tells me that egalitarianism is destroying masculinity and men—as if a privileged group has the right to feel penalized when its privilege is taken away. When an anonymous Christian internet commenter tosses verse after verse in my face and takes not a moment to consider his or her own bias in reading Scripture, I quietly ponder my commitment to the church.
After a long debate with a man who is "sorry," but he "just can't" respect a female pastor in the pulpit, the exhaustion takes hold and I want to sink into a well of despair. When a Christian male friend is asked the hypothetical question of what he would do if he were a woman for a day and he responds, "make less money," and when family members ask, "why does gender equality matter so much to you?", I am, in those moments, convinced that I have misaligned myself—with a faith and a people who will never see me, accept me, or truly honor me.
But then I remember three things:
1. God is perfect, even when his church and his people are not.
2. The church does not always fail. It has brought redeeming light into dark places.
3. It is part of my Christian mission to hold the church accountable.
If any balm has ever worked on the open wounds of my heart, it is this: my God never fails the oppressed. Never. Certainly, he does not always swoop in for a dramatic rescue, and certainly unjust things still happen to women (and other oppressed groups). But, these are the works of imperfect humanity, not of perfect, steady, just God. When Christians overlook prejudice, when we are silent in the face of oppression, when we uphold the status quo, and when I, myself, fail to show mercy to those around me, I am reminded that our failings as the body of Christ are not a reflection of the failure of God.
God is at the backs of the defenseless. He is there in the midst of systemic marginalization—still perfect, still steady, and still just. And he is still perfect, steady, and just when a Christian does evil instead of good, hurts instead of helps, and diminishes instead of lifts up. The perfection and goodness of the God we serve is unwavering. So, I still want to live in community in the imperfect institution that serves a perfect, just God.
The church and everyone in it have been redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This means that we no longer have to drown in our shortcomings, but we are offered new freedom and hope. The church is the channel by which this freedom and hope reach the world.
The church has brought the light of truth and justice into a desolate world. And that light continues to reach still further. Christianity has deep and ever-growing roots in the global East and South. And here in the US, the heartbeat of the church can still be found in many communities. We now look with new hope toward a vital, multi-ethnic American Christianity (Soong-Chan Rah 12). So, I am convinced that God is still moving in his church.
I believe in the church's will and ability to change this world. I also believe that the church is God's way of saying to each Christian who feels the weight of a fallen world on their shoulders, "you are not, nor can you ever be, alone." The church offers the bread of communion in so many ways, and for this reason, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who share my hope—that the church will revive this dying world.
In the grand biblical tradition of iron sharpening iron, I believe Christians have a responsibility to critique the church. Jesus was the first to offer constructive criticism. He was known to condemn the practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he was keen to call out the temple turned marketplace, and he was the absolute first to hold his followers accountable for how they treated others. Jesus sharpened iron like an old pro. So must we. We should not fear criticism of the church. In fact, we should welcome it and seek it out. We will, as a body, be stronger, and humbler for it.
Criticism is not a threat to the church. It is a sign that the church remains authentic, that it remains transparent, that it seeks accountability, and that it acknowledges its imperfections. So, when I gently, but determinedly critique the church for its ongoing marginalization of women, I am doing so only because I want to see the body of Christ fulfill its call to love on this world. I call out the church for its failures in regards to women only because I do desperately, deeply, and fiercely love the church.
However, even as we offer gentle, constructive critiques of the church, we must also recall the position of privilege we hold when we do so. And, even as we recognize and seek to address the church's shortcomings, we must always remember that the church provides the nourishment of Christian community that sustains our faith. So, in that spirit, let us also honor the church.
I love the church. But I don't love when Christians devalue my leaderships gifts. I don't love when I see Christians disrespect women who have the nerve to speak up. I don't love when Christians shame and blame women for male lust. I don't love when Christians call me out with neither humility nor mercy when I defend egalitarianism or Christian feminism in my writing. I don't love having conversations with Christian men who would rather protect their privilege than hear how they benefit from male privilege and patriarchy. But I do love Christians, and by God, I do love the church.