A real downside to working for a Christian organization/church/media-what-have-you is that, depending on how public your position is, you become a lightning rod for people’s feelings about organized religion–which of course are rarely neutral or mild. In an instant you can find yourself cast as a stand-in for whatever Pharisaical relative or teacher or ex-girlfriend offended the friend-of-a-friend in question. Transference goes with the territory, and don’t get me wrong: when it comes to those you know and care about (and most that you don’t), it’s a privilege to serve in this capacity. But it can be awkward and even unpleasant when it comes to people you’ve just met, especially those who’ve got an axe to grind. It’s a bit like studying abroad and constantly being called upon to answer for America’s foreign policy… The fact that it’s completely understandable doesn’t make it any less objectifying when you’re on the receiving end. I’m not talking about the downtrodden small-town refugee who’s lost their faith and wants someone to hear them out. I’m talking about the guy who’s had a couple drinks too many and wants to yell at–and maybe even bully–someone with a collar (or the equivalent), the guy that wants to get in your face like someone got in his.
If the attacks tended to be valid ones, it would be an exhausting way to live. But as you might expect, the vast majority are more emotional than anything else. And they are almost never directed at Jesus himself, or Christian doctrine for that matter. The inevitable target is The Church. You might say the complaints lie with Christians rather than with Christ. Which makes perfect sense, since there’s no shortage of injustice done in the name of religion, folks who use religious language to disguise/bless all kinds of awfulness, who make a big noise about love and forgiveness but deliver the opposite. Lord knows I’ve been guilty of it myself! In There Will Be Blood the Daniel Plainview character makes a memorable pronouncement about how spiritual fraud is the most despicable kind, and it’s a view which I think is shared by many, for good reason. Naturally plenty of people have stories along these lines – in fact, it’s surprising there aren’t more!
At a time in my life when I was particularly discouraged about this stuff, someone played me a recording of Rod Rosenbladt’s watershed lecture, “The Gospel For Those Broken By the Church,” and it gave me renewed compassion for those who’s anger exceeded my own. Indeed, it spoke to me in the places where I’d been burned myself, even providing part of the inspiration for starting Mockingbird. I kid you not. The good news is, the presentation has finally made it on to youtube, courtesy of the good people over at New Reformation Press. As you’ll hear, Dr. Rosenbladt’s particular concern is for people who’ve had damaging experience with American Evangelicalism, but despite what he says at the beginning, his words translate fairly well to other contexts. If you or anyone you know fits the description, do yourself a favor: