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Sunday, April 7, 2013

On Being Church Misfits


I say that word and so many emotions come flooding in that I don't know what to say next.
You see, I am a church misfit. I'm one of those people that is ever wandering, trying to find a home, a community of Christ-followers that actually follow Christ when it comes to treating fellow believers with grace and their own imperfect humanity with humility.


There's so much talk of grace these days. Grace for sinners, for unbelievers, for the hurting and the weak. But there's not much grace going around for fellow believers. No grace for those who have beliefs that are considered unorthodox. No grace for those desire to worship in their churches but dare to question their beliefs. No grace for misfits.

I'm told there are churches out there that are accepting of differences. I wonder if the people that say such things know what it's like to have differences that are outside the realm of acceptable diversity in Evangelical Land. Because it's been my experience that "acceptance" only goes so far.

Try walking into one of these "accepting" Evangelical churches and saying the word "Egalitarian". Or "Preterist". Or "Theistic evolution". Or *GASP* "Marriage equality". Just try it and see how far "acceptance" really goes.

I think you'll find that acceptance only covers sinners, not saints. Grace only tolerates the unbelievers until they become believers, then a whole new standard is placed on their shoulders. A standard called "Correct Doctrine", defined, of course, by those who think they've got it right.

Conformity or rejection. That was the choice we were offered at our last church. We chose rejection because no matter how painful that is, it's not nearly as soul-crushing as pretending to be something you're not, as stifling your beliefs, your very personhood, just to be accepted. Not as life-killing as acquienscence to a system that goes against everything you believe in.

So we joined the band of church misfits, pilgrims in the kingdom but on the outskirts. Told we are not christian enough for the Christians. We love but are not really loved in return. We are looked at with suspicion and a little fear by those in the pews. We are called names like "unsubmissive", "insubordinate", "liberal", and "backslidden". Our desire for fellowship with other believers is constantly turned away once they find out who we really are. The whispers are hard to ignore:
"They're the ones that don't believe in Young Earth Creationism!"
"They actually think gay people should have rights!"
"They don't agree with the institutionalized church!"
"I heard they refused to submit to the pastor of X Church."
"They think women can actually teach men!!!"
"They ask questions that should never be asked! I've even heard them say they've *gasp* questioned whether God even exists!"

And the pilgrims are turned away, told there is no room in the church for them.


How many times can a heart give everything only to be told it isn't good enough? People say we should just keep looking, that there are churches out there that will accept us. But how many times must we suffer rejection before we find that? I'm only human. I can only hurt so much. I can only take the broken pieces of my heart that have been flung out the church door, gather them up, and put them slowly back together so many times.

There is no grace for the misfits. For the dissenters. The non-conformists. The outsiders. The questioners. The seekers.

The Church is freaking out these days. Decrying the fact they are losing their youth, losing an entire generation. Their numbers are dwindling and they keep trying to come up with better ways to hang onto their members, to be "relevant", to be attractive. But they are overlooking the only way that that will ever happen: grace for the misfits. Tolerance for those who don't fit in their little boxes. Humility in admitting they don't have all the answers and are only human too. Courage to let go of their fear that if they quit trying to control God, He will become something uncontrollable and that that will be a bad thing. Daring to embrace the questions they cannot answer, the doubt they cannot push away with cliches, and the paradigm shift that will take everything they thought they knew and turn it upside down.

We are unacceptable because we threaten the little world they have created for themselves. We threaten the boxes they've made and labeled "God" and "Christianity" and "Doctrine". Our very existence is baffling and unnerving and the questions we ask threaten to upheave everything they believe in. We've jumped out of the boxes are refusing to get back in. So we are rejected and labeled "Not Really Christians", and turned out of the churches, and the places that are supposed to be havens of peace and rest and encouragement become nothing more than men's kingdoms of complacency and safety for those who can't bear the ugliness and harshness and uncontrollability of the real world.

We aren't going anywhere. We are doing our best to bring the Kingdom of God to earth in tangible ways. We are out here in the dark places, loving people, feeding the poor, shedding light and peace, hurting and healing, searching, hoping someday to find others like us so we can stop being so very alone. We will still be here to open our doors to the ones that bravely come to find us when their questions get them booted out of the churches. Even if they were the ones to boot us. Because that's what grace does. That's what misfits do. We are free to love  unconditionally in ways that the church folk aren't. And when the "church" in America finally realizes it's built on sand and comes crashing down, we will be the ones to pick up the pieces left strewn by an institution that tears down, and by grace and faith will put them back together. As we have been doing all along.


  1. I grew up IFB. I had a LOT of questions and it wasn't received so well . Many of the same issues you mentioned. As it turns out, I found my spiritual home in the Catholic Church. Literally the last place I would have thought. But I LOVE it. I can be theistic evolutionist. I can be (am encouraged to be in fact) egalitarian. Feminist (but not anti-male)? Check. Suspicous of verbal plenary inspiration? Check. Believe homosexuals are 'friends of God' (as Mother Theresa put it)? Check. Yes I had to come to the point where I gave assent to 'all the Holy Catholic Church teaches adn proclaims to be true'. But I was already having grave problems w/ sola scriptura anyway. I find it to be glorious and wouldn't trade all it took to bring me there for anything. May your journey take you where God wills!

  2. I have found the Orthodox congregation I attend to be very tolerant, but I was still told that they do not allow practicing homosexuals to take communion. How such persons would be viewed as regular attendants I don't know, since no one there is obviously gay. I can take communion even though I believe gays might not be sinners, because I am not gay. But they can't. That bugs me. The priest explained that it is based in the idea of marriage being for the purpose of procreation, and procreation can't happen between homosexuals. I pointed out that elderly persons still marry when they are beyond childbearing age, and to me that says God did NOT intend marriage simply for procreation. He didn't argue with that, but of course he cannot change the long established rules of the church. They pride themselves on historic tradition, and historically religious people have believed homosexuality to be a sin. It predates Jesus Christ, and in the absence of any indication otherwise, they continue in that belief.
    At least they do show grace to Christians of differing views, however. My mom wanted to speak to me privately last week and I figured one of the boys must have misbehaved outrageously (as they occasionally do). Oh no. She wanted to express her disappointment with me for letting them participate in the "pagan custom" of hunting Easter eggs. This was the first time I snapped at her for criticizing me, but I think it won't be the last. Really, don't waste my time with imaginary problems. Not to mention that I'm pretty sure pagans never hunted colored eggs to celebrate the spring.

    1. Ha, I can't count how many times I hear christians use the word "pagan" and think "I don't think that world means what you think it means". ;)

  3. Thanks for this post - you could have almost been writing my thoughts for me! But I would encourage you (as someone who has this very same struggle and still hasn't found a church that really feels like home) to find a church and make it yours. You may not fit in perfectly or be accepted in the way you want to be - and ought to be - but you'll be where you belong: in a community of imperfect Christ-followers who need your views and inspired thoughts on scripture as much as you need theirs. I say this because of the example of someone in my family. She was/is also a church misfit, and seriously considered leaving her church, but instead felt very strongly that she ought to stay, despite often feeling incredibly lonely and isolated as a result of her views (quite similar to the ones you list above). And I can't say that her continued presence and willingness to present the 'other side of the story' has caused radical change in the church, but I look at her and feel inspired by what she HAS achieved. She's made lasting friendships with people with whom she adamantly disagrees on some issues, and because of that friendship, they will at least listen to her. And slowly, some opinions have changed within that circle of friends. And some of that change has spread to include the wider church. It isn't dramatic change, but it is real. And I believe she is a faithful witness to people like me - who scream in frustration and give up - as to what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged member of a Christian community. I truly hope and pray that you find a place where you can also play this role, as I believe it is so important to the Church as a whole!

  4. I have a thought, it came from reading your post. I don't know if it's practical. What if we created a web-church, one that doesn't exist anywhere but cyber space? Would you attend? Misfits coming together to share the beauty of Christ without having to agree on every single belief. I know a lot of misfits, the only problem is we're all over the nation. On top of being misfit, I'm gay, and Church has become so unbelievably painful that I've stopped even trying, but like you I feel so very lonely. Of course we couldn't have pot-lucks, and we couldn't go out to the park on Saturdays, but it would be something. Thoughts?

    1. Well, right now, all the "church" I get is with wonderful people online, like yourself, having discussions, encouraging one another, and just being there for each other. So it's a great idea. I just don't think that virtual church can replace flesh and blood for very long, kwim? I think it's a great place to start, and I am unbelievably grateful for the many people that I've come to know online and the wonderful "church" we have together.

      Also, you might interested....the gals over at The Wartburg Watch have been doing what they call "e-church" for a while now. I sometimes tune in. Check out last weeks: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2013/04/06/echurchwartburg-4-7-13/

  5. Thank you. I feel less alone after reading this. I feel my friends' fear as they try to tell me to change back into the person they thought I was. I wish they could accept me. I wish they trusted their God enough to stop trying to force me to agree with them. I haven't even told them things that I think will really scare them. I care for them, and I long for them to want to know me. Some have known me since I was a child, and I don't want to loose that link to the past. I am grieving and moving on by spending time with those who aren't scared when they see who I really am.

  6. Thanks for writing this. It's good to know I'm not the only misfit.

  7. Have you heard of the Wild Goose festival? It looks like a fairly progressive gathering of Christians. If only it could be every weekend! And closer. I like in Illinois currently, but my fiance and I are relocating to southern Colorado mid-June after our wedding.

    When I first became a Christian, a little over 4 years ago, I'd spent a lifetime hating Christians for all of these reasons and for how they treat the rest of the world. That first morning of belief was a Sunday, so I did some research and found a church that had a link to a webpage their pastor had written called "Skeptics Welcome." I can't speak to all of their beliefs, but just the webpage made me feel like even as a skeptical Christian, I'd be accepted by the pastor at least. On that first day, a woman walked up to me, introduced herself and whispered to me: I'm a progressive democrat, without knowing me at all. It was a nice experience to make me feel like I wasn't completely insane to join one of the most bigoted clubs in the world :)

    Here's the link, in case it refreshes you to read something welcoming from a pastor: http://www.gebible.org/skeptics.html


    1. I haven't heard of it, but thank you for your comment! I'll look into it. :)

  8. I am not entirely sure where I am on the faith thing right now but I totally relate to this. Egalitarian: check, young earth creationist: nope, support rights for the gay community: check, a doubter/skeptic: absolutely. I am a republican, though, on my most things so maybe there is hope for me ;) I keep meeting all these awesome people online that think a lot like me but then I always start to wonder where you meet them in real life. Right now I am feeling caught between groups. Too many questions for traditional Christianity but don't feel completely at home in the secular/skeptical end of things.

  9. Rejected by man,accepted by the Creator of the entire Universe. After being raised Catholic,born again(in the Wilderness) and not attending or even searching for a church for close to thirty years,it took a wide open congregation full of love,joy and humble teaching to draw me into a regular fellowship.Before that happened it was Jesus,me and my bible on a Great Adventure where I encountered other believers that loved God and DID NOT JUDGE ME because I had some different understanding and beliefs about what the bible taught and how it related to my relationship with Jesus and my brothers and sisters whether they were born again or NOT. There are some awesome teachers out there and some completely stupid ones. Our relationship with Jesus is just that,OUR RELATIONSHIP. Bottom line for me is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER and find out WHAT THE WORD SAYS. If I have a conflict I ask God to give me wisdom and discernment to make the right decision. Just because someone has a degree doesn't make them wiser. No one holds the keys to my Lord's Kingdom. No one. Fight the Good Fight and Remain in Light. Love, Joe Man

  10. Great post, Darcy! Many moons ago I worked at a very well known Christian ministry in Texas and what I witnessed broke my heart. Young people full of enthusiasm and a heart for God enter the ministry and after 2 years leave disillusioned, hurt and confused. Many who completely turned away from Jesus, who once loved Him. Why? Because of the heavy load of religious condemnation, conformity and legalism. The simplicity of the beautiful Gospel trampled upon by megalomaniac abusive leaders. Sadly, years later I have seen this same crushing system played out in church after church. I believe true revival will come when this authoritarian institutional system is dismantled and the "new wineskin" of the New Testament Church emerges.
    In 1965, Billy Graham said this, "Multitudes of Christians within the church are moving toward the point where they may reject the institution that we call the church. They are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. Unless the church quickly recovers its authoritative Biblical message, we may witness the spectacle of millions of Christians going outside the institutional church to find spiritual food." Great blog Darcy! - Love, Betsy

  11. To what degree does your church have to be evangelically-identified? Episcopalian and ELCA Lutheran churches are predominantly full of social justice congregants, and usually Methodist and Presbyterian congregations likewise adhere to the notion of come as you are, our diversity is our strength. You may also find succor from Jamie Bakker's theological perspective. There are so many theologically-sound, truly Bible-based welcoming churches out there, but we're often hesitant to be evangelistic because, you know, that's what "those Christians" do. Bad reason to be quiet, yes, I know.

  12. I often wonder if Jesus - as he was when he was here on earth - would be accepted in most of the churches today... I've been a believer for 30 years and have been very hurt by some of the churches I've attended. If you don't dress the way the congregation expects you to, and don't believe exactly as they do, and don't show up every time the doors are open, you're just not accepted. After I left one church, I heard the pastor preached a sermon that if you leave the congregation you were never really a believer in the first place and never belonged there... Christianity - the only army that shoots its own wounded.

  13. Great Article! We have a similar heart. We just launched a new series called Church Misfit to speak into the things that many people feel but rarely say. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvVRNS2oSCY