Many Christians worry about the varieties of Christianity that are emerging all over the globe… Christians often declare opposing Christianities “un-Christian.” And this is to our detriment and to the detriment of would-be fellow believers seeking Christ in a crisis. In this essay I talk about how my unique world view as a former sufferer of schizoaffective disorder has allowed me to see the typically warring sides of Christianity with compassion and I advocate for an unconventional approach to our political and spiritual differences by drawing on a story from my and my husband Todd’s life.
So Many Churches, So Many Values
One church believes X, the other believes Y. Which one is right? Meanwhile, I’m suffering! I need a pastor! Where do I go if I’m gay? Where do I go if I’m having an affair? Where do I go if I’m being abused? The questions abound…and having worshiped at multiple churches of radically different perspectives on all of these topics regularly several days a week for the past several years, I can tell you that churches can have radically different answers to these questions… and generally they will think that they are the only one offering the right answer.
One church would never allow divorce, even in the face of the gravest abuse, while the other will marry gay couple or happily advise a divorce in the face of “mere” irreconcilable differences. One church cares about social justice, and the other cares about building a personal relationship with Jesus as their Savior. My favorite book ever is by Douglas Strong at Seattle Pacific University on how people can be Evangelical and invested in social justice at the same time. It is a little old, but it provides examples of people who have done this. You should read it.
Meanwhile, a hurting individual has just walked into a church, your church. What do we do? They don’t know anything about Christianity. They read a blog (like this one) that suggested they give it a try…
Where’s the Compassion?: A Trick Question
I’m going to draw a parallel that will shed further light on the situation. I’m reminded of a recent conversation that I had with my husband Todd about what we would do when the time came for our dog, Addie (10), to be put down. Now I’ll preface this by saying that if you are reading this in a country other than the US, feel free to laugh at this example – Americans are ridiculous about their dogs; they are our children. Anyway, Todd had just read a recent article in the New York Times about hospice for dogs. He earnestly texted me the link during the day and then brought it up at dinner expectantly that night, seeking my blessing that when our girl gets near the end we would do hospice.
I, on the other hand, thought that that would be completely unnecessary. My grandpa was a horse veterinarian who put down one family dog merely because it was peeing on the furniture. But I knew it was important to him and was determined not to belittle the tender idea that was beginning to take hold. I said that I would support hospice up until I thought it would be unethical to keep her alive. At which point I would merely leave town to leave him with Addie since I wouldn’t dream of putting her down before Todd was ready.
This seemed like the perfect American boundaries, just like what I had studied as a psychology student. It was even allowing my dear girl to suffer longer just to please my husband. What a sacrifice on my part! Can you imagine the anguish…?
The impact of this comment, however, was unexpected.
“So then you would leave me to shoulder the loss all by myself?” Todd asked, crestfallen. “How could you do such a thing? Where’s the compassion?”
I couldn’t hold back my frustration at this unexpected turn. You see I was thinking that I had already thrown Todd a bone – forgive the expression – by even saying hospice would be okay. And now even by honoring traditional boundaries and deciding remove myself from the situation to honor Todd’s feelings, I was wrong.
“How would I be uncompassionate,” which isn’t a word, by the way, – “by leaving you with her so she could die the way you wanted?” I told Todd. “You’d be winning! Why would you lack compassion and prolong her suffering in the first place?”
Addie was sitting there, meanwhile, in perfect health, watching the argument take off.
“You think that putting her down is compassionate?” Todd said. “Americans only put down their animals to make their lives easier!”
Which Church is Modeling Christ?
The ultimate question was what compassion looked like, but we didn’t frame it that way. It was more personal: it was which of us was compassionate. It could not be both. The parallels with the state of American Christianity may already be clear to those who remember that the litmus test of any Christianity is this: are we modeling Christ? Modelling Christ is the top value. And what it looks like is different for each side.
Broken Church, we must ask ourselves if we are looking beyond ourselves and seeking the mind of Christ.
And yet, already a new argument arises. Whose version of the mind of Christ is the right version? Round and round we go…
I have learned that focusing on our own healing or the possibility of a cure for ourselves is not how we heal ourselves. It is also not how we heal the world. Stop asking how the church can heal. It can’t. It’s a part of the fallen creation. The more we try to convert everyone to our sides the more contentious matters will become and the church will fracture as permanently as when veil of the temple was torn in two.
Until 2018, I lived on the schizophrenia spectrum. I had schizoaffective disorder. Part of being on the schizophrenia spectrum – when it’s untreated, mine was treated – means that you’re living in multiple realities at once. I have been able to immerse myself in different worldviews entirely, while others do this merely as a thought experiment with a charitable perspective of “humoring” the opposition before invalidating them. I really occupied multiple world views fully and at once.
I have learned that God works through us even when we’re at our most broken when we look outside of ourselves. At my lowest point I asked God, as Jesus did, “Why have you forsaken me?” This is an act of utter humility. Maybe that’s what we need to do before the Church finds new life, is die to ourselves and to our egos which are ripping it apart to the detriment of those who need to be healed.
An Unconventional Solution
We must each follow the Holy Spirit’s call to what our church, or our institution is meant to be. As Christians of a broken 21st century Christianity the trap lies in our trying to be everything to everyone. Let some churches be conservative. Let some be liberal. Try to persuade others to your side. But don’t dehumanize people or dismiss them and their Christianity as as if that makes them unworthy of Christ’s kingdom. Don’t say someone is oppressing you just because they have a different worldview. People should be allowed to have differing callings. Who even knows what those labels mean in the first place? They mean a different thing to every person.
It is true that the cross is suffering. But the body of Christ is called to be a light to the world. What it is doing in the United States is hurting the hurting Jesus would heal.