There's an old children's story called "The Emperor's New Clothes", which tells the tale of two con-men 'selling' the emperor a new set of clothes. It is said (by the con artists) that these clothes are woven from cloth so fine that only the truly discerning can even see them! Of course it's all a scam, but no-one wants to be thought undiscerning. So they all pretend that the clothes are there until one little boy, too innocent to play the game, actually tells the truth and points out that the emperor is, in fact, stark naked!
It seems to me that this happens in churches all the time. We 'sell' Jesus as the answer to all life's troubles. Come to church and everything will be ok. Say the magic words and you'll be transformed into a super-christian overnight.
The trouble is, it's not true. It's a religious con. Jesus actually promised trouble for those who truly followed him. He promised a sword, not a sofa-bed.
And the product that is sold in many churches doesn't transform people, it merely teaches them the need to perform and pretend. It polices morals, but leaves hearts untouched.
That's why I fought so long and so hard when everything started to go pear-shaped at my ex-church. We, the leadership, were saying that we had a better way - a higher way - but in reality, when the rubber hit the road, we had nothing better to offer at all. We squabbled amongst ourselves like children fighting over a coveted toy. We lashed out at each other and tried to lord it over each other, hoping that the other side would just give up and go away.
And eventually one side did exactly that, and nobody cared that we were wounded and bleeding. Nobody thought they'd done anything wrong. "Church leadership can be brutal," I was told. That's just the way it is. And nobody even questioned that!
Well, I'm calling bullish#t!
Just this week, I was passed on the school steps by the wife of my ex-friend from my ex-church. I spoke to her, but she continued to pretend I didn't exist... well... actually she looked like she really wished that I didn't exist.
Just like my sister-in-law, she has a way of looking at you that makes you grateful that looks can't really kill! Still, it's not for want of venom in her eyes.
The truly sad thing is that this woman is the "senior leader" (along with her husband) of her very own church! True! Their church even has its own website telling people about how much they value things like love and trust!
But I suspect that's only if you agree with everything they do and say...
Someone who cannot even bring herself to acknowledge my presence, let alone deal with our past issues, is selling herself as a leader - an example for others to follow. But when it comes to her dealings with me, she's not even acting like a grown-up, let alone a christian!
And if she wasn't refusing to have anything to do with me, this is what I'd like to say to her:
Sister, I actually don't care what you think of me, or whether you look maliciously at me every time you see me. It actually doesn't bother me any more, even though it used to tear me apart inside. I've finally found the freedom that Jesus was offering me all those years. And it's better than all the titles and 'authority' I lost when I walked away from the institution.
But here's the thing - when you publicly hold yourself up as a shining example of the "transforming power of Jesus", I will call BS! When I see people being sold a dud product, I will stand up and point it out.
And it's not because I hate you. Or that I want to hurt you. Actually... it's not about you at all.
I do it because I care about the people being conned into thinking they've got the real deal. And I don't want to see anyone else hurt or damaged or betrayed like I was. And I care less about what people think of me, than I do about those who suffer at hands of religious leaders who are simply peddling snake oil. So when I see christians selling one thing, and living something so entirely different, I will shout a warning and tell the truth that the 'emperor' is absolutely stark naked!