I Quitchu: A Lenten Journey

I’m giving up church for Lent. To be truthful, beyond the worship services that I’ve attended at my campus and at this year’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, I gave up church two months ago. It was at the beginning of January that I notified my pastor that I would be resigning my leadership position and eventually leaving the church. What I’m giving up for Lent is the guilt that I inevitably feel on Sunday mornings when I stay home working in the garden or go hiking with my family.
I’ve been a member of the United Methodist Church for 10 years now, but in my heart I’m still a good Baptist (which is maybe why I keep teaching at Baptist seminaries!). I still remember my baptismal vows at the historically Black Baptist church of my youth. In them, I promised that if I were to leave that church, I would find another as soon as possible. Since then, I have always tried to keep that promise. And my family has held me accountable to it. When I moved to Miami at the age of 21 to attend graduate school, every phone call to my maternal grandmother would include her asking, “Did you join a church yet?”
The thing is, it is hard to be an African American woman with progressive theological, political, and social commitments and find a church. It is not just that there are elements of the worship experience that make me feel uncomfortable. I can deal with discomfort. In fact, I think that if worship doesn’t regularly stretch us beyond our comfort zone and force us to encounter God through the eyes of others, it’s not worship at all.
I’ve always been willing to make compromises. I can give up my preferences for music or preaching in a certain style if the teaching is theologically sound. I can deal with being one of few people of color in a congregation if the voices of women, young people, and LGBTQ persons are respected and empowered. I can tolerate a certain level of dysfunction in the leadership and organization if the commitment to intersectional justice is strong enough. And I can put up with a combination of those factors if my kid will have the chance to participate in a strong children’s ministry that is discipling him well.
My issue is that of being in churches that – whether in their music, prayer, teachings, polity, or practice – routinely make claims about God that I believe to be contrary to who God is and who God calls us to be. I am opposed to being in church that deny the imago Dei (image of God) within myself and others by forcing us to conform to their image of who we should be. And that has been the experience in almost every congregation that I’ve attended. Ultimately, the pressure to conform reveals itself in one way or another.
When I joined the leadership of this new church plant 18 months ago, I took it as a chance help build a new type of community from the ground up, a place where we would make a radical commitment to becoming beloved community, where people of diverse backgrounds would find themselves welcomed and empowered in the fullness of who they were. What I absolutely did not want was to create another “Benetton” type of multicultural congregation, one where the church was filled with people of different races/ethnicities but who were all culturally white. But eventually, it felt like that was precisely what we’d become.My repeated efforts to redirect us were not successful. It began to feel like I was Sisyphus, doomed to eternally push a boulder uphill by myself.
My freedom came one Friday afternoon when I began reflecting about my perpetual struggle of being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. “What am I losing of myself each time that I shave off bits of myself to fit? And what if I simply stopped trying to fit into these spaces?” Even the thought of the second question was terrifying. It meant that I would have to let go of a lot, including this new church family that I had grown to love. Over the next two days, after continuous prayer and dialogue with my partner, I decided to take the leap.
So, church, I quitchu. I quitchu with no plan to return to you as you currently exist, because you are abusive. I quitchu along with my many Jesus-loving friends who have quitchu, along with those who are considering it. I quitchu because you are incapable of loving me in all my complexity, because you are incapable of loving those whom God loves. I quitchu because you are more concerned with preserving your own existence than being beloved community. I quitchu because you quit me a long time ago. I quitchu because I need to heal from the pain and damage that you have caused me, and I cannot heal while being in relationship with my abuser. I quitchu because I realize that I can love Jesus better and more freely beyond the confines of your concrete walls and your restrictive theology. I quitchu, the institutional church, to join the church in the wild, the church in the catacombs.
Amen and Ashé.
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6 thoughts on “I Quitchu: A Lenten Journey

  1. Thomas Crichlow says:

    My hope and prayer is that you will find the Holy Spirit alive and well in the church in the wild and the church in the catacombs — that you will continually find that Jesus has prepared a path for you in the places to which you now go.

    I pray that you will continue to be interwoven into the body of God’s abundant love, compassion, and mercy that is so much larger than any of the boxes people have tried to place God in.

    And I pray that God will guide you to people who will cherish you and walk alongside with you.

    Peace be with you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Music4Life says:

    I hope I can be honest and frank, to a mature crowd. I totally understand this. I’ve been here myself, in my younger years. What I came to find out were that there were some major foundational things that I had wrong. And that’s where I’d like to start. Again, I really hope this can help somebody.

    The first thing I noticed was the use of buzzwords (i,e, epowered, LGBTQ, and partner – specificially). My initial question would be, are you a member of the LGBTQ community? If so, of course that has great bearing on relationship to the church, but more importantly what you’re expecting from God. If you’re not LGBTQ, we still have to be careful that our LOVE doesn’t turn into Not sharing the Gospel (which includes the truth about Man & Woman – no matter how uncomfortable). The ultimate acceptance and normalizing of homosexualilty in our churches isn’t from God, it’s from the Culture in which we live. God welcomes all, but not to stay as we are – we have to change to what He requires. The culture is teaching against this. Again, it bears great relevance to our views on the church collectively. If we are internally fighting for something that counters God, then we’ll never come to a place of satisfaction – and trust me, I know it gets real murky.

    Anyway, the second thing that popped out to me was the “Benetton type of multiculutral congregation” line. That’s profound and points to what’s happening behind the scenes. The same people who own the media, also began to run the theological seminaries many years ago. This is why so many of the churches are the same. Same music, same style, same sermons, same qoutes, same buildings, same mentality, same everything. And it’s sad. This is also how we get so many churches that do accept and even promote homosexuality. So back to the foundational things I mentioned – does part of your foundation include recognizing these types of things? – know ing that most of the sameness that you see comes from somewhere? From a specific group of people who control things (if you know where I’m going with this), with certain beliefs who use their control to spread them? For me, it wasn’t. I had to really study and dig deep to see the deception for what it was and it’s connection to the ancient war between Good and Evil, or God and Satan.

    Lastly, I wasn’t really able to tell why you’re really quitting the church from reading this. .What I found was that when I was really honest with myself about who Jesus is and what parts of Him the culture is at war with, things became much much clearer.One of the biggest things that is being pushed by the culture is that Jesus is all accepting – and that’s the end all be all. He accepts us in our mess in order for us to encounter Him and change! The culture hates that part. Many of us, through lifestyle, education, and stubbornness are being conditioned to hate that part too. Points to the fact that the church collectively is indeed in trouble, and has been for a long time. But leaving coveringm no matter how imperfect, is always a dangerous game. I’ve been there. There are still good churches out there. There is real clarity out there and I pray that you find it!! Love and Blessings to All!!

    Like

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