I’m glad you chose to write me because I love being amazed at the courage and faithfulness of God’s children. I mean, I’m just astonished that you’ve managed not only to extricate you from a horrible situation, but you’ve done so with Christ-like grace. Most people would want to lash out, to retaliate, but you’ve been selfless and forgiving. It’s obvious who is bearing the image of Christ — and who are not.
So here’s my advice: don’t go back. DON’T GO BACK. You were right to leave.
When people ask me about whether to leave a legalistic church, I often urge them to stay in hopes that they’ll be able to change things. But in this case, you most definitely need to stay away.
First, it seems very unlikely that you can change things by going back. They’ll see it as a victory and confirmation that their tactics have worked. Going back will just encourage them to treat others the same way — and that’s an intolerable possibility.
Second, you have children, and you should not expose them to this pseudo-Christianity any longer. I’m impressed that they’ve kept their faith thus far. Don’t ask them to put up with any more of what you’ve left. Many kids would have already left Christ altogether.
Don’t go back.
Do keep treating your parents, grandparents, and friends at your former congregation just as you have. Don’t seek vengeance. Turn the other cheek. I can’t express how impressed I am that you’ve handled this so well. I mean, not many people would have sat home Thanksgiving while their family went to their parents’ house. That is truly going the extra mile. You are living the Sermon on the Mount — in many ways — and I’m impressed.
Your parents may never repent, but in my experience, parents usually do. I can tell you two stories I know from close up.
First, my home church had a young man come to the University of Alabama from North Alabama, where there are several cultic Churches of Christ. He joined our congregation, and his home congregation disfellowshipped him. You see, we’re “liberal.” I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we own a bus. And his dad was the preacher there and led the whole sad thing.
We supported him and did what we could to help, but before he graduated, God took care of it, bringing his father to repentance.
Second, many years ago, back in my hometown, a Church of Christ student went to Alabama to play on the football team. This was back in the days of Bear Bryant. He was a hero back home, to everyone but his home church. You see, he joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is “denominational,” and his home church, a Church of Christ, disfellowshipped him. His father was the preacher. At the end of his career with the University, his hometown held a parade in his honor. And his father didn’t attend.
He wound up leaving the Churches of Christ, as you might expect, but remained a faithful Christian. And he later reconciled with his father. God brought repentance to that household, too.
And so, while it may take years, I expect that at some point your parents will recognize their mistake and repent.
At your new church home, if you’ve not already done so, I’d suggest that you meet with the minister and tell him your story. He may be able to put you in contact with people who’ve fled similar situations, or help you get connected with a support network of friends. Join a small group, if they have such a ministry. Get involved. There is great joy in service.
Let me suggest some other places to turn for encouragement. For a long time, I was very active on the Ex-Church of Christ Dialogue Board. This is a very active board hosting discussions between Church of Christ members and former Church of Christ members. Some participants are, as you might expect, a bit hostile toward the Churches of Christ, but most take a more philosophical view. The key is that they know where you’ve been and can be very encouraging and supportive. I only left because this blog absorbed my free time. You’ll sometimes see people comment here that I met over there. They are good people.
Closely connected to that board is a support group for those who’ve left the Churches of Christ. I’ve never participated in it because, well, I’m not an “ex.” It’s for people escaping the most legalistic Churches of Christ.
Pat wrote a comment inviting me to put you two in contact with each other. I’ll send you her email address by email. She is much like you, in that she is a strong, smart Christian woman — my favorite kind. And she’s been through her own difficulties with legalism — although they’ve not disfellowshipped her yet. I think you’ll enjoy making her acquaintance.
Certainly I’d be pleased if you’d stay in touch with me. I’m glad to help however I can.
If you haven’t already done so, go give your husband a hug and a kiss. He must be a remarkable man to have given up his Baptist roots for a very conservative Church of Christ. Not many women get that level of support.
And the same goes for your kids. They’ve put up with a lot. You have an amazing family.
In the mean time, enjoy your new relationship with Jesus. Get to know him even better every day. You’ve obviously been studying diligently and, I have no doubt, been in constant prayer. It shows.
So … don’t go back. Celebrate your escape. Mourn for those still trapped in the pit of legalism. As I said back during the Quail Springs mess –
Ultimately, the proper response came to me from a couple of old George Herbert (1593-1633) quotes–
“If a donkey bray at you, don’t bray at him.”
Or more elegantly,
“Living well is the best revenge.”
But I think you already know this. By living free of vengeance and enjoying the freedom Jesus died to give you, you have the best chance to persuade those who treated you this way that they made a mistake. The people at your former church won’t be inclined to follow your example unless they see Jesus in you — and see you enjoying him.
One last thought — today this blog had the highest hit count ever. And it’s plainly because of your email. People care. You see, the way posts get high hit counts is people share links with friends, and readers wanted their friends to participate in this discussion.
And not a single person has written in to defend your former congregation or to criticize you. I have plenty of readers who are part of conservative Churches of Christ. Even they haven’t defended your former church. 95% of Churches of Christ would never have acted so wrongly.
[further reflections to come]