I was watching a fabulous Hulu Dramedy this Sunday afternoon while navigating my way through laundry mountain when I heard this chant in a protest on screen.
I’ve heard it before. You probably have too. It’s been used in countless protests for years.
“A people united will never be divided”…
It gets used in church spaces, too.
But here’s the thing, Friend.
Just like every catch phrase, this is depreciative. Sure, it’s handy at a protest. But in practice?
It reduces the significance of the events leading to division.
I went to Sunday School this morning. I’ve only attended a handful of times in the last year or so, and a large part of that is due to my personal difficulties with the way that certain topics- like mental health, sexual trauma and gender issues- are handled within faith communities. These are issues that affect people at a deep and spiritual level, and this is certainly true for me. Is it true for you?
Does your gender impact the way that you experience the world around you, including your faith and your faith community? For example, do you feel safe in situations where other genders feel unsafe, or are you prohibited from accessing spaces because of your gender? Have you been told that God will only bless you, guide you or gift you in certain ways but not others because of your genitals?
Have you, like me, faced some sort of church drama or even split as a result of a calling or gifting that didn’t align with gender norms? When my church split after my nomination to the board led to a debate about gender roles, the impact on me was greater than I realized at the time. I am still affected by the comments made at the meeting questioning my character, my skill set and even my employment in a way that my male peers never experienced. When people I had once considered family showed up JUST to vote against me, simply because of my gender, my heart was broken.
What about sexual trauma? Have you, like me, fallen victim to the chewed-up-bubble gum analogy? Have you been told that you were less valuable to your spouse because you’d been previously touched? What about significant sexual violation, when that touching was not with your consent? Others then discussed how this precious thing was stolen from you and from your spouse, how you were forever changed and how this person had taken something from you that was so precious because of the way the church valued virginity and sexual purity?
Has someone in your church body crossed the line, violating both your body and your sense of peace in a space and a community that should be sacred?
Have you opened up about mental health struggles with your church family, only to be told to be more positive, more prayerful, and to spend more time in your Bible? Have you experienced relational harm within the body of believers and been told to be more tender hearted, more submissive, more forgiving, and more loving in order to get them to treat you better? Because, after all, you are a sinner saved by grace, so you should forgive others too, right?
And I am a white woman married to a man. This doesn’t even begin to touch the experiences of our brothers and sisters who are minorities or are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
These types of experiences impact us deeply, but we are often taught to stuff them for the sake of “unity.”
After all, a people united can never be divided, and we are called to be “one body,” right? (1 Corinthians 12:20-25)
So we stuff. We silence our inner voices. We ignore our guts, despite the Holy Spirit dwelling within us as our power-giving Advocate. Despite being gifted with Godly discernment. Despite being given instructions for handling confrontation and despite the reality that scripture was literally given to us for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Confrontation is not evil.
Rebuking is not “of the enemy”.
Correcting someone is not the same as breaking apart the body of Christ.
When we refuse to engage in healthy and appropriate confrontation, we are refusing to honor God’s design. Instead, we elevate the pleasant atmosphere and acceptance of others to that of an idol. We worship at the altar of being “nice,” and “good.” When we confront others, especially when others are harming people who are unable or unwilling to speak up for themselves, we risk anger, rejection and even (further) harm to ourselves for the sake of honoring God.
The truth is that so often, in our desire for unity we often create disunity. We do this by ensuring that our faith communities are not safe for the most vulnerable, the exploited, the marginalized and the oppressed. We silence those who are hurting, ensuring that our faith communities are the exact opposite of what JESUS IS.
Jesus is safe.
Jesus threw tables when he saw the vulnerable being exploited. (Matthew 21:12-13)
Jesus used his voice when he saw the unjust “law of the land” being weaponized by the powerful majority against the powerless minority. ( John 7:53–8:11)
Jesus stopped in the middle of his trek to help the child of an influential man in order to heal a woman who had been ostracized for over a decade due to… menstrual blood. (Luke 8:43-48)
In fact, Jesus full on called the Pharisees out for their… well… their bullshit. My favorite part: They do all their deeds to be seen by others, for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. (Matthew 23: 5-8… and it continues!)
Jesus is safe.
Jesus has, and always will be safe.
Jesus proved time and time again that he was willing to risk confrontation for the sake of others with less power, less authority and less influence than him. He walked with the unpopular, He sat with the women and he fought for the oppressed.
This entire concept of unity for the sake of the “body?”
This is not Jesus.
Jesus did not disregard the mistreatment or the needs of some for the benefit of the religious industrial complex. He called it out. Over and over and over again. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13)
Or there’s this one
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others” (Luke: 11: 42)
Or there’s this gem, found in Mark:
“…Because of your traditions you have destroyed the authority of God’s word. And you do many other things like that.
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and try to understand! Nothing that goes into a person from the outside can make him unclean. It’s what comes out of a person that makes him unclean. Let the person who has ears listen!”(Mark 7:13-16)
I urge you, Friend. Do not let the Pharisees of today pressure you. Do not let them push you to give up your indwelt desire for truth, for justice and for the church to reflect Christ.
Do not allow yourself to be shamed by words like “divisive.” After all, Jesus was one of the most divisive figures to hit the collective church. He came in like a wrecking ball and turned everything that so many believed upside down. He forced people to question their convictions, their traditions and their beliefs. He put people from all walks of life in a position where suddenly they were looking at humanity through the lens of Christ-like love rather than the lens of performative religion.
Please. Seek Jesus and not acceptance.
Seek Jesus and Not gold stars from religious elites.
Seek Jesus above all else.
When I was in the midst of religious elites, I was suffocating. It wasn’t until I took a step away that I was able to find the oxygen that I needed- in the arms of Jesus.
I didn’t find him in the elites. I found him outside of the walls built by performative religion, expectation and demands and in the stories of his solidarity with those on the periphery of society.
Jesus is rarely found at the pulpit. He’s in the streets, He’s at the tables, and he’s where the people are. He’s breaking the rules, asking “Why” and rooting every single choice that he makes in love, not a desire to BE LOVED, and not in a desire to look good.
Do you want to be like Jesus? To do what he does, to live like he lived, to radically love like he loves and to be where he is?
I know that I do.
So when I’m chastised and told to “just forgive, just read the Bible, to thank God for the bad things I experience, just keep Jesus at the center and it’ll all work itself out…” I’ll take a breath and look toward Jesus, knowing that HE has been my hub all along. He is the reason I step out of the “in crowd”, throw tables, and use my voice.
Jesus is the reason that I speak rather than quietly accepting harm done to myself and others.
When Religious Elites tell me to be silent and still, Jesus is my example to move forward boldly.
Thank you, Lord, for seeing me. Even when you walked this earth so long ago, your interactions with the vulnerable and marginalized supported, honored and protected me. My siblings. Those that I love. Generations to come.
What an incredible God.
To quote my 5 year old after a week at VBS:
“AWESOME, GOD!”Diana, Age 5
Be Bold, Live Out Loud