Recently, Christian and blogger Jen Hatmaker blogged for the first time since her controversial positions on the biblical positions on homosexuality. Her return to blogging was to share her heartbreaking struggles with fellow Christians and what she termed “the Christian Machine,” the Christian sub-sub-culture’sauthoritative figures, corporations, and branding mechanisms. Christians and our marketplaces closed in on Jen Hatmaker and squeezed, and the results were damaging.
This isn’t unique to Ms. Hatmaker or even a person of Ms. Hatmaker’s influence and popularity, of course. Comments on her blog from women of all stripes indicate that the Christian church and its cultural artifacts can destroy the faithful and, more terribly, destroy faith.
I have a few stories of this of my own. They aren’t stories the size of Ms. Hatmaker’s. They don’t involve brand dynamics and a “Christian Machine,” but they do involve deeply damaged relationships and a loss of faith. Personal stories. A pastor who defrauded a Christian financial institution for his daughter’s tuition. A couple who sought to eject my family from church by character assassination because of a misunderstanding. A pastor who claimed theft, but was later to be found in possession of the allegedly stolen item. A pastor who was mentally ill that started the decline of a 100 year old congregation when he played emotional games with church leadership. A pastor who inappropriately gazed at and touched a teenage friend.
Those stories didn’t get international headlines or commentary from the Evangelical ruling class, like Ms. Hatmaker’s did. But, they are just as real, and just as (or even more) damaging.
The same “Christian machine” that builds up can (and does) tear down. It’s made up of people with mixed motives. The same motives that put the teeth in Jesus’ second-greatest command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We love ourselves (often in incomprehensible and bizarre ways) first, and the command is to extend that to our neighbors. And, too often, even when we do it, we do it in incomprehensible and bizarre ways.
We are bad humans, and we build up and tear down.
And that is why we need the Gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus does not ignore our fallenness; it is in direct response to it. Unlike the self-help stylings of the age, the Gospel of Jesus says that we can’t help ourselves and, instead, need Jesus.
But, my own confession is that I am attracted to the machine. I like being built up. I pretend I won’t be torn down. I want to become a brand, to get the attention, and to see my work shared.
So, I need to keep coming back to the Gospel. I need to be dragged back to it, sometimes, kicking and screaming.
But I’ll take it. I’ll take the Gospel and breathe it and meditate on it and build myself on this rock.
I hope you will too.