John Pavlovitz put this out a while ago, but it only recently came to my attention. And I have to respond, because his blog about “things that need to be said” has prompted my need to say something.
And if it wasn’t clear the first time, let me try to say it more succinctly.
First, please call us what other intelligent sources do–we are not the “once-churched”. We are de-churched. We have left.
Those within the church don’t have to treat us as something fragile–we aren’t to be handled “gently” or “kindly”, at least no more than you handle anyone “gently” or “kindly”. It’s not as if we are sick, or in need of something you have in your being a Church Person.
We have, for a time or for good (and it is up to us which it is), positively and definitively rejected what you are up to. After (sometimes many) years of church membership, we’ve outgrown the institution. We don’t see “community”, we see idolatry. We don’t see “support”, we see oppression. We are (perhaps, or maybe not) better for having been Church People–but we know we will be better still by de-churching.
Notice how I phrased it: You did not “de-church” us, we de-churched ourselves. We left, either suddenly, or after a long, sometimes painful, sometimes guilt-ridden process. But we own our decision.
Decision. It’s an interesting word. Comes from the same place as all those other “cision” words come from–incision, circumcision, excision. It means cutting off, cutting away. When a person makes a decision, s/he cuts away other possibilities, and go for the one s/he thinks is best. De-church means away with church. Really. It’s a choice. More often than not, a considered one.
It’s not like excommunication, by which the church decides it is done with us until/unless we toe the party line. We are done with church–we may maintain relationships with some people who remain, but there is no official reason for persisting Christians to sever ties with us (unless, of course, you are part of one of those churches who consider spiritual growth to be apostasy and you choose to shun us). De-churching is not an act of the church, it is an act of the person who has realized church is not where they need to be to be their best, truest–even most “spiritual”, or dare I say it, holy–self.
Mr. Pavlovitz, the de-churched are not (and this must be said) “relying” on those within the church to reflect Christ to us. We’ve seen the reflection of Christ many within the church are capable of giving. We don’t want that. It’s why most of us left.
We are not sick. We are not weak. We do not need you to pussy-foot around and treat us as though we are too fragile to survive the harsh spiritual winter outside the hothouse of the church. Once we got over the guilt and sense of failure so often involved with leaving an institution (even the “biblical community” you cite, because, truthfully, the two are not really separable) which is so invested in making sure we don’t leave, we realized something. We are strong. We can do much in the world without the institutional church. We are tired of not thinking for ourselves. We are tired of checking every spiritual move we make with the pastors whose chief job is to keep us obedient rather than help us grow.
We don’t need the pity implied by your advice to church people about how to treat us.
We ask to be treated as mature, self-aware individuals. Your essay fails to advise what we most want.