Welcome to #ATLT, At the Lord's Table: A Conversation, a series of over 50 posts from varying authors about the beautiful, mangled Church. Look for at least two new posts every Monday through Saturday between January 25th and February 22nd. Join us in the conversation? See you in the comments.
[Editor's Note: After already receiving a rather unsettling email this morning, I'd like to clarify a few things. First and foremost, this is my blog space, I am free to post whatever I want. Second, it means that sometimes I share a post from a dear friend whom I do not happen to agree with on certain issues, but nonetheless respect. I do not fully agree with Dianna on some points, but I do stand beside her. As otherwise caring and loving readers, I trust you shall do the same and shall also not make it your business to be her Holy Spirit.]
It’s a question I’ve been asked by Christians and atheists alike in recent months.
“Why bother? The ones who need to hear you aren’t listening.”
“Why bother? You’re just going to get relegated to the ranks of ‘crazy liberal feminist’ anyway, so why even stay with the church?”
These are questions I’ve been asking myself for a couple of years now, and my answer hasn’t really changed.
“I love the church.”
That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
For those of who you don’t know me (which may be quite a few – hello!), I’m a feminist. Not only that, but I’m a liberal feminist. Egalitarian, childfree, career-focused, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, slutwalking feminist. In today’s American evangelical culture, I am a minority.
Indeed, I stopped going to church (in the sense of attending regular services on a Sunday morning) about a year and a half ago. It was beginning to give me anxiety attacks – I couldn’t sit through an hour long service without wanting to get up and run to the bathroom to vomit. So I left. And like my friend Elizabeth, I’ve felt free and more myself in the past year than ever before.
In my career as a feminist blogger, I spend a lot of time bogged down in the negative aspects of church activity. I notice the sermons and the gender roles and the ways in which we approach women that downplay, belittle, and outright oppress. I have listened to men explain to me in the most patronizing ways why I’m wrong and why I shouldn’t be listened to, solely because I am a woman. I have faced outright insults because I bothered to speak up. One would think, after all of this, that I would just get up and leave. So many of my friends have. So many people I know have become overwhelmed with all the negativity coming out of the American church that they have walked out the doors and never returned.
But not I.
There’s a moment in the middle of the Lord of the Rings that, to this day, remains one of my favorite moments in movie history. Sam and Frodo are weary and tired of their journey. They are trudging toward Mordor and toward almost certain death, and the world is weighing down on them. Sam begins talking, and at first, you think he’s just trying to pep Mr. Frodo up, that he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. One thinks he’s given up:
“I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
When Frodo replies, “What are we holding onto, Sam?”, Sam gives the answer that I must give whenever I am asked about leaving the church: “That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.”
For me, I keep on loving Her because in spite of all the negativity, the Church is, at its heart, good and capable of good things. Broken sinners get in the way of that work all the time, and sometimes when you look at the church, that’s all you can see – sinful people perpetuating sin and oppression in the name of Christ. But I choose, most days, to step back and remember that the Church has endured for two thousand years, that there is grace and forgiveness, and that when the church is good, it is so good that it hurts.
When I look at the church, I see a group of people struggling to find their way. More often than not, they misstep. But I also see a group of people who know and understand that the world can be a better place, who are imperfectly striving for grace, mercy and redemption of what some would see as an irrevocably broken world.
And because I see that, I strive to make the church itself better. It seems like a lost cause at times – more than once, I have thrown up my hands in disgust and thought, “Why even bother?” But it would be disingenuous of me, as a person who believes in grace and redemption, to give up on the Institution that understands that need better than any other.
So, why bother?
Because I love Her, and She is worth fighting for.
Dianna Anderson has a day job as a radio producer in Chicago, IL, where she is one of several producers on a program for English Language Learners. She moonlights as a feminist blogger, taking a critical eye to church, media, and country. Her blog can be found at http://www.diannaeanderson.net.