One of the lingering questions that I daily ask myself is whether or not I should remain a committed Christian in this postmodern moment. One of the ways I measure commitment or faithfulness is through my attendance of church services. I often find it hard to remain a faithful churchgoer. Yes, I believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I believe in the triune God. I believe that as a Christian I must worship God in spirit and in truth. I also believe that I’m called to Christian ministry, especially as a minister-theologian. Yes, I understand that Christianity in all of its denominational manifestations is a fallible human institution in need of God’s grace. Yes, I believe in “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” I believe that the church is a worshiping community. In spite of my affirmations, I haven’t attended a Sunday worship service in a month. I realize that I often get churched out.
Being “churched out” is certainly not proper theological jargon for a seminary-educated person to use, but it succinctly captures a phenomenon which many North American Christians experience. For me, being “churched out” is being burned out. It’s the feeling that the intellectual reasons for attending services of worship dwarf in comparison to my overwhelming feelings of spiritual exhaustion of all things “church” in my daily lived experience. The zeal that I once had for Christian service tends to wane because of it. I often find it necessary to take “breaks” from attending church because what I experience within its walls, or at least in the churches that I’ve attended lately, tend to weigh heavily upon me.
It’s a constant struggle to glean blessings from a bed of thorns every Sunday. What I hear from pulpits or pews, whether I hear sermons or testimonies, can be paradoxically a time of great joy and of great distress. Given the contextual nature of all theologies, many of us within black churches hold uncritical, non-Scriptural, and at times self and other-negating views of God’s ways with God’s creation which trouble me. Of course, I don’t expect every Christian that I encounter to have a seminary degree or attend a Bible class, but not everything said and done within the walls of the churches are “holy things for a holy people.” In many of the churches, pastors cultivate environments that ironically inhibit Christian discipleship by adopting an authoritarian dogmatism that inhibits followers from questioning what they teach and preach. Christians who venture to challenge what is taught and done within congregations and parishes are often shunned as rebellious [e.g. “Jezebel spirit”), defying the Word of God and the pastor’s authority. Fortunately, I come from a family of Baptists who love to debate and critique what is taught and done in churches, even if one of us are guilty of doing something that becomes the target of our critiques. However, not many Christians are so fortunate.
As for my absence from church attendance, I believe that this anti-intellectualism plays a significant factor. I can also say that I haven’t attended church now because I feel a bit lost as far as where I’m going vocationally. It’s quite clear to me that I desire to become a professional theologian, even as I pursue training as a chef along the way towards this goal. I think my absence from church is because I’m exhausted from actually facing the prospect of leaving my own ecclesiastic background for more “inclusive,” liberal Protestant shores. Real talk: I hate living within an “open closet.” I believe in temperance, but I hate living in a constant state of self-policing as if my existence is a problem. It doesn't necessarily mean that my theology has fundamentally changed. Viscerally, it hasn't changed despite my pragmatic wishes. Honestly, I’m finding that my theology becomes deeply dissatisfying as I get older, as I come into my own self, and my life is blessed as I engage with other LGBT Christians of all ecclesiastic persuasions and theological beliefs. I desire to engage in thoughtful theological conversations; lamentably, I’m finding that more conservative black churches don’t provide this safe space for fostering thoughtful theological conservation.
What I long for is the freedom to be uninhibited, to walk in truth and integrity of being who I am. I am simply tired of playing the negotiating game. The more I live, the more that I realize that evangelical Afro-Protestantism, specifically black Baptist churches, simply is not ready for me. And I am exhausted by waiting on them to embrace the reality of openly LGBT people living among them, despite the incessant quoting of biblical passages, disregarding their contexts, denying the complexity of human experience, and the inherently partiality of theological knowledge. I feel like that I need to move on and I cannot wait on them but I know that I must wait on God. So, I’m both anxious and exhausted and therefore I need to rest, regroup, and recover from the church.
As I write this post I plan to return back to church this Sunday. Obviously, I realize that I miss worshiping God with God’s people. I love the church, specifically black evangelical Baptist churches. They have been my home since birth. However, I’m taking the liberty to occasionally chill out from churchgoing when I feel the burden gets too heavy to carry. Sometimes they say “take your burdens to the Lord [God at the altar], and leave them there.” Interestingly, this burden never leaves me. Perhaps it’s a necessary burden for me to carry in order to do the work that I must do. I just don’t want to completely check out of the church trying to do what “thus saith the Lord” even before I even officially start tilling the ground.