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When Did the Church Decide that the Best Way to Attract People is By Looking Perfect?

Am I the only one paranoid and cynical these days? Is every man an abuser? Is every church hiding something?

I think about my upbringing and I realize that I was one of the fortunate ones. My parents were emotionally and economically stable. They disciplined me (I was not an easy kid), but loved me and never went too far. They sheltered me but weren't afraid to talk about hard things.

The various Christian communities I grew up in were full of warmth and affection. Hypocrisy was rare; I was never asked to keep secrets; I was never abused--not even close.

And I took it all for granted. I assumed that was the norm. Shocking stories were, well, shocking. In general, I believed that Christians and churches and mission organizations were morally upstanding and safe. Why shouldn't I?

But like I said, I was one of the fortunate ones. The older I've gotten, the more I realize that the wholesome and moral picture-perfect life was just a veneer. That lurking beneath the surface of Good American Christianity was far more cancer than I ever understood.

For too many, this realization has caused them to abandon not just the Church, but Jesus as well. Should we be surprised? After the talks about purity rings and modest skirts, church leaders were grooming little girls. Families were taught to pull their children in tighter and tighter, shielding them from the evil out there, while failing to acknowledge the evil within. Bruised men and women were told to forgive and forget. And wickedness was covered up by manicured grass and hearty welcoming handshakes. Why are we surprised so many have left?

When did the Church decide that the best way to attract people is by looking perfect? It certainly didn't come from Jesus, who got down in the dust with the adulteress, and chose the tax collector and the fisherman (not the rabbis) to be his disciples.

Some churches have tried to be more down-to-earth. The pastor ditches his suit for jeans and the music team brings in drums and huge "Come As You Are" signs are splashed across the entrance. But maybe the watching world isn't so concerned about jeans and slick music and modern-looking buildings as much as they are about authenticity.

Authenticity is a popular word these days, so I am careful how I use it. I don't believe that we should be saying, This is the real me, so deal with it. But I do believe we should be communicating, This is the real me, and that's why I need Jesus. There's a big difference.

What happens when the Church preaches forgiveness at the expense of justice? What happens when a church claims love and unity as values but all the faces and ages look the same? What happens when the vast majority of the church's energy is expended only for the people inside its own walls? We can smile, offer free coffee in the foyer, and parade around our well-behaved children, but will we really be living out the gospel to a broken world?

We don't want to recognize our wretchedness because of pride. We cover up sin to protect our reputations because of pride. And pride is the antithesis of the gospel! 

Why do we so often try to look perfect? Understanding the gospel must start by recognizing our depravity. If we're already pretty good people, then what's the purpose of grace? And why on earth then did Jesus need to suffer and die for us?

I've lived long enough now that scandals, even within the Church, no longer shock me. But I am consistently discouraged by the stories of churches covering them up. As Rachel Denhollander brilliantly said, "The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection."

You can lock up a few evil people, but you can't lock up everyone. As the cancer in our churches continues to rise to the surface, let us not simply pull it out, but look at where it's rooted in our own hearts.

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