I recently watched a video of a progressive Christian singing a silly song apologizing to other Christians for her occasional cursing. I was unaware what I was seeing was a reaction video, so at the end of it, another Christian blasted her for leading others into temptation and tarnishing the transformational name of Christ. It was honestly triggering, and I exited moments into the rant, but it has had me contemplating the pervasiveness of perfectionism within the Church.
That video took me right back into the decades of church experiences when using bad words, having angry or sad feelings, and engaging in destructive behavior were immediately equated with being a terrible Christian- or even just a horrible human. I could list endless statements of shame and invalidation I have heard over the years, spoken in an attempt to shut down any experiences that didn’t fit within the perfect example of Christ.
We are taught as Christians that our purpose is to follow Jesus’ example to the bitter end. “Pick up your cross” “Be prepared to sacrifice everything- including your life.” However, the model most churches use to control, I mean, mold their members is the Christ after the crucifixion. The holy and righteous transfigured Christ. The church forgets or consciously ignores the truth that Jesus’ life is an example of a transformational journey. The Christ ascending into the heavens was not the same Jesus getting baptized in the river- there was a wilderness, some table flipping, and lots of pissing off the religious leaders in between.
We have believed in the misrepresentation of a perfect Jesus and that it somehow becomes attainable in the moment of salvation. I can’t count the number of testimonies I have heard that the second someone found Jesus, they could stop all of their addictions. While that may well be the experience of some individuals, that is not the case for the collective. Due to that, some churches preach a sanctification process but lack the stomach to face, let alone sit in the depths of the human condition. They end up spiritually bypassing suffering with cliche tropes to “cast all of your worries on Him,” which is why one of my favorite Jesus statements was made in Matthew– you neither dance nor grieve. Even then, he knew the shallowness of the religious.
Jesus never asked his disciples or followers to be perfect. Yet, the moment Jesus’ physical presence was no longer with us, Christianity was on the path of becoming a religion of dos and don’ts to appear perfectly Christ-like. Especially in modern church history, we have focused on appearances, language, and suppressing the ugly parts of our lives and minds instead of embracing the work of accepting our shadows.
I understand this first hand through my transformation, which only truly began when I stopped running from the parts of myself I thought were “bad.” I learned that the splitting, repressing, and ignoring of shadows kept me from encountering wholeness, which meant I wasn’t even close to understanding holiness. Richard Rudd says in his book The Gene Keys, “the only way to kill a demon is to absorb it into the light inside yourself.” How do we absorb a demon we pretend doesn’t exist- or worse, driven further into the darkness with shame.
So no, it is not the unmarried couple living together to make ends meet, the gay worship leader, the greeter who just had an abortion or the young adults abusing substances to cope with their trauma that is tarnishing the name of Christ; it’s the Church who pretends Jesus didn’t have to go to hell and back to transcend death, to then and only then fully embody the Spirit of Christ.