The “secular world” has liars and thieves, adulterers, cheaters, and hypocrites. It’s a place full of child molesters, domestic abusers, and addicts. Where loneliness is rampant, mental illness is on the rise, and individuals routinely try to numb their pain via drugs, alcohol, and sex. Divorce is everywhere, pornography infects the minds of millions, and infidelity occurs on a regular basis.
The church often presents itself as an alternative to the “real world,” a place where these things don’t exist.
Many churches refuse to admit that these problems are affecting them. In reality, there is little statistical difference between Christians and non-Christians relating to these issues. Christians don’t receive a special pass that protects them from experiencing mental illness, suffering, struggling with addiction, abusing other people, being abused, or failing.
Our faith in Christ gives us hope and strength and courage, but it doesn’t erase reality, and it isn’t meant to create a flawless utopia where we can escape from the world’s problems. But many churches attempt to do just that — trying to create the perception of perfection.
In some church communities, there is the appearance that porn, sexual abuse, and rampant sin don’t exist. Even non-sinful things (mental illness, poverty, etc.) are treated as stigmas that are intentionally shunned. This is often misinterpreted as holiness — it’s not.
Healthy spiritual communities don’t have an absence of these problems; rather, they provide open platforms and environments for these issues to be addressed and put out into the open. People are supposed to freely share their pains, struggles, and experiences — no matter how dark, shameful, sinful, or excruciating they are.
Transparency and honesty are virtues that the church needs to start implementing into their regular routines.
Jesus’ ministry was powerful because it addressed people directly where they were at — dealing with the thorny issues of life. He didn’t provide an alternate reality; he simply gave people the inspiration and ability to change, reform, forgive, and start over.
Many Christians don’t understand that the church isn’t meant to be void of guilt, but rather a place to admit it. It’s not meant to be a place to avoid pain, but a community where it can be shared and addressed. It’s not meant to be a distraction from sickness, but a care-center where sickness is either healed or made easier to deal with.
The danger of turning the church into a spotless environment is that this can quickly transform into idolizing — where everything is done to protect the image.
When this happens, a church will do everything it can to protect its appearance — real problems aren’t addressed. This is why abuse, addiction, and infidelity are swept under the rug, as if admitting these things would somehow discredit the Christian reputation of the church. Thus, instead of being a source of healing, justice, openness, and change, the church has become a false hope.
Transparency and honesty are often avoided for the sake of institutional self-righteousness. Church prayer request lists are commonly filled with physical ailments that often hide more significant issues. But nobody lists their real problems: porn, depression, anxiety, hate, abuse, and doubt.
Comfort is pursued and conflict is avoided. Churches like this don’t talk about Trayvon Martin, racism, gay marriage, homosexuality, abortion, immigration, war, poverty, and a litany of other social justice issues because it’s simply too hard, too awkward, too controversial, and too real.
So while the rest of the world struggles to process and comprehend current events that are happening in reality, the church either carefully avoids conflict or screams propaganda that promotes and protects their gilded reputation.
Eventually, people tire of this hypocrisy. For a short time this type of escapism might provide temporary relief, but it isn’t permanent or transformational.
The Gospel of Christ is transformational. But it’s also messy and difficult. It requires being real. Authentic faith addresses the truth. What is really going on in your life? What are your biggest struggles and pains? If you don’t have a faith community where you can freely discuss these things, you need to find one.
If your church doesn’t have people who watch porn, lie and cheat, steal, are either abusers or are being abused, are struggling with drugs and alcohol, are angry, lonely or facing mental illness, and seriously struggling—it’s not real. In fact, it’s probably a statistical impossibility.
Fake churches are destroying Christianity. The reality of Christ isn’t superficial avoidance, but genuine life. Following Jesus involves consequences, conflict, struggle, boldness, vulnerability, bravery, and hardship. God help us.
Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Red Letter Christians and The Burnside Writer's Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
Image: Imposter illustration, Scott Maxwell / LuMaxArt / Shutterstock.com