Why I Criticize the Church

Recently I was accused of being too harsh on the church on Facebook (I looked back three months, apparently 2-3 posts that challenge the church is too harsh.) It was a unfair remark surrounded by hurtful words from someone I had a great deal of respect for. But regardless of their misguided approach, it did make me realize that maybe people don’t understand this deep conviction I have. So rather than grow in frustration at their misinterpretations or hurtful accusations, I wanted to put to my blog why I, on occasion (and truly feel that I should more often), criticize the church.

First, let me establish that when I am talking about the church that I am referring to the Christian church and every person has a faith in Jesus Christ. This includes Evangelicals, Mormons, Catholics, and any other professing Christian. I’m nice and inclusive that way.

Second, let me say that I am a Christian. My faith is a profoundly deep part of who I am and it is fundamental in all of my passions and decisions. There are times in my journey where my faith is stronger, other times when it appears non-existent. But it is always present with all its questions, emotions, and experiences. When I criticize the church I am ALWAYS criticizing myself and never once exempt myself from the criticism.

Third, I am fully aware that the church is filled with people, therefore flawed. It is not a building; it is a group of people supposedly agreeing on one major thing… Jesus. He existed, he taught us lots of stuff, he died for our sins, and he rose again three days later. We seem to disagree on nearly every other thing, but we have that in common. Isn’t it nice to think how that one single life unifies us?

So why do I have this deep conviction that I should criticize the church? Well, let’s begin by removing any argument of semantics. Oxford dictionary defines criticism as, “The expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived or mistakes” It is also commonly used in art, literary texts, etc. for the “purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, analyzing their content or style, etc.” Criticism seems best embraced in academics, where the purpose is to discover what you think, believe, or know. It is used in the political field to discuss what we have done and what we should do… or to figure out which party is doing it less wrong. Sometimes criticism is about our perception of something and sometimes it is about undeniable facts. You criticize that poor driver because you felt like he cut you off or because he did in fact cut you off. Either way, it certainly gives you something to discuss with that other driver.

But it seems that that in day-to-day life most people stay away from it. Yeah, sure, we criticize our significant other or children. We criticize our employees. We criticize that other driver. We seem most likely to criticize people that we feel we have power over. It’s why when we criticize the government and someone tries to silence us, we argue we have the authority… freedom of speech and all. It is our right, we have that authority in our country (and we all think the opposing politicians are stupid.) But it appears to me, we seldom criticize when we feel that we don’t have any power or authority. I’m pretty sure most of us who criticize a politician on FB would not actually do so to his or her face.

But why does someone need authority to criticize? Well, quite simply they don’t. We are just more comfortable taking criticism from someone who supposedly knows more than us.

Most people really hate receiving criticism. It’s uncomfortable. The feeling that our weaknesses are exposed is far too vulnerable for us. We typically avoid looking at our own weaknesses and we always try to hide them from others. So it makes sense that we don’t allow people below us to criticize us.

I believe this is why the people most angered by my criticisms of the church are pastors and older Christians. When someone young and…gasp… a female… comes along and offers criticism of the church, she is placing herself on the same level as a pastor or someone who has been on the journey for far more years than her.

But I’m not. I’m not saying I have the same knowledge of scripture or spiritual maturity. I’m only saying… I’m part of the church and I want the church to be the best it can possibly be. So if I perceive a fault or mistake, I feel that it is my responsibility to speak up.

Turn on the TV. Listen to some non-conservative talk radio. The church has a pretty bad reputation. Now, the new pope sure is helping to gain some points for the Catholics, but the rest of us are not perceived very well by everyone else. And it would be foolish to place all the blame on non-Christians and their ignorance. Self-reflection is necessary (you know… that whole verse about looking in the mirror.) We seem to come across as unloving and unmoving. Our political agendas make us seem heartless. I hear more Christians defend the death penalty than I hear them talk about redemption for the worst of sinners. Sometimes we, together, lose our way.

At 20, I loved Jesus with all my heart. I loved my Christian friends with all my heart. I loved missions and telling the world about Jesus with all my heart. But I did not LOVE like Jesus told me to love. I was too concerned about telling others how to live…what to wear, what to listen to, how to act, how to vote. I was in a bubble. A bubble that had me believing that I had it all right while everyone else had it all wrong. There is no one to blame for that but myself. I was on a journey and it could not be rushed.

Now, I’m not saying I am what every Christian should strive to be now. I’m not. I use more cuss words than Christianese (that is Christian language for you ‘non-believers” out there.) I often spend more time trying to live out my faith than developing my faith. I am too quick to speak and much too slow to listen. I’m so far from perfect. But you know what… that is why today I’m freer than I’ve ever been. Because I acknowledge I’m far from perfect. I recognize that I don’t know it all. I recognize that a long journey is okay and maturity doesn’t come overnight. I’ve had to learn how to repair relationships and how to let go of them. I’ve learned that some people will only see the worst in you and no amount of work will change them. I’ve learned that a black and white world does not exist for anyone but the most privileged.

But mostly I learned that for all of those very reasons… I have a voice in the church. Because of my unique perspective as an individual and as a card-carrying member, I have a right to criticize, maybe even 3 posts A MONTH of criticisms! I have a right to challenge other believers to follow the message of Christ as closely as we can. I have the right to criticize because I’m one of them. When I was 20, I didn’t know that I could help shape the church, I thought I only could live within the boundaries laid out for me. Then I met a man who corrupted me brilliantly. He was a pastor… and I married him. And I soon started a new journey of self-discovery, self-reflections, and most importantly considering other perspectives different from my own.

And now I love good discussions, debates, and even some good old-fashioned arguing about what it means to be a Christian (or really anything.) But I’ve learned a lot of people do not. And Christians have attacked me more the last six months than anyone else. Yep… those people who love Jesus just like me. They have said some of the most hateful, spiteful, condescending things to me. Many believe I can’t be one of them because I support gay marriage, I don’t think all Muslims are terrorists, and I am against the death penalty. I somehow lost my religion badge for those. Some believe I lost my way because I drink wine and use cuss words (I hope they don’t find out that I teach my son that actual words can’t be bad!) They want to disown me because I call myself a feminist (that apparently is the worst cuss word that I use.) But I’m okay with that because they too are entitled to their voice. I wished it would be a bit kinder sometimes, but I know mine is often far too harsh as well. So instead of trying to get them to look in the mirror, I’ll just go back to mine.

So I say all this to say, the criticism will not stop any time soon. But my posts highlighting all the beautiful people (many of them Christians) in my life will continue. But I’m sorry y’all (oh yeah…now I’m a Southern progressive Christian… and you thought that didn’t exist!) I’m still a Christian and I plan to use my voice so that others will know that not all Christians believe in one single voice. And my hope is one day, all our voices will get closer to that of Jesus.

4 thoughts on “Why I Criticize the Church

  1. Heya Kate!

    I don’t understand your answer, so I’m probably missing something here. I see explanations of what criticism is, authority, what you mean by the church, and a bunch of other stuff ancillary to the main question. But the only “whys” I see there is because you can and because you love to argue?

    Don’t get me wrong. Even though you and I disagree on a ton of stuff, I’m no defender of institutionalized religion, which is a huge swath of the church. Much of it has earned intense criticism.

    But surely you’ve thought through why you are critical of the church better than this, right?

    • Hi Chris. Thanks for the question.

      I apologize if my narrative format was too difficult to follow. Let me recap for you, “I want the church to be the best it can possibly be. So if I perceive a fault or mistake, I feel that it is my responsibility to speak up.”

      “Sometimes we, together, lose our way.” Meaning, sometimes we need criticism to get us back on the path, much like a boss offers criticism.

      “I have a voice in the church. Because of my unique perspective as an individual and as a card-carrying member, I have a right to criticize” My unique perspective, gives me an insight that should be valued. Just like every other person’s.

      “When I was 20, I didn’t know that I could help shape the church, I thought I only could live within the boundaries laid out for me. ” There was a time I thought the church was what it was. That if I didn’t fit in it, then something was wrong with me. But now I see that I can also help shape the church, that everyone can speak up.

      Lastly, “because I plan to use my voice so that others will know that not all Christians believe in one single voice.” Because someone (actually many someones) showed me that it is okay to disagree. It is okay to find error. It is okay to sound different. And I want others to know who are searching like I was, to feel that they had a place and that their voice was valuable, that there are Christians out there that want to hear what they have to say, not try to tell them what to think.

      I believe what you are looking for (or expected by my title) is the reasons why I believe the church deserves criticism. A laid out, thought out plan of every criticism that I have to offer. While I think a few of those reasons are shown in some of my narrative, it was certainly not meant to be the focus of my post. The focus of my post was to articulate “Why I Criticize the Church” “I” being the key word there. My story. My conviction. My journey. It is a narrative about why I feel I may engage in criticism of the church.

      I appreciate your question but I would like to challenge your last sentence. I’m sure your intention was not how it was presented, I don’t know you to be someone who would purposely talk down to someone. But your last sentence comes across as condescending, especially when clearly I shared a vulnerable reflection into my own life. I apologize if you don’t feel that I’ve “thought through better than this” but since it is a narrative of how I got to the place where I felt compelled to voice my criticism, I don’t need any one to decide for me if it’s deep enough. That comment would have been more appropriate had I called out the church on a significant issue and it was a shallow and unresearched claim. But this is simply a story of my journey.

      I think you read my reflection as you see me and how you believe I view things. I feel this way because you supported your point by only selecting the passages defending my right and then a very small tiny note about my love of arguments. You seemed to miss the spirit of it all. I’ve noticed this happening a lot, for a while I thought there might be a club. I’m gonna assume there isn’t and I’m going to assume that I still have some way to go in my ability to properly portray my heart. So I will work on that.

      I do appreciate your criticism, I will take note to better clarify my message in the future.

      • I genuinely missed the sentence about you wanting the church to be the best it can be in my first reading. For that I apologize.

        The reason I asked that last question was to be condescending, but rather because of how serious a thing it is to criticize the church. Jesus repeatedly described himself as the bridegroom returning for his bride, the church. Having someone ripping on his bride probably doesn’t put a smile on his face.

        Like I said above, the church has done (and continues to do) much that is worthy of criticism. But as a follower of Jesus I’m not willing to go there without a clear word from him to do so. Jesus said we will answer for every idle (careless) word we speak one day. Therefore it stands to reason that words we say against his bride that we haven’t thought through very carefully and heard explicitly from Jesus to speak are something we would be better off not saying. That’s where I was going with that question.

        Knowing that I am accountable for my words is a big part of why I avoid getting sucked into arguments with folks these days. As much as you and I don’t see eye to eye on many things it truly is not my intent to start an argument with you. Instead I am trying to caution a friend. As a believer and follower of Jesus, what you are doing in criticizing the church seems very unwise, in spite of how deserving of criticism she is. That’s all I meant.

  2. Chris,
    I wholeheartedly disagree with your idea that criticizing the church is unwise. Jesus spent much time in his ministry criticizing the church. Paul wrote many letters criticizing the church. Great Christians throughout history have criticized the church. The church is made up of people, and by our human nature we as people will drift into beliefs and behaviors that should not be. That is why there is built in oversight in every institution that involves people. It is also why you see corruption in nearly every arena where there is no oversight or questioning. You say that someone ripping the church would not put a smile on Jesus’ face. I would counter by saying two things. First, criticism and ripping are two different things; one seeks to tear down, the other is attempting to make something better. Secondly, I would say that the way his bride behaves at times and the priorities that it has set would not put a smile on his face, and if he were here he would be offering up many criticisms. The idea that the church should be immune from criticism and we should not speak up when we see areas where it is going wrong or can be doing better seems to me to be the unwise approach, lest Jesus return and not recognize his bride.

    And on Kate’s behalf, (although she by no means needs me to speak for her), The ideas she speaks out on concerning the church (which are few) are done so with much prayer and consideration. I would not label any of her criticisms as idle words.

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