It was in response to someone discovering a lifestyle decision I had made. This decision, which I won't get into here (as I don't want to distract from the conversation that needs to be happening), was something that not only went against the things they believed, but went against the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, a denomination that not only was I brought up in, but one I still belong to.
My response to this person was, "it hasn't." I was responding to the notion that the church had somehow failed to communicate what it thought on the subject. I was well aware of what the church's official stance was. I knew the dangers -- as exaggerated as they may be -- that the church preached.
"Then why are you doing this?"
That's when I realized how the church failed me. That's when I realized how the church is continuing to fail its children and its older members. That's when I realized what we need to fix if we are going to stay relevant in the twenty-first century.
Before I continue, let me absolutely clear: This is not an attack on the Seventh-Day Adventist Church or any other organized religion. I still count myself as a Seventh-Day Adventist and I whole-heartedly approve the concept of organized religion. This is the recognition of a weakness. This is a confession. To the offended, this is a request for forgiveness. To those of us in the church, it is a challenge to do better in the future.
In the war between Heaven and Hell, the church is a front line triage unit. The hurt, the crippled, the maimed and the dying hobble in, seeking solace and sanctuary. We do our best to patch them up, to the heal wounds, and prepare them for tomorrow's attack. Historically, that's what we've done. But as time marches on, as the war continues to rage, we're getting tired. Our friends are dying. Our loved ones are giving up. The hope that the war would be over by Christmas is fading. And as all of these things take their toll, our work suffers. We get sloppy. It's not that we don't care, it's that we've lost focus. What ends up happening is a man comes in with a gaping wound in his chest, we pop a couple Ibuprofen in his mouth, call it a day, and then wonder why he doesn't come back when his wound begins to fester.
We seem to believe that since there are two sides to this war that every decision and every moral dilemma we face is a simple one: It's either black or white. Good or bad. Heaven or Hell. Everything is to be praised or condemned. Every action is to be endorsed or shunned. Nothing is neither. When we do this, we create for ourselves battlefields where there need not be any.
Let's talk about sex.
Having sex will get you kicked out of private school. The appearance or the unprovable theory that you had sex will get you fired from a Christian summer camp. As a youth pastor, speaking approvingly of sex will get you reprimanded and possibly removed from your position. As a principal of a boarding school, if you take your teenage child to a movie that has sex in it, your ability to lead will be called into question. These are all experiences I have witnessed firsthand.
The truth about sex, as I have come to learn, is that it is a multifaceted thing that doesn't ruin or save a relationship. It multiplies that which you already have. If a couple that was already on shaky ground introduces sex to the relationship, fighting increases, resentment rises, unhappiness ensues and a break-up is just around the corner. When a couple that is in love and has a caring and balanced relationship, sex is a celebration of love, lust, and life.
The reason for this is sex is a thing of raw intimacy. No matter how carnally or how casually one might treat it, there's a great amount of naked trust in the act and that trust must be upheld in all other aspects of the relationship.
I've often wondered why someone might think their failing relationship could be saved by sex. It's not medicine for what ails you. It's desert. Desert after a great meal is perfect. Desert after eating too much just makes you feel sick.
That's what I would tell someone about sex. But those are grey, weighty concepts that can be hard to explain. It's just easier to say, "you can get pregnant, you can get STD's, and it'll change the relationship and he'll break up with you." This course of action doesn't give us what we need to know about sex. It doesn't arm us with knowledge that there are ways to prevent STD's and pregnancy. It doesn't even prepare us for sex after marriage, the thing the church wants the most. All it does is lamely try to scare and/or guilt kids out of having sex. And when that tactic fails, and a person has sex, and they don't get pregnant or get an STD . . . a great undermining of church authority takes place.
It's not the "sexual deviant" that undermines the church, it's the church itself. As children, we are told that life is black and white. But when we step out into the world, we discover it is actually every shade of grey one could imagine -- ranging from the whitest white to the blackest black. Upon that discovery, the church is made a liar. It lies with good intention, but it lies nonetheless.
This is how the church has failed me. It has concerned itself with inward and trivial matters, while ignoring the bigger issues that surround it. When it does address those bigger issues, it addresses it in demeaning and trivial ways. It's almost as if the church sees its entire congregation as children, not adults.
We are taught abstinence, not responsibility. We are taught avoidance, not temperance.
It's a matter of great frustration for me. We get so caught up in "being in the world but not of the world," that we don't actually prepare anyone for the world. It is something I've vowed to not pass on to the next generation.
I live in this world. I don't count it as my home. I'm a pilgrim passing through. The only trouble with that is there's nothing I can do to make that passing any faster. I can't reach my destination until my Heavenly Father says so. So in the meantime, I'm setting up camp here. This is my temporary home and as such, I'm going to try to make it as warm, as comfortable, as welcoming and as loving as I can. I'm going to fight for Truth and Justice. I'm going to battle the darkness by shedding as much light as I can. I'm going to be responsible and conduct myself in a way that brings glory to my Heavenly Father.
Even if that means I fail my church.