Becoming free from the conditional love of Christian friendships
This post is somewhat of an addendum to my previous post in which I discussed how I was beginning to realize just what being an “elite” Christian had done to my thinking. In this post I wanted to focus more closely on one area of my thinking that has truly been tainted or hurt by being a fundamentalist conservative Christian: how to be a friend.
Recently I was asking advice of a friend and was basically told to either submit to Biblical advice or get nothing. This hurt. Quite a bit. I thought that by even asking for advice I was trying to be a friend. But I realized that the advice from this person – and the associated love – was conditional: I needed to be or do something first in order to warrant a love that I felt I should receive either way. And this was from a friend who has taken almost no time at all to try and connect with the pain and suffering leaving the faith has brought me this last year. So while I am to listen to this person: they feel no need to listen to me at all.
Although I am obviously upset, this has got me to thinking: this is how everyone I knew acted. It is how I acted.
My friends and I were basically trained to feel uncomfortable around people whom we considered to be a potentially bad influence on us. I can’t express how frustrating this is now. Even until recently I found it hard to feel comfortable around certain non-Christians I knew because I consistently had my guard up, looking for areas of disagreement like a dog trying to pick a fight or looking for reasons to distrust them because they might unwittingly be a bad influence on me.
A good Christian can never be too careful about being a friend.
I can name church splits. Lots of them. I can name friendships that were severed – or extremely hurt – by doctrinal differences or slightly different interpretations of Scripture. This last Christmas some family members sent me a Christmas letter and in it they had this one simple sentence “We are sorry to hear about your decision to reject God.” I wanted to write back and just say “What the fuck? Are you kidding me? Do you have any clue how much pain I went through trying with all my heart to desperately defend the faith that you now hold up against me?” They included a letter, and as I began to read it I realized that they were starting by sharing the gospel. I threw the letter out without even reading it I was so hurt.
Why can’t Christians just love people?
I feel like the love of most of the Christians I knew had conditions attached to it. I will love you if you repent. I will love you if you agree with me on this doctrine. I will love you if are as spiritual as me. I will love you if you raise your standards of modesty. I will love you if you stop listening to that style of music. I will continue to be your friend as long as you are a good witnessing opportunity. I will reject your friendship if I feel that you are beginning to pull me down spiritually. I will only give advice if you are willing to submit to the Lord first. I will be your friend and love you so that the Lord can use me to change your life and heart.
Submit, damn it.
Change, damn it.
At school two years ago I can remember having the Invisible Children come to speak. Do you know what I did? I spoke out against them. They were wrong: they were wanting to save kids lives but they were wrong. Why? Because they were making the “social gospel” first before the “true gospel”. And they – oh horrors! – would hire people who were not Christians. I feel horrible about this now. What a jerk I was, thinking that I was doing as service to my fellow mankind by speaking out against a charity organization because they did not fit what I was told was the “true gospel”. Damn their intentions, they did not fit into my box. After all, the heart is deceitful above all else.
My “unsaved” friend ‘Taylor’ and I had this talk once when I was a Christian about a mutual friend named ‘Evan’. ‘Evan’ had become a Christian – or at least rededicated his life. ‘Evan’ and ‘Taylor’ used to hang out all the time, but all the sudden ‘Evan’ basically stopped being a friend cold turkey. I remember ‘Taylor expressing that he was confused and never found out why this happened. I think I knew and wanted to tell him but a small part of me was embarrassed.
I knew a pastor who once boasted about a witnessing opportunity he had. A broken woman came into his office distressed about her life situation. He boasted that he basically told her to repent or get lost. The problems were her own making and she needed to submit to Jesus Christ because that was her real problem. Her problem was her sin and until she recognized that there was nothing he could do.
The love of Christ is such good news!
An elder at a church I know just recently sent a defaming letter to another elder because this other elder was starting to think that maybe they were not being understanding enough.
And these were the people that we were supposed to look up to as examples of good Christian behavior. These were my mentors.
No wonder I had such a hard time ever feeling genuinely loved. Or genuinely loving others. Christianity and the doctrine of original sin armed nearly everyone I knew with a good reason to distrust everyone around them.
But if the heart is deceitful above all else, how do we know that all Christians are not liars? How can we trust our pastor? Our friends? Our family? How can we trust the apostle Paul or Moses? Or what people say about Jesus?
Where does this stop?
I did not realize how truly painful the doctrine of original sin is until I left the faith. Ultimately I think the reason it is so painful for many of us to leave the faith is because every person we ever loved within the faith now assumes – from the start – that our intentions are selfish. That we must be a wicked, depraved sinner for even thinking about leaving the faith. We are all liars, because we were never saved in the first place or something similar. Few believe us. Our own friends and family don’t believe us. Our closest friends refuse to listen seriously to what we say but expect us to still submit to their sharing the gospel with us. This hurts.
Oh, it was easy to say “I love you” and then to tack on “the reason I want you to change is because I love you.” Is this agape love? Does agape love say “change, because I love you?” Shouldn’t it say “I’ll love you even if you don’t change?” That is truly unconditional. But was there ever opportunity to change one’s own mind?
I can’t believe I am saying all this. I feel awful about it all.
I was told over and over and over throughout high school that guys cannot be “just friends” with girls. This has made it super difficult for me to get to know women because I feel like it just won’t work. Like somehow we are either lovers or we are nothing. Just recently this tendency has completely shifted. Suddenly I feel freed to be friends with women and not worry that something “might happen”. If it does, so what? Because I am not spending every moment worrying that something “might happen”, I feel freed to just be relaxed and enjoy their company. Falling in love is no longer going on a few dates, praying about it, and getting a sense it was meant to be.
This morning I woke up and realized that it has been forever since I just really enjoyed someone’s company. I always felt like I needed to change their mind, or somehow turn the conversation to “deeper issues”, or witness to them, or confess something, or that I should not be frivolously wasting my time on “small talk” but should be doing something – anything – more spiritual.
I am discovering that the Christianity that I at least knew was silently arming me with a barrage of missiles with which to slowly and cleverly destroy all my friendships. And in many ways, it did.
I apologize that this post is so negative, but I feel I just have to get this all out there.
The nice thing is that now I feel like I can truly start to be friends with others and really care about them – as people. Rather than spending all my time analyzing my motives and intentions and wondering if other people are struggling with sin, I can just enjoy other people and try to get to know them and help them out in life.
I’m free to care about others and I’m starting to like how a life of this looks