Tunnel vision. My motion, my focus, is analogous to that of a Nascar driver. Tunnel vision. I park my car, walk through the double doors, tread softly past the daycare commotion, dodge through the packs of chattering people, enter into the main sanctuary, and finally sit down with my eyes glaring toward the stage. My eyes are closed during the musical worship. During the sermon, my eyes are glued onto the preacher. I make sure I am on my best behavior.
This has become my socially systematic ritual in and around the church service. For almost two years I have been untrained to be careful around the wives – so much so, that my very personality and natural being is completely different on Sunday mornings. I no longer look at the wives or even try to initiate contact with the husbands so not to risk anything. I refrain from being my normally playful, outgoing self for the sake of others. A few times, I’ve actually avoided going to my church and attended somewhere else…just for a rest-break.
Now I love conservatism: theologically, politically, socially, and even in some professional sports. At the same time, I have found myself in a church culture that surpasses the “imaginary” line that should NOT be crossed. It couples ultra Christian-conservatism alongside the strange relational subculture of the seminarian culture and resulting into fractured, unfulfilled relationships.
One way in which this fracture has overwhelmed me is the issue of women and men NOT being friends in the church.
I have been stressed with this social climate where many of the wives are timid around me and the husbands show possessive body language in front of me when their wives are present. This is not everyone. Neither do I believe that it is a conscious action by others either; to the contrary, it is a “subconscious” action. However, it still hurts us who go through this. It hurts to not be trusted. We are guilty before proven innocent. I can give NUMEROUS examples that I have been through: primarily face to face; also email and social media. Additionally, I have read books and am very cognizant of social norms, body language, and rapport. In church we may say the right words and use political correctness in our lingo… but our actions and communal fruit tell a completely different story.
For a female’s perspective, you can read this lovely article on The Gospel Coalition’s website.
There are at least 5 side effects of this fracture that risk a retardation of friendly relationships:
1) It causes a nuance of loneliness: This loneliness grows into a feeling of being unwanted or removed from the body of believers. The scriptural illustration, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, depicts the church as a body. If a finger is removed it does not keep growing or playing its part, now does it? No, it shrivels up and dies. In this case the joy of the individual becomes damaged.
2) This causes a CHAIN REACTION into OTHER basic types of relationships: This climate becomes the air that everyone breathes. Soon, this standoff-ish nature becomes normal between everyone: between other married couples, singles, visitors and members. There have been social psychology studies to show that we will, in certain ways, conform to our environment. In our general case, relationships will become robotic. This can be seen in the decline of some linear, mathematical, doctrinal types of churches. Now I line up with these types of churches, but there still needs to be a line drawn. Otherwise relationships grow stale, empty and mechanical.
3) It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: I fully understand we are called to steward our marriages. That is extremely biblical and good. But where is the line that keeps it from becoming fear-mongering. As I said in an earlier blog, some people “suddenly” lock their car doors when I walk past their cars. True, I am black. Statistically speaking, I cannot blame them at all for being extra careful. However, if we are in the suburbs and I am wearing tailored dress clothes with Cole Haan shoes … maaaybe you don’t need to be afraid of me. That said, if we’re supposed to brothers and sisters in Christ … maybe you can trust that I do not want to kiss your wife in the sanctuary and ask her out for coffee. This fear can lead into believing “something” happened before it ever did.
4) Personal walks with God are affected: If I have to be a “different person” around married couples then I can begin (or Satan can begin) to tell myself that they do not truly know me. How can I can truly allow them inside my walk with Christ if they do not understand or know the real me?
5) Both the image of the trinity and Gospel community are tainted: Between God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son…there is no hierarchy. Only delight. They freely give to one another and receive from one another. [John 1:18, 16:12-15, 17:3-5]. Therefore we, being made in that image, should being naturally copying that. We should delight in and celebrate each others strengths. We should spent time together [not limited to small group time]. As one pastor cautioned, “without this happening, subconscious frustration and jealousy will lead to overcritical spirits that will erode the foundation of deep intimacy in relationships.”
We know there is no perfect church. Maybe I shouldn’t bring this up about my own. I love my church and I love The Church. But would it not be hypocritical for me to have called out Joel Osteen’s church, single men, young people, the liberation gospel, lukewarm Christians, atheists, and even Michael Jordan in past blog posts… but then stay silent about a flaw in my own community? No way Jose. Nothing gets fixed if we do not discuss it.
Still, social media isn’t going to solve this. Small groups are not going to fix this. Social media plus Small groups does not equal biblical community. It will have to be pursued and fought for. People do not simply “fall” into deep community – they pursue it. We will have to surrender and sacrifice. And once this is attained … oh my how splendidly holy and beautiful it will look!!! May we care for the needs for one another. I pray that we commune deeply with one another. You know, to get a head start on eternity together.