I should state for the record that I did never, at any time, threaten or harm my ex in any way. The relationship collapsed because she had what I will call an emotional breakdown, which led her to make an unfortunate decision that quickly grabbed the churches' attention. While it could easily be argued that I was the cause of said breakdown, the decision she made was entirely her own, and she alone bears the responsibility for its consequences. In any case, the church leapt into action, ostensibly to protect one of their poor, helpless members of the flock by demonizing and ostracizing her "abuser" while still appearing to remain as compassionate as possible.
With that pretension of compassion in mind, they sent me a nice person to talk to from the church staff, who may have indeed been trying to reassure me and offer me counsel during a time of tremendous emotional upheaval, but who was in fact feeding intelligence to three very sinister people who had pronounced judgment upon me long before they picked up the phone to call the fourth pastor.
I eventually learned of the threat to destroy my career and livelihood because my ex reached out to me in secret. Although we were both still reeling from the sudden split, there were some lingering positive feelings on both sides, and this led her to offer me the discreet warning about the gun pointed at my head. For that, I will be eternally grateful. I took this information back to my "counselor," who seemed genuinely surprised. His unmistakable shock was very reassuring, since I could now rest confident that he wasn't knowingly playing a part in the scheme to undo me. Nevertheless, I did have to take a firm line with him, saying that if such a discussion was taking place, it was totally uncalled for. In no uncertain terms, I made it clear that I was going to handle this situation like an adult, and that threats and ultimatums were absolutely not the right way to ensure my cooperation.
I understand the argument that there is no perfect church. I also dislike the idea of church shopping, precisely because it promotes an attitude of non-committal to the body. That being said, I think it's time we all pause for a moment and acknowledge that the emperor wears no clothes. Organized churches are extremely dangerous things when they're staffed by those who believe that they are speaking and acting on behalf of God, and that all their pronouncements are right because they are somehow divinely guided. I use the term "professional Christians" to refer to these people, because when you make your living speaking on behalf of God, you inevitably begin to see yourself as his divine emissary, and with that eventually comes the mistaken belief that every thought which tumbles out of your mind should be treated as gospel. While this self-righteousness is tolerable to a certain extent, at some point a line has to be drawn.
Martin Luther famously nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of a Catholic church back in 1517, making a public declaration for the first time that no man on earth other than Jesus himself was allowed to claim to be infallible. Although his complaints were focused on certain specifics like indulgences, I think in a larger sense he was championing the idea that the system had begun to rot from the inside out. I don't claim to be any more perfect than those I seek reformation against, and I suppose Luther didn't either. Sometimes you don't have to be a saint to smell the stench of false piety.
As much as I'd like to quietly go on my way and find a better church to plug into, the fact remains that I've made many wonderful friends at this place, and I'd hate for them to think I abandoned them. Frankly, I feel like I have as much right to stay as anyone, although I do have to weigh that against the idea of sitting through sermons every Sunday which are delivered by people I detest. I think it's important to take part in corporate worship, but lately my more sanctimonious feelings have been crushed by that sense of ruthless pragmatism which I've been progressively embracing more and more.
I don't have a tidy list of 95 theses just yet, but I'll get to work on that. For now, just know that I am finally announcing what I've been silently feeling for months now, which is that I'm fed up with the way we do church here in the U.S., and in the first world in general. The thing I love so much about the churches I've visited in the third world is that there are no pretensions of treating a church like a business, and there is no other goal for gathering on Sunday than to praise God and read the word, rather than collect vast sums to launch a new construction project. When the current generation of church elders dies off, I worry that we may be left with monumental church structures which sit uninhabited, because those who used to maintain them are gone. Like the magnificent cathedrals of Europe, these wonderful edifices will serve only a fraction of the people they were designed to house, because the institution threw all of its time and effort into the expansion of its tent pegs rather than its people.