As much as I gripe about organized religion, there is something about it that compels me. There is a saying of dubious attribution that “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” I know exactly how that feels.
I grew up with children whose mothers were card-carrying prostitutes. They brought their kids to school wearing micro mini-skirts, five-inch heels, flowing wigs, false eyelashes, and heavily-applied makeup (I promise you there was a time when this look was not mainstream) and kept strange hours. They also packed lunches, wiped crust from eyes with their spittle, and meted discipline to their offspring just like any other parent. Nobody ever questioned their children’s adoration or devotion.
There is just something understood about the mother-child relationship. It is the most primal for humanity. Ask anyone who has lost their mother whether they were the same afterwards. My mother lost hers at the age of 8 and with that, a love that is second to none.
The bible likens God’s chosen people to prostitutes quite frequently. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel warn Israel of the consequences of the nation’s spiritual wantonness in the Old Testament and refer to her the mother of idolatry. The Lord commanded the prophet Hosea to marry Gomer the harlot to illustrate how God will discipline and restore His people as a consequence of their propensity for turning away.
The Lord flat-out calls unfaithful churches such in Revelation by labeling them collectively as the Whore of Babylon. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5). She will be judged harsher than the world.
The church helped me give birth to my faith. Notice, I did not say it gave me faith. (C)ontinue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12b-13). It is not possible for an institution or individual to convey faith to a person.
It is common for people to quip to seminarians “don’t let them steal your Jesus!” As a matter of fact, it was a running joke at the school I attended that a particular room that was off-limits was where they stored students’ Jesuses.
Folks meant well, but it was another way of imploring ministers-in-training to keep the faith. Funny enough, no one ever said that in reference to the church. Those who are acquainted with my travails find my continued participation absurd. However, those who have relinquished their organizational membership, while yet maintaining faith, understand our dysfunctional family history.
Embracing the absurd is one of the most essential steps for developing faith. We worship a man who rose from the dead and lives in heaven. If that makes sense to you, I have bags of magic beans for sale.
Yes, the organized church has maligned, abused, marginalized, and disappointed me beyond measure. It is no accident that the Adversary chose it as the source of my angst. But still I love it. Stay away too long and I lose my bearings; stick around too long and I begin to lose my mind.
The church, with all of her waywardness, is my mother. She is prone to sell out the gospel for a song. However, she has given me something so fundamental to my being. Without her, I would not have developed a love for liturgical order, soul-stirring songs, scripture, and the people whose practice of faith helped shape my own.
I honor her for the divine work she has bred with the hope that she strives to become what God intended her to be.
That [Christ] might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).
However, that does not exempt her from being called out on occasion for what she is.