When Christians Confront

Alrighty, it's been awhile since I spoke evangelical as a language, but I have had enough biblical training to know why Christians confront each other about their beliefs and behavior. We feel obligated to do it. We feel we belong to each other and maybe even fear that others' behavior may make us look bad. We feel entitled to share our alternate (read: better) belief and to require a behavior change or else a judgment will be made, oftentimes an eternal one. We fear for the salvation of our loved ones and would rather trample them on earth than miss them in heaven. I'm serious. I've seen people completely reject their children because of their sexual orientation "in order to save them." And lastly, I think we confront because we want to feel like we tried. Like, we don't actually expect a humble reversal of behavior (especially if our confrontation is tacky and condescending) but we want to feel like we made an effort, possibly even to maintain good feelings about ourselves. 
Unfortunately, I used to issue these judgments for all of these reasons. It breaks my heart to acknowledge that truth. It can be so painful and damaging to be on the receiving end of bad Christian confrontation that I really wish I hadn't participated in it so often. Comes with the ministry baggage, sadly. I will say, anyone I can think of who I can apologize to for this behavior has come back with forgiveness and understanding. It's been affirmed that my methods may have been inconsiderate but my intentions were good. That is something. Sometimes intentions are not good and that makes this infinitely more dangerous behavior. 
As I've gotten further away from the evangelical box, I've been more of a target for such confrontation. I've been fortunate for the most part. Ask anyone LGBTQ who was raised in a conservative Christian home and their stories will take you to your knees. At least they should. I know becoming more of a progressive Christian is in no way comparable to coming out experiences. But now that I'm on the other side of these confrontations more often, I have a few tips for anyone wanting to find a kinder way to do this. 
1. If it can be avoided, avoid it. Meaning, please wield this sword as infrequently as possible. If this thing that bothers you about someone else's belief system is not something you consider a "salvation issue" don't even consider confronting them on it. The only exceptions to this is if this person is a very, very close friend or you work alongside each other in a church/ministry setting and it's creating a lot of conflict that needs to be addressed.
2. If you decide to confront, pray A LOT. Again, try to find a way around it. If there is no way around it, check your motives. What is your ideal outcome? How will your posturing (tone, approach, words) help you achieve your desired outcome? Humble yourself.
3. Confirm before God that YOU are the person who is best suited to confront this person. Is there someone better suited for this job? If it's not you, don't take it upon yourself to find the right person. God can take care of that himself if it's needed. I've been baffled by the lack of intimacy in relationships that are expected to bear intense confrontation. Oftentimes the most hurtful ones I've been a part of are with people who are in no way a part of my life currently and were never integral parts of my life even in the distant past. If you're concerned for someone's faith but are not CONFIDENT that you have that kind of rapport and intimacy with them, pray for someone more suited to come along. (They may have already come along, but you wouldn't know because you're not close enough to this person to be privy to that information).
4. Consider the possibility that you're wrong. Again, before confronting someone about their beliefs, consider that there may be space for disagreement in this area (not just in the church but in the world at large) or that they may have experiences or ideas you don't have that have influenced this conclusion. Is it possible that you need to consider their position? Have you ever truly considered their position?
5. Don't make assumptions. About anything. About their life, their motives, their feelings, their story. Unless you're living their story with them in an intimate relationship, know that you're walking into a situation you likely only see pieces of. Again, check your posture.
6. Assign positive intent. Without being condescending, assume that this person's beliefs and values are not intended for your harm. Assume that they aren't lost, that they may have gotten to this position deliberately, thoughtfully, dare I say, prayerfully.
7. Tread lightly or again, not at all. There's such a thing as religious trauma. If you didn't know that, log in a few Google searches to get an idea of the kind of damage unhealthy church confrontation has done to people's souls. We're confronting people about things that aren't critical and in the process, damaging them in sometimes irreparable ways. And for what? To prove a point? This should scare us all and cause us great or even permanent pause.
8. Again with posturing, assume that if you have the same background and they've changed, they already understand your position. Ask questions. Assume the position of interest and wanting to see how they got to this conclusion and see if they'd be willing to tell you (they may not be. It can be exhausting to feel like someone's liaison). Only do this if you mean it! But don't patronize someone with explaining ideology they were raised to hold. If anyone is encountering new ideas, it's probably you.
9. BE SURE that you're not doing this so you can "wash your hands of them." I have to say, I've picked up on this directed at me. It's really hurtful and selfish. Don't "witness" so you don't have to be held accountable for not saying anything. I believe we will be held accountable for all the things we say on behalf of Christ. BE SURE you know it's his posture or continue to humbly pray and offer peace. (And still do that anyway). If you're not sure, don't do it or don't drag him into it, at the very least.
10. Lastly, recognize that people just living their truth aren't looking for your feedback. It's not that they don't expect backlash if they're talking to an audience they know won't agree, but if you take people's posts hostage or seek them out to confront them while they go about their lives, you're being an ass. 

Grace Is Real and Better Than We Think It Is

I internalized a lot of things as a child and young adult in church that may or may not have been intentionally taught to me. One of the things I got mixed up on was the relationship between pride and loving yourself. That somehow pride was really bad and led to ones inevitable demise (the "pride comes before a fall" scenario always felt very ominous and humiliating) and that we were only supposed to be proud of others (for their humility and service) and proud of God. And if we were too ambitious (boy, did that get thrown at me as a woman with ministry aspirations in the church of Christ!) or too happy with ourselves that somehow that made us proud and selfish. Everything was supposed to be about Jesus and then others. 
The problem I've found with this is that we can only treat others as well as we treat ourselves. Even that statement raises all kinds of rebuttal from my subconscious because I have treated others way better than myself for years. But if I'm really honest about that others-prioritizing from the past, I did that because I wanted others to treat me well, to esteem me and to give me their approval (which is how I would earn  Gods). As hard as it is to label that behavior negatively because it cost me a lot so I want to see it as good, prioritizing others in order to meet my own needs is actually manipulation and ultimately, a fascade. I know at the time I was trying to serve God, but I never could quite grasp how loved and acceptable I was in the eyes of God outside of my ability to show my faithfulness to Him with my good behavior and by encouraging others to do the same (ministry). 
Judging our faithfulness to God and our good standing with Him based on our behavior leads us to view others through the same lens. Suddenly we're not so sure about that person who got pregnant in high school or the couple who's getting divorced. Because if we can't accept our own lack of condemnation before God as His intentionally imperfect, beautiful human children, then we certainly can't offer that to those who are more demonstrably screwed up than we are! Turns out, this God will just save ANYONE. And what kind of stance is that? Is this another situation where you get an award just for participating? Inexplicably, YES.
As I've turned my spiritual life inward and discovered how irrevocably okay I am in and of myself, I've finally learned what grace really is. Grace isn't the voice that tells us that we're really terrible for sinning, but God loves us in spite of our behavior because He's so good. Grace is accepting our behavior as evidence of our humanity and our need for love, freedom, acceptance and security. That our humanness was not a mistake God made, but in fact, part of His design. He wants to be in relationship with "sinners." He has what He needs within Himself. He is His own community Father/Son/Spirit. We are not meant to be His equals. We are meant to be His companions, His friends, His children. 
This is not to say that our behavior is irrelevant. I recognize the temptation to see my viewpoint as saying "sin" is okay or doesn't exist. I'm still processing that because I think we're obsessed with sin and I reject that fixation. I guess I've landed at this point on the idea that Jesus took care of sins eternal consequences on the cross for all people for all time. And here on earth, the consequences are lived out sometimes very directly and sometimes completely arbitrarily. We can do our best to do right by our fellow man and not directly seek to do harm to others. But harm will come to us all as this is part of the repercussions of all being together on earth with different viewpoints, choices and levels of love for our fellow man. Plus, freak stuff happens. 
So, the consequences of sin, even in the here and now are not within our control. Thus, even by controlling ourselves as best we can, we will still sin and we will still experience the consequnces of others sin unfairly. If we're using our good behavior as security for a good life, we will be sorely disappointed. If I were to categorize the "sin" in my life now, I'm way more open to the "no-no" sins I was taught against (cursing is THE BEST) and way less compelled to commit the ones I find more serious (dishonesty, seeking self in a way that harms others, greed, overconsumption of material goods and resources, stockpiling treasures for myself, self-righteousness, obstinance to growth or change) that were not really discouraged much in the church and in some ways strongly encouraged as "good stewardship" or "remaining true". 
It seems to me that a lot of "bad behavior" comes from "bad" feelings. Shame is a powerful tool to control our behavior because we so desperately don't want to be bad. And the punishment we self-inflict is words of our fallenness when we've acted in a way that's hurtful to others. The more that we learn that we are okay, the more we learn to respect the okay-ness of the people around us. Shame threatens us. Self-love gives us the validation that there is enough resources, opportunity, love, safety, adventure to go around. Yes, we need to take risks and work. But we don't need to take from others and work over our competition. We're okay. So instead of good behavior coming from feeling like shit, self-acceptance actually leads to more socially-conscious, holistic living because we are living out of excess and abundance rather than defeciency and scarcity. And we are better able to recognize the value of our fellow man.
Turns out, focusing on myself, loving myself, being kind, gentle and generous to myself leads me to offer those things to the people around me freely. I never quite understood why "You're bad and God is so remarkably good because somehow He finds you lovable" was good news. It always felt like a burden of holiness (that is was something we did rather than something we were given) and a total lack of grace for self. It felt like rules and duties and an endless need to be grateful for it. 
I'm coming to the baffling conclusion that the abudant life Jesus came to give was a real message of love. Not love with conditions, or in spite of its object, but that the object itself is worthy and beautiful and valued beyond measure by its Creator. So much so, that He tells us His stories of love, invites us to be with Him and showers us with grace. He calls us daughter and son and created this bountiful world for us to live in and share. The story of humanity not being an experiment gone bad with limitless problems, but being bearers of this unmistakable light, that gives us breath and peace and freedom. And that good news is lived out IN us before it can be lived out BY us. 

"In the End, Only Kindness Matters" - Thank you, Jewel

Unfortunately, writing a blog about being a perfectionist does not negate the voice in me that wants each post to be complete in my heart and in my head before I post it. While there is something to be said about not just word-vomiting out there for all the world to see, I realize that my perfectionism may just be getting in the way of my writing...about my perfectionism. I'd like to share my story while it's happening, as I'm learning, in the middle of my process. That means that I may change my mind. I may later read my posts and be embarrassed by how unenlightened they may seem to me in the future. All I can say is, this perfectionist is willing to take the risk.
Perhaps that's why my post about no longer going to church created such a wave among the people I know and love, because most of us don't read articles by people who haven't landed on a conclusion yet. We don't speak in the dark night of the soul. We suffer in silence and speak again once we've come out on the other side. And then we do so with authority. It's a lot more vulnerable to put your story on the internet while it's still being written. 
But that, my friends, is exactly how my series on my current values began, with honesty. It's not surprising to me that kindness is the necessary follow-up topic. My definition of honesty includes vulnerability and a willingness to be wrong. It's about breaking down walls. But honesty, without being tempered by kindness, can actually have the opposite effect. I've seen many walls being put up in the name of honesty. It comes down to posture. 
It's not just about what I say or why I say it, but where is my heart in that moment? Now that I've been through a major job loss and identity crisis, I no longer assume that my life is secure, that the things I have are deserved or permanent. This gives me the humility to be gracious to the people around me. It allows me to share my money, my time, my humanity without being an asshole in the process. I don't assume I'm right, better, or safer than the person next to me. 
This is probably my specific church background talking, but I often felt that being right (having the right biblical interpretation and applying it) was way more important than being kind. That kindness meant communicating the truth we had no matter how offensive it may seem to the listener. If we love the people around us, that must mean that we need to tell them how fucked up they are, right? That's what God would have us do. 
But let's face it. It's not "good news" to tell the world around us that they aren't enough; they need to do more, be more, be better. That their choices are wrong, their political beliefs are against God and they're going to hell. 
I'm not saying that truth has no value or that there doesn't come a time when we have to say hard things (nor am I saying I still believe the aforementioned ideologies). Real relationship includes conflict. I just think our priorities are wrong. If our goal was mercy, the love and grace of God would pour out of us and I am CONFIDENT that it would change the world. 
So many problems in our world would go away if we spoke and acted with kindness as the goal. Often, I find our conversations and actions are motivated by pride (needing to be right or prove a point), fear (needing to be in control), or ignorance (an unwillingness to learn from others). What would happen if we looked at others as equally deserving as us? How would we treat the people around us if we knew what it was really like to be them? What thoughts would run through our minds when we witness a young mother with multiple snot-nosed kids in the grocery line cashing WIC checks or using food stamps? Would we think about how they're such a drain on the system? How they need to get it together? Or would we instead think for a moment about what it would be like to be that woman? How hard it must be to not have enough money for food? Or even more radical, admitting to ourselves that THAT COULD BE ME. We are all one moment away from being that lady. So, don't be annoyed when her multiple transactions take longer. Smile and be patient. 
The people around us need grace, not grief. The world needs more kindness, more mercy, more listening. And when I say "the people around us", I mean US. We've got to stop being so hard on ourselves so that we can extend grace to the people around us. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your neighbor. This is the work of God.