Leaving Christianity – Part Seven
I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anybody, Christian or not, that I’m writing about exclusivity in this series. Christianity is known to be exclusive on the inside, even while pretending to be inclusive on the outside – something like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Christians will deny that this is true, but even they know that the majority of outsiders perceive Christianity this way.
This exclusivity is one of the things which made it very difficult and painful for me to leave Christianity. I was always told that, as a Christian, I shouldn’t have close friendships with people who aren’t Christians. I can be friendly with them, I can hang out with them sometimes and have conversations with them – but mostly with the aim of witnessing to them. But I shouldn’t have close, emotionally intimate relationships with them, or they could influence me to turn away from God.
This is a very telling sentiment because I think it reveals how fragile a Christian’s belief system can be. If you’re afraid that having a close friendship with someone who doesn’t share your same beliefs could cause you to abandon them, how strong really are your beliefs?
Anyway, I’m not going to go any farther down that rabbit hole. I knew that leaving Christianity and declaring myself “not a Christian anymore” would mean closing the door on a lot of close friendships that I had. I didn’t want to close all of those doors, but I knew that those people believed they shouldn’t be such close friends with a “non-Christian.”
This idea keeps Christians in a safe bubble where their beliefs are rarely challenged or questioned in a meaningful way. It also makes Christians notoriously difficult to hang out with, and it leads to them often having ulterior motives when talking or hanging out with someone new (i.e. trying to convince that person to come to church, get them born again, etc.).
Of course, Christians don’t believe that they’re being exclusive – after all, everyone is welcome to attend church. Everyone can get born again. Jesus died for everyone.
But people are invited to “come as they are” to the church and to Jesus, and then put into a damaging environment where preachers tell them that they are sinners, they are guilty before God, they are going to go to hell, and they must change. Most Christians will say, “Jesus loves and accepts queer people, and I do too,” and in the next breath declare, “Queerness is a sin and any queer person who gets born again must change!” Somehow, they don’t see the contradictory nature of their statements. Nonetheless, most Christian circles are exclusive of anyone who isn’t cisgendered and straight.
This exclusivity is very obvious to the people who are being excluded. Why do you think unbelievers are so often uncomfortable being at church? No, it’s not because the demons inside of them are uncomfortable being in the presence of God. It’s because they can tell that people are treating them differently. Christians act differently towards non-Christians.
Expecting people to change once they join your group is a form of exclusivity. After all, if a “sinner” got born again, and after a while, continued in their same “sins,” wouldn’t you doubt the authenticity of their conversion? Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to all the rules of Christianity will eventually be excluded. I know this from experience.
Jesus didn’t teach a message of exclusivity, but inclusivity. He accepted people the way that they were. The only rule he gave was to love others. Love shouldn’t have any fine print – it shouldn’t come with a condition of change.
Change can be a good thing. Many people who encounter Christianity are able to change certain harmful behaviors or mindsets that they had. However, many others are forced to change themselves in a drastic way to fit the description of a “good Christian,” and these forced changes are damaging.
Despite expecting others to change, Christians are ironically very unwilling to change or question their own beliefs. Perhaps that’s why they shield themselves from “outsiders” with the idea that they can only have close relationships with “like-minded people.” But change can be a good thing even for Christians – like it ultimately was for me. Encountering points of view other than your own and listening to the experiences of others can be a catalyst for growth. Staying stuck in the same exact belief system for years, without ever questioning or challenging those beliefs, can lead to an immature sense of superiority and exclusivity. Open-minded interactions between people of different believe systems can be beneficial to both sides.
I think a church and a Christianity truly modeled after the teachings of Jesus would not be exclusive in any way. It would not make anyone feel uncomfortable nor condemn anyone for their actions. It would not teach that certain people will go to hell based on what they do or don’t do. It would not require people to change who they are. It would not have a message of “come as you are, become as we are.” Instead, everyone would be invited to “come as you are, be as you are.”
To Christians: What do you think would happen if you developed a close friendship with an unbeliever, without any intent to change their beliefs or lead them to the Lord?
To Christians who are questioning: Don’t be afraid to widen your circle and hang out with people who your beliefs may have previously caused you to exclude.
To those who left Christianity: Although some of your Christian friends may begin to exclude you, try to respond with understanding, as you used to have the same beliefs as them. Know that you are also allowed to distance yourself from people who may not be healthy for you, but don’t be afraid to stay in relationship with those who are open-minded and supportive!