Linda Kay Klein is a soft-spoken, polite Midwesterner who does not immediately strike someone as a firebrand. Yet, her latest book, “PURE: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free,” is a revolutionary manifesto in which she takes on the repressive, religious culture in which she was raised.
When Linda ultimately left the church of her formative years, because of “deep, long-lasting shame” inflicted on her, she was met with further condemnation. There were threats of perdition. And her church – including members of her family – consigned her to hell, for they felt she had completely lost her soul.
Klein was asked in a recent interview about her current relationship with the church, decades after her departure. She provided an answer that resonated with me: “I still am very much a Christian…but I’m gun-shy of the church.” She used “gun-shy,” a down home, folksy phrase, perfectly.
She, and many others, have spiritual scars – emotional trauma – that requires measured caution, and at the first sight or sound of anything “churchy,” people with this sort of painful history will hurriedly make for the exit. I am sympathetic to this group, for I know hundreds of people who remain deeply spiritual, committed to following Jesus of Nazareth, but have left the institutional church to save their faith.
Yes, some will return. Some will remain on the edges of organized religion or seek an expression of faith that is safer than what they previously knew. Others will go it alone, and in spite of the admonition to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together,” will end up healthier, happier, and more hopeful on the outside for it.
New Zealand pastor and writer Alan Jamieson, uses the analogy of a new swimmer. This person arrives on the beach and finds a swim club, a club that loves everything about the water. The novice falls in with this group, and learning to swim, is converted to the ways of the water.
He meets with his club regularly and his swimming proficiency improves. Later, “maybe years later,” Jamieson says, this swimmer feels a deep stirring within him to swim into more dangerous water; water on the other side of the buoys, water that the other members of his club have never explored. His swimming club rebukes him, shames him, tells him how dangerous such thinking is, and admonishes him to forget such nonsense. He is left with a few choices.
One, he can suppress reality and die a little every day to remain in the good graces of his community. Two, he could give up on the water altogether. Or three: Finding no one who will go with him, he can plunge into the deep – alone – for the sake of the water he has grown to love. Truly, “not all who wander are lost;” not all who are alone are lonely; and not all outside the confines of the church have given up on faith.
Photo by Annie Spratt