My only view of congregational life has been from the inside. Having never lived apart from a “church family,” my unvarnished perspective is vastly different from those who view the church from the outside.

Like many, I’ve seen the church up close — in all its ugliness and beauty.

The downside is disappointing: division, pettiness (“Making mountains out of molehills”) and the repeated failure to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” on very basic issues of equality and justice.

Some have become ex-insiders, disillusioned by the church’s failures. But congregations are made of humans; so what should we expect?

The upside keeps many of us faithfully engaged: spiritual nurture, genuine concern for others, acts of reconciliation, and being buoyed by congregational care during a time of personal loss. So I’m sticking with it.

But, sadly, I understand why the church is unattractive to many who see only the image we (not the media or any other scapegoat) have created.

We are marked by inflexibility and an unwillingness to address the complexities of hot-button moral issues. Easy answers to tough questions leave us looking unintelligent or arrogant or both.

We get dragged along by the rest of culture when it comes to simply affirming basic issues of human rights and equality — even though the Bible compels us in that direction. And the theological defenses of our positions tend to sound more like radio talkers than Jesus.

The more we are polled, the worse we look. Frequent churchgoers support the use of torture and preemptive war to a greater degree than the public at large.

We seem to be last to ever change our minds and say we are sorry for our errant ways of thinking and acting. Instead we make excuses, blame outsiders or falsely claim to have held to the newly accepted position all along.

And, as if we need something else to soil our image, the worst examples of “Christianity” find the brightest public spotlights.

Within the church today, most of our debates are about worship styles, leadership models and doctrinal positioning. Perhaps we should be more concerned about the view from the outside looking in.

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