Imagine being invited to the wedding of a bride you’ve known all her life. You look forward to the day with joyful anticipation.
As you take your seat to await the ceremony, you slowly tune in to murmurs buzzing around you. Your heart sinks as you realize the talk is of the bride, and not about her radiant beauty. Rather, it is of her cruelty and callousness toward the most vulnerable; stories of person after person who reached out to her because of her reputation for loving kindness and justice, only to be exploited, some even injured to the point of death.
Your mind struggles to reconcile this new reality with the child you knew. Almost imperceptibly, you hear the sound of your heart shattering with disillusionment.
But then your thoughts turn to the bridegroom. “Does he know?” “Has he heard these stories?” As the whispers reach a crescendo, you realize he must have. “How could he have missed it?” That means he is either a dupe or a willing accomplice. How in the world could he still marry this woman and call himself good?
Stricken, you feel you have no choice but to stand and walk out, lest you be counted as a witness to such a union.
Unveiling the Bride
I am on a flight returning from The Courage Conference, a diverse gathering of people united in their shared call to shed light on some similarly horrific experiences they’ve had or witnessed at the hands of the Bride of Christ.
What broke my heart the most this year were the tales I heard from people who earnestly pursued Jesus from church to church to church, unable to find a safe harbor because every one had become corporately corrupted by spiritual abuse. (Spiritual abuse is a secondary form of abuse in which the church refuses to act righteously in the face of egregious sin committed within its community.)
It’s not about the presence of sin itself, but the fact that church leaders have been complicit, obstinately unwilling to address those inflicting harm, and in the most obnoxious cases, have actively aided and abetted them in their work.
In the midst of this, many people who desperately hope to experience the love of God find themselves questioning how the Groom himself can be virtuous, yoked to one such as this.
A Groom Who is Faithful, Not Blind
I am newly grateful for the gift of faith I have received as I lean in to such spaces. I have not struggled to separate a corrupt church from a holy God, and I believe, as one of the weekend’s speakers said, that “God is pissed” about the harm being done to his beloved children by those he called to lead.
Here is where I find hope: Like the prophet Hosea’s love of Gomer, God loves his bride with pure, unconditional love. Though she leaves him and forsakes him over and over again, he pursues her and seeks to bring her home–to restoration. To redemption. (And I use the pronouns here cautiously.)
…for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.Hosea 1: 2
At the end of Hosea God makes this promise:
In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”Hosea 1:10
We Are the Church
God’s promise is fulfilled in Jesus.
We, I, am the church. I am that dark-hearted bride.
Rather than being blind to my sin, Jesus saw just how great my peril was, and he took my place, suffered the penalty for my sin. He covered my sin in his righteousness so that I could be made new, adorned in white to stand before his Father.
While I can’t undo the horrific things done in Jesus’ name, I am expected to love others as he has loved me. I am called to stand courageously against the evil and violence happening in our churches. I am called to love fellow sinners by bringing accountability (Matthew 18:15).
And I’m called to share my story, to testify to the truth that the groom’s eyes are clear, his heart is good and his promises are true.