Good Friday is around the corner once again and one of the most poignant reads on such remains Jen Hatmaker’s blog entry, published April of last year.
If you’re unfamiliar with her work, Jen Hatmaker is a Christian author who has published twelve books. Like her, I grew up in youth group culture but I made a hard exit from the evangelical bubble around 2014 when my faith became some relic I carried around from childhood but could never bring myself to dispose of. Instead, it was thrown in the back of the closet to collect dust as if it was something to be embarrassed about among my peers in New York City.
In 2016, I moved back to Florida, returned to the foundational tenets of my faith, and began working at a Christian magazine which was an effective whiplash of sorts that I am still processing and will write about at length someday, but not yet.
I became familiar with Hatmaker’s work during my time as a Managing Editor at the magazine when she was interviewed by Religion News Service and asked point blank whether she would attend the marriage ceremony between a same-sex couple. Hatmaker replied, “any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love,” confirming that she would indeed celebrate that friend (and by extension, their love with a partner of the same-sex) with her attendance at their wedding.
I wish you couldn’t guess what happened next but something tells me, if you’ve been in proximity to a Christian™ at any point in your life, you already know.
LifeWay Christian Stores, a Southern Baptist chain and distributor of faith-based resources, pulled her books from their shelves citing Hatmaker’s statements, “contradict LifeWay’s doctrinal guidelines.” A 12-city faith-based conference tour Hatmaker was scheduled to headline was canceled before it even began with little explanation.
Up until this point in her life, Hatmaker was an evangelical darling. Texan. Quick-witted. Unassuming. She even hosted a renovation show on HGTV with her famliy, just like Evangelical America’s beloved Gaines couple. The backlash she experienced as a result of her comments was so swift it made news, garnering the attention of The Washington Post and The Atlantic.
Between all of the noise, the Christian machine and those oiling it forgot there was a human being, just being human, caught in the crosshair of theological contention. The shame of it all is how often this happens. If a Christian leader isn’t faltering under the pressure to be perfect by siphoning their weaknesses into addictions or affairs, evangelicals are taking out leaders at the first sign of their humanity. Is the God of the universe really threatened by such?
Forget the thousands of words of wisdom Hatmaker had offered to men and women alike throughout her years. Forget the freedom her vulnerability in turn gifted to the many who counted themselves beyond the reach of the church, and tragically, beyond the reach of Jesus, as a result of their sexual orientation, culture, upbringing, race, or opinions. What do Christians communicate about Jesus when they reject those who vary from the mold they’ve deemed permissible?
Hatmaker spoke in reflection of this experience in parallel to Good Friday, eloquently writing about the wreckage she was subject to as she observed the wreckage marked by Christ’s crucifixion over 2,000 years ago.
This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. I experienced betrayal from people I thought loved us. I felt the cold winds of disapproval and the devastating sting of gossip.
Hatmaker goes on,
The Christian Machine malfunctioned, and we are all still staring at each other, trying our damnedest to figure out how we understand the gospel so differently, unsure if we will ever find our way back to each other. The Christian community has been maligned, mocked, dragged, and dissected publicly, our civil war evident to a watching world. We are a meme. It is truly awful.
I returned to the church sometime last September. Dusted off my faith, remembered the heartbeat of this relic I once treasured above all else, and reconciled my heart and soul to reacquaint with Jesus, the savior I knew and loved. Know and love. As I experienced this deeply personal reintegration into Christianity, I was hit by the arrows of Christians who, to this day, have not reconciled their actions to the words of Christ. I experienced a long, drawn-out fall-out in a personal relationship, absorbing words that remain the cruelest I’ve ever been subject to in response to every rejected attempt to reconcile or heal. But I had fallen out of step, out of line, out of the permitted territories–and that was enough to be written off. I didn’t lose a conference tour, I didn’t lose revenue sales, I didn’t face disgrace or a tar-and-feathering in the public evangelical arena.
I only experienced it from an old friend in a private and disparaging exchange of emails.
I only witnessed it in the actions of a boss, in every meeting I heard him speak with disdain about any Christian leader that didn’t have the esteem and prestige he endlessly sought.
The irony of Good Friday is it commemorates a death. Christ was crucified. The religious authority of his day seemed to have won the last word on his merit, his value as a prisoner who, in their eyes, deserved the death of a dog, forgotten beyond the city gates. I consider those hours between his death and his resurrection and wonder how futile hope seemed to those who once believed.
Although the deaths I am still mourning in my own life do not compare to the bodycount Hatmaker was abandoned to burn by herself over the last year, I can understand it and reel from the knowledge of it. You can’t separate your faith from your disappointment towards the same community of faith that you belong to when you’ve been hit with enough stinging arrows. Those arrows become a part of you.
And still, towards the One who infuriated the religious leaders of his day, the One who was first rejected and maimed, they extend.