It was a typical Sabbath morning, with a church service that was just like every other one I had attended. Little did I know that as soon as the service finished I would be victim to one of the most embarrassing moments of my church life.
Everything was going well, just as I had envisioned, until the moment that led me to write this very article.
Love in my view forms the basis of our faith. To be identified as a Christian or as a follower of Jesus Christ one would have to reveal and reflect the loving character of Christ to all people.
Jesus came to earth and died on the cross for our sins because of the love that the Father had towards us. The reason we can stand in full confidence of God’s forgiveness is because the Father exemplified just how much He loves us by sending His son to die on the cross for our sins.
The love that the Father showed towards us is love one cannot simply just understand. Its amazing love filled with grace so underserved.
I was born into a Christian home and accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior at the age of 12, and to this very day, I still find it difficult to comprehend that God still loves me considering all the bag I’ve done.
In 1 John 4:11-12, John states that because of the undeserved love that God has shown towards us, surely we ought to show love to one another in the same way that God showed that He loves us.
John tries to bring out the fact that the only way one is able to show love to other people, is if that person has experienced Gods love. Therefore, if you haven’t experienced something, it becomes very difficult to reflect or express that particular experience to someone else.
When I was 18 years old and in my first year at the University of Pretoria, I went to the church I regularly attended over the holidays in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, my hometown.
Whilst at church at the end of service, the preacher of the day decided to share a vision that he claims God revealed to him in his sleep about me. Unexpectedly and without any warning, I was called up to the front of the church whilst playing the piano.
“What could be the reason for him calling me out in front of the church”? I asked myself.
“Perhaps he wants to say something good about me”? I thought of myself as the good Adventist young man who had just returned from university, the good Adventist who blessed the congregation with my singing and piano playing. What bad thing could he possibly have to say about me?
The preacher began to speak; “The spirit is telling me that you are facing a lot of resistance to your faith and that you are experiencing some vices that are holding you back from achieving your full potential”.
He went on, “Perhaps it’s your indulgence in drugs, cocaine, dagga, and porn and you have anger issues that hold you back”.
I remember feeling confused. I failed to grasp what I heard. The preacher seemed to articulate an aspect of my life that I was unfamiliar with and yet, he did so with much confidence under the guise of him being the ‘messenger of God’.
At that moment I felt disempowered, unable to defend myself as I took the blows ushered to me. I stood shamefully with my head bowed, unable to look at anyone in the congregation.
When the preacher was done, he went on to make a comparison of character between myself and my older brother, saying that my older brother was a good and noble man, with balance, and that I was a rogue and rebellious man with no balance. As he pressed his right hand on my chest, the congregation extended their hands towards us as if to assist in the removal of that which the preacher claimed to be possessing me.
He went on to pray for me. Still dumbstruck, I did not move a muscle.
Feeling hurt and ashamed, I remember storming off into my car straight after church because I couldn’t bear the judgmental eyes all around me.
I honestly felt that I should have defended my integrity and name because ‘a good name is to be treasured above earthly riches’. When I expected closure and warmth from the congregation during a turbulent period in my life, I felt like I was stripped naked and left laying out in the public. It really was humiliating.
When I got home for the holidays I thought that church would be the the place that gave me rest from the drama I had endured at school and that it would set a good tone for the year that was to follow. It was the opposite.
I had to adopt a false and detrimental image of myself that was imposed on me by a mere human who did not know me but came to conclusions about the person he thought I was, presumably because of the fact that I had dreadlocks at the time. Had he had a relationship with me and understood me he might not have come to the conclusions he had about me however, such is the reality of the church today.
We judge each other based on what we see rather than what we know, and personal experiences have taught me that the best way to get to know a person is by forming a genuine and loving relationship with them.
I began to drift away from the church, and slowly began to despise anything to do with church or with church people but with counseling from my dad and other people who were concerned about me, I began to understand and realize that such an incident does not dictate or indicate anything about my faith or who I am. I began to understand that I am not defined by the words of men but by my identity in Christ alone.
I feel compelled to state that in as much as I was the victim in this case I got a revelation about my own self-righteousness.
I too am guilty of ill-treating people whom I regard as sinners. In actual fact, this experience humbled me as my homophobia was confronted. It made me reflect at large on the role the church (me) can play in hurting those in search of closure.
It has made me reflect on the church’s stance on the LGBTQ movement, and other groups of people it deems as sinners.
I know very well that many can relate with this story in one way or the other. Some church organizations have somehow made us feel inadequate about ourselves and insecure of our identity in Christ. However, I just want to assure you that it is people who play the role of hurting other people and not God.
Therefore, when you get hurt by religion I pray that your experience does not lead you away from the church as it did with me, but rather that it will enable you to reflect on how you, the church, can better reflect the loving character of Christ to those around you.
Jesus did not die on the cross to condemn us, but rather he died on the cross to set us free and to take the guilt away. He loves you and above all things wants you to live in full confidence of His forgiveness.
I pray that we are all able to extend Gods kindness and love to all mankind.