I greatly hesitate to post this - though admittedly mostly because some people possibly involved know who I am and read this blog. However, this blog is about the lessons I've learned on leaving Fundamentalism, and this was a big lesson, so here goes.
I've already mentioned that we are currently attending an Episcopal church, which is a pretty far cry from any Independent Fundamental Baptist church. The church we attended before completely breaking with Fundamentalism was a halfway-house for us - still quite conservative but many Fundy hangups were absent or at least less emphasized. (Ironically enough, the teaching at this church woke me to a great deal of fundamentalist heterodoxy and peculiarities of the services there made me more comfortable with liturgical worship.)
Shortly after starting to attend Halfway Fundy Church, the pastor preached a message on grace that was freeing. I especially remember him saying, "Grace is messy." The point was that if you see another Christian doing something you may not agree with necessarily that isn't in a clear-cut area, don't judge. Dialogue with that person. Find out how what that person is doing brings them closer to God, and understand that it is God who leads. It was a refreshing change from the usual sermons on keeping your testimony spotless and your mint tithed.
This church also put a heavy emphasis on being involved in a local Body - not in a controlling manner such as I have seen in the past, but with the emphasis that we are so desperately interdependent on one another that we need to be attached to a local church. When people left the church they were encouraged to find another one as soon as possible so they could be "released from the care" of Halfway Fundy Church in a members' meeting. In my experience it had always been done graciously and possibly even with a sense of relief that the person had found another church to plug into.
So, coming from a church that emphasized grace, dialogue, and interdependence I expected at worst intense discussion over our choice to join an Episcopal church, but by no means condemnation.
Sometimes my naivete astounds even me.
After we moved we kept in contact with our "shepherding group" - a smaller church group that met together in place of a Wednesday night service. We shared with them some of our struggle and also shared with them that we were thinking about joining this Episcopal church. The conversation was supportive and with implied trust that we were doing our best to follow the Spirit.
We then emailed the pastor to see what needed to be done to be released from Halfway Fundy Church's care. The initial emails were light, but just before the members' meeting they suddenly began to be a lot heavier and filled with dire warnings about the Episcopal church's stance on things such as Christology, abortion, homosexuality, and women.
I wasn't there. I cannot relay exactly what happened. But the pastor advised us that at the members meeting, "no one was comfortable" with our choice, and several even voted not to release us. The eventual consensus was that they couldn't not release us, but the release came with a warning essentially that we were doing a very dangerous and probably wrong thing. With all that consternation coupled with an emphasis on the Body's interdependence, how many people do you think discussed this with us?
No one, either before or after that meeting, has had *any* contact with us on this subject. Only those in our shepherding group even knew anything about it ahead of time. (I have no idea if anyone from that group was at the meeting.) One couple questioned us about it a few months later but that was due to a social networking status, not the member's meeting. The conversation was warm and edifying on their part (and hopefully on mine as well). I still think of them with particular fondness for their kindness.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not upset that nobody kept tabs on us. I'm an introvert myself, I understand how difficult it is to reach out. Life is busy, and sometimes it seems like someone just left when it has really been months. Had we needed, we could have reached back ourselves.
But what I can't get over is that this matter of conscience - not sin - resulted in such a kerfluffle with absolutely no one talking to us directly about it. If this were such a terrible choice and people were so concerned, why was there no follow up? Honestly, my theory is that it wasn't a terrible choice, so the Spirit of God just didn't prompt anyone to seek us out.
We immediately wrote back to the church leadership expressing our hurt and dismay at how the situation was handled. We felt accused of having no spiritual discernment, of not knowing anything about the Bible, and felt summarily dismissed. Nearly a year later, we have had no reply of any substance.
So grace is messy - except when what the other person does is too far out of your comfort zone.
When you realize that the best part of Fundamentalism is still Fundamentalism - well, it's a heartbreaking lesson.