Why Walking Out is One Way of Responding to Institutional Toxicity in Christian Organizations

Image: Renan Lima / Pexels / Edits by Rick Szuecs

One of the most frustrating—but ultimately liberating—experiences during my three decades of pastoral ministry was resigning from a predominately white urban church in a largely African American city. Many of the hundreds of attendees appreciated my ministry as a preacher, teacher, leader, musician, husband, and father. Yet there was an influential minority of suburbanites—swayed by issues related to race and socioeconomics—whose opposition undermined my leadership.

My oldest child, remembering the challenges of being a young African American man in that church, has often said, “Dad, you need to write a book and name names!” My son knows I tried to live out a genuine multiethnic ministry despite its recently critiqued hardships.

I resisted writing a cathartic, “tell-all” book, but in my mentoring of young pastors, I did try, like Paul, to share the gospel as well as my life (1 Thess. 2:8). Resigning as a pastor from that church was a painful leap of faith. I did not have another position lined up. But being unemployed was better than being minimized and demoralized.

A significant recent exodus from the Southern Baptist Convention has included high-profile figures like Beth Moore and Charlie Dates’s Progressive Baptist Church. Jemar Tisby’s story, which he recently shared in an interview detailing his exit from white evangelical spaces, resonated with Christians of color and women who risked bringing their whole selves to Christian organizations that claimed to value diversity, then got pummeled by the realities of life within white supremacist patriarchies.

All departures are hard, yet all have life-giving potential. Those who leave often find eventual invigoration through renewed vision, fresh insights, and recovery of their voice and personhood. The organizations left behind have the potential to learn important lessons too.

Some Christian institutions will defend their reputations by appealing to Scriptures that condemn false teaching (such as Jude v. 4). Their intent is to discredit those who leave. Such condemnation is unhelpful and often inaccurate. People like me who left didn’t do so because we embraced historically heretical ideas. We left because the institution was toxic.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Dennis R. Edwards

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