On Sunday, I was taking my daughters downstairs to their Sunday School class when I passed a couple of women on their way up to the sanctuary. One of the two women was looking down; the other was holding her arm and whispering into her ear.
It seemed odd to me, but I was most concerned that the visitors feel comfortable; and I just assumed that the woman looking down had a disability or something. She didn’t.
I introduced myself to the women, who eventually went to the Sunday School class under the auspices of checking out our children’s ministry. However, when everyone went upstairs for communion, they sneaked back into the Sunday School room, where they dug through purses, took credit cards, and bought several gift cards from a grocery store.
It makes me sick to think of it, the idea of people taking advantage of trusting church folks and using a Sunday School class to do it, for crying out loud. But I can see how easily it happened – I mean, I even shrugged off their blatant weirdness because I was trying so hard to be inclusive; and I’m a jaded, former prosecutor who has major trust issues when it comes to society at large.
The thing is, churches are great targets for taking advantage of people, because a lot of people come to church with an assumption that it’s a safe place. You walk in the doors, never imagining that someone would take advantage of you – but then thieves show up and steal credit cards; and you find yourself struggling with paranoia over any first-time guest who wants access to the Sunday School area.
Yet some of the hardest experiences to get over are the ones that didn’t involve small-time thieves – like when a pastor inflicts emotional pain on you, and you make a vow to never trust spiritual authority ever again. Or the kids in youth group are so hateful to your teen that you decide to hate them back and protect your family by never being a part of another church. Sadly, the scenarios are too easy to imagine.
As I write this, I’m fighting the fear of sending my kids to Sunday School next week. Furthermore, I’ve had some unfortunate church experiences in the past that serve as strong evidence that I’ll never be totally safe with other believers. But dadgummit, I can’t help myself – I still love other Christians like my girls love Sunday School, despite the fact that so many believers are just as broken, hypocritical, and imperfect as me.
So I’m taking my daughters to Sunday School next week, and by God’s grace, I’m staying connected with other believers for the rest of my life. Those thieves may have managed to steal a few credit cards, but they’re not stealing my daughters’ opportunity to do crafts and sing Jesus songs with their friends. And although I might have lost a little innocence in my journey of faith, Jesus hasn’t lost hope in His family of imperfect children, and I’m not going to either.