Sunday, January 10, 2016

Should Introverts Go to Church?

(Reclaimed from Blogjob. Tags: being sensitive to survivors of emotional abuseemotionally abusive churches.)

When I remember my churchgoing years...there were masses of reasons why I didn't go back to about a dozen different churches, from a distracting attraction to a married man at one church to concern about avowed Satanists-on-a-mission-to-confuse-Christians being admitted as members at another. Churches that take Communion every week are out of the question, since my body tolerates neither bread nor wine; there are, however, churches that take Communion only once or a few times a year. Churches are supposed to be places where people study the Bible, and in my experience churches that get into detailed studies of the Old Testament prophets seem to overlook plainer texts, like "Judge not, lest ye be judged"; it is, however, possible to share some sort of fellowship with people who know very little about the Bible. Churches are supposed to rebuke sins, as defined in the Bible, without hating sinners; it would probably be possible, if unlikely, for a group to achieve a reasonable balance. So the majority of the things that put me off clustered around one theme: hostility toward introverts.
(The book images in this post are special; they're books that I've found especially helpful in understanding and recovering from my encounters with emotionally abusive churches. Click on a book to buy it from Amazon.)
Church was where I learned a set of "friendly" manners that, to my surprise, didn't work on non-churchgoers in the same part of the country...because they were false-friendly, emotionally abusive manners even in the place where I saw them as typical. (I was seriously confused, during a year or two when everyone I knew in Maryland belonged to a certain church, about the difference between sneaky verbal attacks and a Maryland accent.) I concluded that the whole idea of needing to be in a crowd to pray or worship was just a bit of adolescent confusion. Addicts need groups; introvert Christians have Christ.
What would a church I'd attend twice, now, be like? It would probably need to recognize that I do have a lot of bad memories associated very specifically with churches and churchgoers. I'd look for evidence that the church was really working hard to make up for American Protestantism's past abuses of all those who share one or more healthy hereditary traits with, well, everyone I actually like.
1. No conversation in the sanctuary. Go in, bow, pray until you hear music, then sing. Those who can't keep their mouths shut should be ushered out.
2. "Friendly greetings" outside the sanctuary take place from a distance at which, if both people reach out at the same time, they can shake hands but no more. Being pawed and mauled by lonely old people (often with colds) felt more obnoxious than being groped by an obnoxious one-time date, who at least sincerely liked me on one level.
3. Introversion is a healthy hereditary trait. It won't ever change, nor should it change. Never suggest that we should "try to be more outgoing." It's like saying "try to be taller." Instead, try "Thank you very much for listening to me" (when you're talking about something other than the person who's putting up with you).
(By the way, a lot of Christians are short, and quite a few are blind. What about eliminating all the visuals, thus eliminating the boredom of sitting through a visual presentation some people can't even see? This is a tangent, but it would definitely help churches interest children!)
4. Special coaching is offered to those who fake-smile so that they don't turn people like me against the whole group...hours of weekend practice in talking naturally, with natural, relaxed facial expressions.
5. All regular members of the church are permanently enrolled in a training program to correct them ever saying that anybody should "be" anything. The way to suggest that someone you've not hired to work for you might consider doing anything is, "Please (Sir/Madame), how much should I offer Your Grace to listen to one humble request?" Then, if it's worth the amount of money the person requires, pay in full, with cash. Then make sure it's a humble, specific, concrete request beginning with "Please, if I use any subjective terms in this request, keep the money and spit on my face, which I promise not to wash." (The whole point of this process is to limit suggestions for behavior change to the "please move off my foot" variety, and silence the kind of, er um, Seventh-Day Adventist types who are constantly suggesting improvements for other people's wardrobes, speech, personality, character, lifestyle, grooming, and stereotype that SDA's are judgmental.)
6. Acceptable conversation about third parties is limited to announcements they've posted in the church bulletin.
7. The reason why people are single is that the person they're going to marry hasn't asked them yet. No further questions.
8. If necessary, seat men and women separately to reduce the hang-ups people feel about anyone out of high school being "still" single. (Statistical fact: The younger and prettier single women are, the less likely they are to be interested in other women's boring old husbands, and the more likely the husbands are to guess this and not speak to the single women. The church ladies of my youth should just chill.)
9. Everyone removes shoes and jewelry and puts on identical hooded robes to reduce the need some people feel to comment on other people's attire.
10. The only time in my churchgoing years when I felt that I was worshipping God in church (as distinct from being "on stage" in a hostile crowd, whether I was singing in the choir or sitting in the back row) was at the National Cathedral, which is wonderfully designed with a forest of pillars that limit people's ability to see one another (although anyone who's slightly farsighted can see what's going on in the pulpit). A church where I'd feel that I was worshipping, as distinct from socializing, might be designed similarly.
Introverts do not, in fact, need groups to worship God. If we designate a weekly day of rest and worship, and use any part of that day to perform the hard labor of socializing with extroverts, it will probably have to be because the church needs our help, admits it, and rewards it. There may be churches where introverts can worship in peace and feel that we're no further from God or Grace or Good Will than we were before we walked in. Out of more than fifty churches, I've yet to find one.