I visited a church recently and pointing to my child someone asked: “Where’s the father?” I squirmed, bristled and shrugged, while scouting an escape route. My hand was being held. I was then subjected to being assured that it was okay because I had been ‘without knowledge’, but a husband is not the same as a boyfriend or partner, and if I prayed instead of seeking a husband God would open the eyes of a man to see me, because women shouldn’t find husbands but men seek and find wives, and every woman needs a man to stand by her. I was also informed that my child was a blessing as if this was news to me. I didn’t bother asking whether she thought I should divorce my current husband first or commit bigamy, opting to leave her with her assumptions and the warm fuzzy feeling gained from ‘helping’ me. Granted I was not wearing wedding or engagement rings because my I’m separated from my (abusive) husband, but still – none of it was her business.

I’ll contrast this to when I started a new job. I chatted with a few women who occasionally spoke of their partners while I never did. One day, one said something like: “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to but are you in a relationship or…?” I said it was complicated. She sensed my hesitancy, apologised in case I felt uncomfortable, and changed the subject.

In the Bible the woman at the well encountered a man who knew her life story and still offered her what she needed (which incidentally was not relationship advice despite several failed marriages and current cohabitation, but rather an understanding of who he was, and an inspired answer to the question she asked). I met someone who knew nothing about me, made assumptions and presented me with unsolicited, irrelevant conclusions with no consideration for my obvious discomfort. The encounter did not leave me so refreshed I forgot why I came and rushed to tell all I knew about Jesus. It left me wondering why I bother with church at all and feeling certain I’d not invite anyone there for fear of them being subjected to the same treatment! I’d like to say this is a rare and isolated incident but unfortunately I can’t.

Not everyone who walks through a church door is seeking to be rescued or to become someone’s pet project or good deed. Everyone, from visitors to church veterans, should be allowed to open up or seek advice on their own terms rather than being cornered after the service by someone who thinks holding people hostage by standing too close, hugging, holding hands {shudders} and prying is demonstrating Christ-like fellowship or love. There is a vast difference between making someone feel welcome and prying into their personal affairs. “It was lovely to see you. We hope to see you again soon” is pretty sufficient. I expect these same people don’t hug or hold hands with new work colleagues so why is it okay at church?

If the word from the pulpit is real enough – if it shows Jesus – people will benefit, even if they don’t return. Perhaps if regular church goers were confident that the word / Jesus was enough they wouldn’t feel obliged to interfere themselves. Maybe then I’d think about inviting my mates, but right now I’m not even sure whether I want to turn up!

Written by Jem Oruwari

Jem Oruwari is inspired by grace, generally uninspired by much about church, ever hopeful (usually), a slight techie, and quite likes to write stuff. She is interested in issues around identity and working on ways to encourage and facilitate churches to make informed decisions about how to handle issues around domestic violence.

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