When I was thirteen, my recently born again brother sat me down and told me he was worried about my mother. Yes, she was a very nice person and yes, she'd gone to church her entire life, but she wasn't saved. You see, Episcopalians think all you have to do is be baptized as an infant and you're good. And that's why Episcopalians, including my mother, were going to hell.
I'd been going to youth group with my brother, and he must have assumed I was saved and heaven-bound, a perfect compatriot in the battle for my mother's soul. It's true, I'd tried to get saved. I'd said the right words, but I didn't feel any different. I'd expected to feel kind of glowy and special, but I just felt like me.
So I wasn't saved, and my mother wasn't saved, and all the sudden it seemed to me that any God who would send my Jesus-loving but un-born again mother to hell was not a god I cared to do business with.
I didn't voluntarily set foot in church again for another twenty years.
Today I was at church, listening to a very good sermon when the minister said something about Jesus dying for my sins, and you know what? My knee still jerked. I had the thought: we need a new vocabulary for talking about the cross, because I know I'm not the only person who has had dealings with toxic Christianity and can't hear certain words and phrases without wanting to flee. In fact, I know a whole boatload of folks who experienced toxic Christianity--judgmental, wounding,"You're a child of God, but something is very wrong with you" Christianity--as children and young adults and never came back. I don't blame them.
I'll be honest with you: I'm still working out what happened on the cross. I have never understood the economics of the sacrificial lamb. Why would God need to torture one human being (and his son, at that!) to save another? This is not to say I don't think Christ's death on the cross isn't significant; I'm just still working out its meaning, which I suspect I may find located in the resurrection.
(My born again brother is now, by the way, an Episcopalian.)
The opposite of toxic Christianity is healing Christianity. Healing Christianity doesn't say, let's find the sinners and make sure they're saved. It says, let's go be love in this world. Let's go be the hands of Christ. It feeds people and gives them water and lets them know we are all broken and God will make us whole in time. Which is very good news indeed.
You know what words and phrases don't me cringe when I hear them in church? Reconciliation. Restoration. Love. Justice. Mercy. The kingdom of God. The peace of Christ. May it be with you. And also with you.