Early in their marriage, Kate discovered her husband, Jim, had a pornography addiction. She confronted him about it; they prayed; and he promised to change. For several months, Jim seemed to be doing just that by throwing himself into his ministry position. Their marriage returned to normal.
But the façade soon collapsed. Kate began suspecting something when she discovered Jim had been to a questionable restaurant several times with some of the other members of the church staff. She searched his computer and found hundreds of porn sites in the browser history. She also came across personal items belonging to another woman in his car.
When confronted, Jim begged for forgiveness. Kate moved out but agreed to counseling—if Jim would be serious this time. But he wasn’t. He was late when he did show up for the counseling sessions. Mostly, he just didn’t come.
Kate filed for divorce—and picked up a label. Many members of the church where Jim worked couldn’t believe he would do anything. So, they blamed the divorce on Kate. They knew she had her eye on someone else for months. They knew why she really wanted a divorce.
And that label went with Kate. Thanks to the power of the Internet, the certainty of Kate’s actions spread to other friends and family members. Jim, for his part, did nothing to dissuade the rumors, and Kate refused to slander Jim to the church—even if he’d hurt her, even if it meant wearing the label.
Kate eventually moved back to her hometown, but even there, enough people knew her past to keep the stories and “certainties” churning. They knew who she was and what she’d done. Jim stepped down from the church staff, ostensibly because of the turmoil, but picked up his own label: poor, discarded husband.
Years later, Kate still wears her label. She remarried, but for many people, she’s still the woman who ran out on her husband, who didn’t fight hard enough, who really had ulterior motives for leaving him. Even after Jim left ministry and church altogether, the reason behind his apostasy fell at her feet. She’d been labeled, and that was enough.
Church can be a scary place because the process of living life together is messy. Husbands and wives cheat. Doubts bubble up. Irrational fears overcome. We’re joined together at our most vulnerable point: trust.
We’re all tempted to categorize events and people, especially when something goes wrong. Categorizing makes it all seem safer, so different from us. But the purpose of the church isn’t just for when things are going well; it’s for when things mess up. Once we categorize and label, we’ve made things seem tidier in our heads, but that tidiness rarely exists in real life.
For Kate, healing took years—all because those she trusted fit her neatly into the box where they wanted her to be. And for Jim, labeling meant he never dealt with his sin.
This post was written by John UpChurch of crosswalk.com