It is practically an unwritten rule that churches avoid discussing certain topics. When parishioners walk through the doors of the church, they are expected to leave any and all thoughts and questions about those topics out in the parking lot. People are neither to talk about those topics when they are waiting for the service to start nor chat with other members of the congregation after the service has concluded. Pastors and church leaders are most certainly not supposed to address those issues at the pulpit or reference them in sermons. The reality, of course, is that no matter how great the unspoken pressure is to avoid mentioning taboo topics, people still think about them. They have questions. They have concerns. They do not, however, have a way to express them in church. This needs to change. Human beings naturally seek out answers to their questions, and if they cannot get them from a Christian friend or pastor, they will go find answers elsewhere. Some of those answers are too important for churches to ignore. Even though it is all but guaranteed to leave the congregation shifting uncomfortably, here are five taboo topics churches need to be willing to talk about and discuss.
Beyond the occasional “don’t have sex before marriage,” most churches have less than no desire to deal with questions about sex and sexuality. This may have been enough 20 years ago, but today there is no escaping sex. Magazine covers are covered in scantily clad models, and there are endless articles and blogs devoted to improving a person’s performance in bed. Even food advertisements have been sexualized.
Whether one likes it or not, there is no avoiding the omnipresent idea of sex in the modern age. As such, avoiding the topic of sex simply leaves members of the church to find their information elsewhere, and pastors are unlikely to be happy with neither what their congregation finds nor the conclusions they draw.
Talking about sex is especially important when it comes to dealing with younger members of the congregation. Teens are naturally curious about sex, and smartphones allow for children as young as eight to watch massive amounts of pornography. In a world that can seem to be ruled by sex, “don’t do it before marriage” is not enough. Church leaders need to honestly discuss how to deal with the urge or pressure to have sex as well as the symptoms of an oversexualized culture, such as pornography. There also needs to be an honest adjustment of expectations. Too many Christians who do remain virgins until marriage expect to suddenly become sex experts because they tied the knot and then feel painfully inadequate when that is not the case. More open discussion about sex would both help recently married couples deal with their own struggles and help young Christians better navigate their oversexualized world.
Politics, no pun intended, is the invisible elephant in the corner of many churches. Moral and ethical issues are on the line in many elections, and plenty of churchgoers wonder how much of an obligation they have to vote based on moral issues. If they feel abortion is wrong, does that mean they have a responsibility to vote for a pro-life candidate even if they disagree with all the candidate’s other policies?
Pastors should not force or pressure a congregation to vote a certain way, but they should be willing to discuss political issues with members of their congregations. Bible studies should not have to tiptoe around hot button topics such as LGBT issues or abortion. Christians are meant to live out their faith in the modern world, but doing so sometimes comes with internal conflict as Christians wonder where and how to draw the line between “love they neighbour” and disapproval of a coworker or family member’s lifestyle. Such things need to be discussed in church lest devout Christians be left to flounder helplessly in a political climate that is already predisposed to be hostile toward them.
Doubt is one of the most taboo topics in Christianity. Most people are under the impression that those who are truly faithful never experience spiritual doubt. They never have questions. They are never confused by what the Bible or their pastor says. They never struggle to reconcile faith with what they see or experience in an imperfect world. To the majority of Christians, doubt is equated with failing faith. To doubt is be to losing one’s way and a sign that a person might be slipping away from Christ. As such, all questions and doubts are ruthlessly suppressed. People do not admit they have doubts, or if they do, it is in an uncertain, trembling voice as if confessing some unspeakable shame.
Churches need to address the fact that spiritual questions and doubts are normal. When a person who is grieving wonders why God would allow a good person to die young, they should not be ostracized or fed platitudes. They need to be able to have a frank discussion without facing the judgement of their congregation. Left alone, doubts fester and rot and can do serious damage to a person’s faith. When spiritual questions are addressed, however, they can be used as a force for good and actually strengthen a person’s faith.
The odds are that most churches do not generally discuss Deuteronomy 20: 16-17 or 1 Samuel 15:3. Most churches do not want to deal with the Old Testament verses that call for the genocide of the Canaanites or similar passages that call for death, destruction and revenge. It is far easier to preach about turning the other cheek or loving one’s neighbour. Unfortunately, those unpleasant verses are just as much part of the Bible as those that describe how Jesus rose on the third day. Churches need to address the very real concerns and questions that such violent passages and stories conjure in Christians. People today are aware that blaming a woman for her rape, taking part in slavery, participating in human sacrifice and carrying out genocide are horrifically wrong. So, why are such things not condemned in the Bible? Any Christian who has tried to defend their faith has been asked those questions, and many Christians have been scolded by church authorities for picking and choosing which parts of the Bible they will follow. This means, however, that church leaders need to truly address what those unpleasant verses mean, and how Christians should approach them. Otherwise, they have to accept that each individual will create their own interpretation of those verses or do some extremely complicated mental gymnastics to handle them.
The actual term “heresy” has fallen out of style, but the concept is still a large part of Christianity. Despite how serious an accusation of heresy is within a church, few pastors talk about what heresy really means. The word becomes something like a child’s first swear word. It is something bad, but no one quite understands more than that. They might know that heresy means going against Christian doctrine, but no one discusses how far a person has to disagree with doctrine to reach the level of a heretic. Is a Catholic who ate bacon on Friday a heretic? Is a Pentecostal Christian a heretic if they do not believe in speaking in tongues? What makes a person a heretic?
Dealing with heresy also means addressing how ordinary Christians should handle heretical thoughts. If they find themselves thinking that an idea is pointless or foolish, what should they do? If a friend confides in them that they disagree with doctrine, how should a person respond? Heresy is still a very real accusation, but church leaders need to make sure their congregations know what it really means.
Every church has topics they would prefer to avoid discussing. Even if the congregation gets shifty and uncomfortable, some things are too important to be locked in the proverbial closet. From sex to the Bible verses most Christians would prefer to forget exist, church leaders are too willing to sweep certain issues under the rug. Unfortunately, such things rarely stay buried. Instead, the entire congregation ends up thinking and wondering about those issues but has no one to talk to about them. Drag the issues into the light and confront them before they begin to cause very real problems.