Build It And They Will Come
With all this speculation flying around as to why our generation is abandoning church in larger numbers than our parents’, no one’s bothered to ask us why we’re leaving the church. – Kayla Rush, “Please Stop Telling Us Why We’re Leaving The Church”, Swinging From Grapevines
Someone on Facebook linked to the piece excerpted above, and it contained links to two other pieces that are the source of the frustration that produced the wonderful original post. I mean, nothing will get young people’s attention like telling them they aren’t really converted. Is it any wonder the author basically does this?
Is it any wonder that many, including me, picture Jesus looking like this after reading the two pieces that are the source of the frustration?
As I read Ms. Rush’s piece, I thought how similar her criticisms of the church are to mine. Not that I’m trying to steal her thunder, or somehow make this about me instead of her. It is less the specifics, which stem from a generational and denominational and theological set of experiences I cannot share, than the Spirit of the piece – a deep love for the church, a desire for the church to be the church, and the frustration that comes not only from not being heard, but from the fact that the churches refuse to place the reason for the Millennial’s exit squarely where it belongs: on the churches and their many faults and failures.
Yesterday, I spent a great deal of time on a particularly favorite theme of mine: fearful Christians (and others, too; fear in America is not only a religious matter). While I understand the roots of so much of our culture of fear, I cannot and will not sit idly by while the church not only succumbs to it, but stokes and spreads fear.
Last week, I responded to this piece by Rev. Drew McIntyre at United Methodist Insight, and had that response published as well. If you skip down to the comment section – which is yet another example of why I do not allow comments here – you will see that, rather than respond to the substantive criticisms I offered, he called what I wrote “nonsensical rantings”, insisted I had confused doctrine and theology, and engaged in, “I know you are but what am I?” What astounds me about the Drew McIntyre’s of the world (a point he simply refused to address, by the way; posting the same tired criticism of an invented “Other” then acting shocked when called out for lack of originality is such a tired game) is their ignorance masked by a constant demand to adhere to their ignorance. Specifically, his claim that I had somehow confused doctrine and theology because doctrine, the teachings of the church, do not change, while theology is what the church does to come to an understanding of our doctrines, is so grossly and unbelievably false on so many levels, it is almost a thing of beauty. Yet, this, too, is neither new nor exactly shocking. As far as doctrine never changing, I will just mention something called “The Protestant Reformation”. More specifically, while doctrines are indeed the teachings of the church, they are neither static nor universal. Even those that cross confessional and denominational lines are understood very differently; to believe for one moment that spanning two thousand years has not brought about changed understanding of what constitutes doctrine, and what those doctrines mean is an embarrassing claim to make for a person with a Master of Divinity degree. Somehow, however, the demand remains that the Church return to an adherence to doctrine, this thing that never changes, as a canon for proper Christian identity. Funny enough, it is usually liberals who understand how wrong this is, yet are accused of refusing to adhere to doctrine! While not surprising, the level of hubris – as well as a lack of any introspection at all – still astounds me. Like Christians who insist that neither proper science nor history be taught in schools, then wonder why so many of our young people are ignorant of science and history, there is a profound disconnect here that is obvious to everyone except those who have it.
Finally, there has always been and will continue to be an attitude as expressed in the title of this post. All churches have to do is build a building, create a program, offer a class or Bible Study, provide age-appropriate materials to children and youth, and like magic the people will flock to the churches and stay forever. What never seems to get addressed is the failure to be the church: to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to offer the sacrament to build up the community of believers, to send the congregation forth to serve the world. We are so busy trying to figure things out, we have forgotten how simple it all really is. It is sad that we will lose so many for so many reasons. It is sad that the reasons, as Ms. Rush articulates them, are so clear even to a middle-aged observer like me. I still have hope, however, that the Holy Spirit will breathe life in to the churches so that we can continue to be about the work to which we are called. I wouldn’t continue being a Christian if I didn’t have that hope.