After Rachel Held Evans wrote her post that went viral on Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church, I’ve set myself aside to think and contemplate. But also I’ve strapped myself to the table with my hands to the ground to force myself out of the debate. After all, the list of reasons people have given for leaving the church, in response to Rachel’s whole article, numbers about 10,000 too many. In other words, we have so many possible reasons at the table these days it gives us headaches.
But here’s the deal. I grew up in a stable go lucky evangelical church. Left it. Then I found the progressive church just as annoying, which I wrote in a series here. The fact that I’m disgruntled could mean I’m a picky moron who has a lot of spiritual abuse in her life that blocks her from relaxing in church (probably partially true), or it could mean that the progressive church is just as flawed as the evangelical church, which is probably also true since that’s the nature of humanity – find anything that’s not real, attach onto it, and then build an experience around it.
Rachel is onto something. We have two brands of Christianity going on (or fifty thousand brands, but I’ll stick with the two I know). First is the typical American evangelical stereotype. Some evangelicals even do better than this, they think, HELLO FAMILY INTEGRATED CHURCHES. Anyways, these churches run on certainty, strong families, predictability (except you never know when the leadership will be set off at you), and set absolute truth. You start learning the Bible stories in the church nursery and are studying the same lessons as a senior adult.
Of course, pardon the generalization (if your church doesn’t fit the bottle, I’m not talking to you), these churches are also anti-doubt and anti-science. I mean, you know, don’t ask too many questions here. Because then the Bible might be disproven. And we might die. 7 day creation ONLY, people.
These churches are also exclusive. Women, marry a man, stay married, have a traditional family, submit to your husband, and study the Bible. If you are gay or atheist, STAY AWAY YOU STINK. Don’t come to church drunk. Then we will gossip about you to no end.
Then there is the new cool postmodern church. This church is inclusive for once – hey come ye, come ye, even trans* – and welcomes uncertainties and doubt. These churches are exciting, and different, and hip hop Jesus is awesome-he-LOVES-all.
But then that all comes with a price too. The church is still anti-science. Rachel mentioned anti-science and all hands around the net responded by saying, “but we teach evolution at our church.” But see, one can believe in evolution and not care a darn about the scientific method. Postmodernism itself, although yay for welcoming doubt, doubts even the scientific process itself. In other words, the church has wiggle room for philosophers like me who don’t find any ultimate reality in the world and even doubt the existence of the physical world (just for fun), but for most people who like living in the real world, this is annoying.
For Pete’s sake, one does not need to be a scientist to use science. If you gather evidence of any kind, perform an experiment, and then check out the hypothesis, you are using a scientific method. Churches test waters all the time with their cool club ideas to bring people in; they are scientists, but under the same breath, laugh at science. I’ve said this a million times. It’s one thing to be an anti-realist or poststructuralist, but it’s a whole other thing to actually live as if the world isn’t real and as if there is no true socially constructed identities or ultimate reality.
For a good real life example, what about prayer? A postmodern church might be all gang on special revelation. Everyone is happy, and God is talking to everyone, except when he’s not speaking, which is okay too. The church is all warm and fuzzy feeling, as I said. But then comes in the party pooper who challenges the paradigm, asks them to evaluate the evidence, and see if it’s really God, and if their God ways are really working. People get edgy on the seats. This is anti-science.
Then there is the inclusive issue suddenly. If an idea might offend someone, we can’t go there. We can’t evaluate that. So it’s okay to doubt the Bible, doubt Jesus, doubt the world, but doubt an idea that might offend someone, and you’re a bigot instead of the old fashion heritic. I am going through this right now in my ethic crisis. I have a good reason to be undergoing an ethic crisis. Most everything I was taught as a kid has proven to be false. So I’m not sure what is wrong or right. But no one wants to talk about this with me because ethics by nature offend people. For example, if we talk about whether it’s okay to have sex outside marriage, then it’s just too offensive of a topic. So we don’t talk.
In the Bible, we don’t normally meet God when our life is perfectly symmetrical like American evangelicalism. Nor do we normally meet God when we are on fire, happy, and not asking offensive questions. Of course, God is not bound by space and time, so he tends to meet us anywhere, even there. But the best stories in the Bible involve wrestling with God. Again, I relate to Kierkegaard who criticized the rationalist for having their head in the clouds as content bystanders who always found room to talk about God but not live it out. My advice: go head, throw yourself into the struggle, and wrestle with God.
Jacob is awesome. He steals the birthright, loses it all, his mother says his brother is about to kill him, he runs away, wrestles with God, and comes out with a broken limp. Then God blesses Jacob in the end not because he was holy but because he endured the struggle.
As a kid, I heard that faith was about the end goal. Faith is all about when you die and God says, “well done thy good and faithful servent.” Faith is being one of the people who made it to the end in one piece, with faith all intact. I don’t think that at all anymore. When we die, we won’t even need evangelical-brand faith anymore because we will be face to face with ultimate reality. Faith instead is about the struggle. The Christian life is about wrestling to the point that at times it even breaks us – not that breaking is the goal, but that it is okay to break. It’s also expected that we screw up along the way.
While we are breaking, wrestling, and doubting, we need a shoulder to cry on, and a rock to stand on. That’s called the church. That’s one of the functions of liturgy, but there are ways to experience this without it. But one thing is for sure, just liturgy or just evolution is not enough.
One time at an international church in SE Asia, I was so broken I could not worship. I was a crumbly mess. So my church friends fought for me, doubted for me, wrestled for me, and carried me to the cross. They were there, not condemning, but interceding on my behalf. That is the kind of church family any Christian would kill for and the church few people find. If the way is narrow, this surely is the meaning.
As Rachel said, maybe the real problem is people just don’t find Jesus in church. That’s two fold: 1) not finding Jesus himself – his presence, his life in the church 2) not finding Jesus in the lives of those in the church. The first leaves me empty and thirsty; the second leaves me alone, broken, and damaged.