When John Speaks

During the span of the Our Emptying Church series, I’ve been in several thought provoking conversations with folks both in person and online; I’ve received messages, emails, texts, phone calls from all ages of folks who have been able to identify with something in the series. For this reason, I am continuing the series because it is stimulating such dialog, which I’ve been learning, is essential. I welcome you to comment below in a public forum, or for a more private route, shoot me an email under the “Contact” tab about your thoughts and/ or experiences. You can also catch up with me on Twitter if you are of the tweeting variety! 

Our first guest post was from Mark and Tammy Edwards, a couple who has dedicated much time, love, and energy to loving Millennials. John
Our next guest poster is John Davis. John recently joined the counseling field and is soon-to-be a Licensed Professional Counselor; he has worked in the mental health field as a recreational therapist for several years. John is a man of careful words, words that work for peace and equality. When John speaks, I listen. I’m honored to have his perspective illuminate the Our Emptying Church series. Remember that it is at the juxtaposition of disagreement that we learn from each other.

**Editorial note: In this post, John references the takeover of the “Moral Majority,” which is a specific instance in conservative evangelic church history during the 1980s. Because I believe this is important to understand when talking about modern-day Millennials (18-30 yr olds) and the church, I will soon be welcoming another guest poster who specializes in church history to explain this church cultural change for us.

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One thing I’d like to point out is that Millennials do not hold a patent on disillusionment with the church. This has been a phenomenon that has occurred in waves both in this country and across the rest of the world. The counter-culture movement of my generation showed a strong element of disillusionment with the church (although many of the same movement found new ways to embrace it).

I left the church many years ago. The reasons are complicated, but I’ll do my best to put a few of them into words. For many years in the 80’s I immersed myself in the church. I found in it acceptance and a sense of purpose. If what I heard from time to time from leaders or peers gave my conscience a twinge, it was a small price to pay. The desire to belong and be accepted is one of the strongest motivations humans have. We seek it from our families of origin, our teachers, our mentors, and our churches. If it seems lacking in one area, we seek it out elsewhere. What I could not perceive at the time was that that acceptance offered by the church was conditional, and that fear of stepping outside the bounds of that conditional acceptance frequently created an atmosphere of falseness, of acute awareness of appearance, that could sabotage the kind of spiritual growth that can only flourish with honesty. I won’t say that this was the rule, but it was far from the exception.

Over the years I began to hear thinly veiled messages of intolerance from church leaders. I can remember studying the belief systems of cults in Sunday school (some of which were Church of Christ, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witness). While some sensitivity was used in the presentation of this information, the fact that the word “cult” was used attached a denotation of dark and arcane practices to them. I heard, over and over, messages of horror and judgment in connection with abortion or homosexual relationships. People who were involved in such things were portrayed as the most degenerate of sinners and, at times, subhuman. And I will never forget the time that I heard a respected pastor stand before the congregation on a Sunday night and present a sermon based on Israel’s conquest of Canaan. He claimed that the Canaanites were so debased and sinful that they were irredeemable (similar language with which homosexuals and pro-choice people had been described). And he used these words: “God was calling on his people to perform ‘social surgery.'” I still shudder when I think on those words and their implication. I’m sure many in the Third Reich used similar rationalizations to justify their actions. It would be bad enough to have such ideology limited to the congregations where they were presented, but this has not been the case. Especially since the 80’s and the advent of “The Moral Majority,” churches such as the Southern Baptist Convention have become a vast political juggernaut intent on legislating their narrow view of morality onto the entire culturally and religiously diverse American public. **And you wonder why (David) Kinnaman’s research turned out the way it did?

Time to rush in where angels fear to tread: the infallibility of the Bible. As you know, I don’t subscribe to this line of thought. The God of my understanding would not order his people to commit genocide to provide for a “promised land.” The God of my understanding is not the misogynist that Paul is. There are many other passages that I could cite that depict a very judgmental and intolerant God, and that is not who I worship. Having said that, the Bible expresses in ways I have read nowhere else some of the greatest spiritual truths in the human experience. Also, having read passages from many different older versions of the Bible, I find that the same passages have radically different meanings (most often tailored to the cultural audience of the time). And one studying the history of our modern Bible may find it difficult to maintain its infallibility when they discover the political machinations behind what got included and excluded from the Holy Canon. So I find the Bible not perfect, but nonetheless a powerful book and a repository for some true wisdom and excellent rules for living. Alas, the absolutism of most denominations will not allow for this. Either the Bible is infallible or it is a complete lie. Where else in human experience do we find such absolutes? I subscribe much more to Joseph Campbell’s philosophy. The divine can be found in myriads of stories that we revere and preserve from generation to generation. They do not reflect absolutes, but lessons to teach us about the world, each other, and (most importantly) about ourselves.

Next, let me discuss tradition, dogma, and ritual. Believe it or not, I am a great believer in these things. However, I believe that they can ONLY hold meaning to 1) those who established them or 2) those who have found deep meaning in them and made them their own. I believe that there should be as many different ways to worship as there are people on the earth. I can think of few more heinous spiritual practices than that of indoctrinating a person in dogma. The best kind of learning is experiential. If you can demonstrate the truth of what you believe, or let me experience it for myself, THEN I have learned something. And once a truth is learned, it should be tested to see that it holds up. A belief that has simply been accepted, that has not been taught by experience or tested for its veracity, is a weak belief. As for tradition, these tend to morph from generation to generation and then be touted as absolute spiritual or historic truth. Let us take for example the so-called “War on Christmas.” Ample evidence suggests that Jesus was born in the spring or summer months (even in Israel, shepherds don’t have their flocks in the fields in wintertime), yet many Christians stubbornly insist that the entire last month of the year should be devoted to little else but celebrating Christ’s birth. I love Christmas, but I also realize that the season means many different things to many different people. Their belief or non-belief does not diminish my love of the holiday and what it has (very uniquely) come to mean to me. Another example from the same holiday: the “keep Christ in Christmas” campaign. This was launched in protest of many people’s use of the term “Xmas.” It was ignorantly believed that the “X” was a heathen attempt to remove Christ’s name from the holiday. The “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, translated as “Christ”, and was first used by the early church to accentuate, not eradicate, Christ’s role in Christmas. In this case, church tradition is attacking itself!

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Does this addition of church history change your perspective or further help understand the influx of Millennials leaving the church? I welcome graceful, constructive dialog!

This post is the eleventh in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6, OEC Guest Post: Mark and Tammy Edwards, Spirituality v. Religion: OEC Interview #7

Spirituality vs. Religion: OEC Interview #7

We are almost three months into the Our Emptying Church blog series and I couldn’t be more grateful for the dialog that has occurred both here and on my facebook page. It’s not too late to join in if you are reading for the first time.

Tonight I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 23 year old Digital Artist in the Gaming Industry; he is as kind as he is intelligent. I welcome his opinion on many things, but am honored that he agreed to do this interview. His answers were extremely characteristic of the Millennial generation, which is one of the primary purposes of this blog series. I hope you enjoy his perspective as much as I did.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

Somewhat. I would go for a while, then stop for a while, go for a while, and so on. My father isn’t very religious or spiritual, but my mother is. However, I was raised on a farm; so, there was always work to be done, including Sundays. So, as a result my mother didn’t attend “regularly”. Therefore, I didn’t either. Faith, and religion, in general were common topics between my mother and I, though. So, I grew up in a very “faithful” manner and always felt I have had very strong faith, even though I didn’t regularly attend church.

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

No. I haven’t actively attended a church in quite some time.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

I have a lot of reasons for not attending. Ultimately, I just don’t feel that it’s necessary for me right now. But, also, partially because I disagree with the “weight” of church. I tend to feel like it’s something I’m supposed to do because others think it’s necessary, while I don’t personally always feel that it is. Now don’t get me wrong, in general I think church is great. The concept is wonderful. But, I don’t feel like I’m any more faithful just because I go to church. I feel like I attend mostly because others want me to, and not because I FEEL like I should or that I should for my relationship with God to be any stronger. And, ultimately I feel that is all that it should be about: your relationship with God, not everyone else. Also, the general judgment I feel emanating from many religious people is a major turn-off to me. I still remember hearing a lady talking negatively about a boy who went to church wearing shorts, and she made it sound like it was the worst thing he could have done. And, I was sitting right beside her and hadn’t been to church at all that week. But, she didn’t think anything about me not going, just that this other kid had went wearing shorts. I feel like there is simply too much focus on the material things and not enough on what is truly important and what I would consider “Godly”. And, lastly, is the general close-mindedness I have come to associate with church and the judgment I feel is bestowed on those that do not share similar beliefs. Now, don’t get me wrong, close-mindedness isn’t exclusive to church of course; it’s just one place that I tend to feel it in. I want to be very clear that I don’t think negatively of the people that go to church. I simply have an open-mind, and I feel like that isn’t always viewed well inside the average church. I like to form my own thoughts and ideas based on my own conclusions, and oftentimes those don’t align with what others think. Ultimately, that leads my views to align somewhere outside of the common denominations I’m familiar with. So, I don’t feel like I really fit-in.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

Overall, my experiences have all been fine. My feelings toward church aren’t really negative or positive. I just don’t feel like I belong with any particular church. Like I said, I didn’t attend regularly, though. So, I mostly went when I felt like I needed it. And, in those instances I always got out of it what I needed.

–What is the purpose of the church?

In general, I like to think of it as a place to educate in the ways of the religion/denomination and to bring those who believe similarly, closer together, while also giving them the chance to worship and be part of something greater than themselves. So, by that definition it sounds like a wonderful place. And, I honestly think it is… If it is what is right for you.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Definitely. I think, those who attend church regularly tend to feel very sorrowful for those who don’t, which as a result creates pressure. However, just because someone doesn’t attend church doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less spiritual. On the flip-side though, I do understand the reasoning behind them feeling that way. A metaphor could be that someone who isn’t going to school, typically isn’t expected to be “learning” on a regular basis. So, in that line of thought it makes sense to feel like someone who isn’t going to church isn’t spiritual. That line of thought is flawed though because there are so many other variables that are unknown to others, and ultimately that leads back to the general close-mindedness I feel from the group as a whole.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

In general I perceive Christians to be righteous. However, I think that can also be the problem. The fact that morality is subjective means that someone can be righteous and feel their actions are morally correct, while in other eyes they may not be.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

Unfortunately, it does not. The business world is a very fast moving and diverse place. To succeed I feel like you have to be very open-minded and learn to adapt to constant change. But when I attend church, I feel like I’m forced to step back a bit. As a result I think it creates the feeling of not fitting-in. Also, the media could have some effect on that. Typically the media focus purely on the “bad”. So, the religions (and Christians) you typically hear about through the media are the ones that create very negative impressions for the group as a whole.

I can think of countless other reasons why this also may be the case, but I’ll just leave it there.

I do however wonder if those same people would consider themselves to be at all “spiritual”, even though they don’t necessarily consider themselves to have religious affiliation. I think of the two terms differently, and I wonder if others do.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

It’s hard to say. Right now I’m leaning more toward decline, just based on the fact that it seems to have declined significantly in the last 50 years already. As of late, I simply haven’t seen anything favoring growth.

–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

I want to say one last time that just because I don’t attend church, doesn’t mean that I think negatively or any less of anyone that does. It also doesn’t mean that I think people should not attend church. Again, I think church can be great. The most important thing is simply that each of us is doing what is “right” for ourselves.


As always, I welcome graceful dialogue in the comment section. If you are a Millennial, I would especially love for you to affirm some of these sentiments? Do you feel that morality is subjective? And how do you personally differentiate between spirituality and religion?

This post is the tenth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6, OEC Guest Post: Mark and Tammy Edwards

Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6

We are a month into the Our Emptying Church series and I couldn’t be more grateful for the dialog that has occurred both here and on my facebook page. It’s not too late to join in if you are reading for the first time.

Tonight I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 24 year old fellow biologist who consistently amazes me with her ability to juxtapose loving biology, loving the earth, and loving people. Her graciousness has helped me through some long and hard days.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

No. My parents didn’t do the organized religion – not atheists, just not organized.

–Are you currently actively attending a church? No.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

I do not subscribe to the beliefs of any particular religion, Christian or other. I have met countless wonderful folks who belong to a faith, but I’ve never been able to fully get behind one. I do like the music they perform in church. Just last week, I attended a Bach concert with a choir and cellists. It was lovely.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

I have had many good church experiences. Twice in my life I considered myself deeply religious (Christian) and went with friends. Everyone was very inviting and accepting… to a point. Many times I found that in times of questioning, they back away a bit. I’ve never been fully able to have a conversation about deep beliefs without some resistance or grief.

–What is the purpose of the church?

I see it as a type of sanctuary, where folks with a common denominator go to experience their beliefs together. It keeps the faith alive in a way, knowing that you’re not the only person who believes that life should be lived in a particular way.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Perhaps when I was younger in the Bible Belt of Tennessee. Anymore, I feel absolutely no pressure to attend.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

My experience overall with this group is that they are nice, genuinely caring folks. There are the extremes – those who don’t think about what they claim to believe, those who are overtly converting the heathens of the world, etc. – but for the most part, they seem loving. I have not met but few strict Christians who are not in some way judgmental of other non-Christians, but they exist.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

No. When this religion was established, life was not nearly as pleasant as it is now – people were mysteriously dying and nature was cryptic. I think that the need for such a strict religion is declining. We are learning more about how things work, where we came from, where we are going, and who we are. In the Christian sense, I am with partial to the “God is dead” philosophy. This is not to say that the idea of God is fundamentally wrong, but that the religion is losing participants does not surprise me.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

As suggested in the above answer, I anticipate a decline in church membership.

–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

These answers come not from an atheistic, apathetic view, but an all-encompassing one. I do not believe strictly in one belief over another, and tend to view life through more philosophically terms than religious ones. I believe in whatever gets you to those gut-wrenching answers in life – why we’re here, who you are, what happens to us when we die. If it’s Christianity, Buddhism, Wiccanism, Paganism, Chocolatism, whatever… more power to you.

 

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue only in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story? What are some aspects of the church that keep you in it or keep you out of it?

This post is the eighth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5