Friday, December 11, 2009

Son of How the Church Lost Me

(News-Herald, December 10) Last week’s column about leaving the church generated more response than any column I’ve ever written, more emails than I can keep up with. So I’m going to break two of my rarely-broken rules—don’t write about the same topic two weeks in a row, and don’t discuss mail.
Many correspondents guessed that I would receive many invitations to various churches in the area, and they were correct. The invitations came with varying degrees of charm and concern, and while I probably won’t accept most of them, I sincerely appreciate each one.
Some folks will be surprised that I received not a single solitary note calling me names, speculating on how much I will enjoy roasting in hell, or recommending that I be thumped soundly for my wandering ways. Even people who mostly disagreed with me were kind and friendly about it.
It reminded me of something I’ve suspected for a long time, which is that people inside and outside of the church don’t generally understand each other very well.
These days, few people know how to discuss differences opinion without slinging mud and calling names.
Some folks object to being evangelized (i.e. “fixed”), and some believers can’t sit idle when they see someone who, they believe, needs their spiritual help. Unchurched folks can be overly defensive, hearing themselves called names and rejected even when it hasn’t happened yet, and might not happen ever. At the same time, some folks in the church sit silent while a wide variety of wingnuts wrap their personal political and social agendas in an ill-fitting suit of faux Christianity. Those wingnuts make it easy for intellectually lazy unchurched folks to dismiss the whole package.
Churched and unchurched folks are way more complicated than they give each other credit for.
I heard from a wide variety of drop-outs (and nearly-drop-outs) who shared that they felt a church had failed to meet their needs and felt that they couldn’t stay in a place where they were spiritually starving. And I heard from a wide variety of church people who wanted to remind me that the church is not a fast food drive-through where you motor up, order what you need, get it, and then drive away.
I agree with both. In broken relationships the blame, if we have to call it that, is usually shared by both parties. But here’s the thing—in this particular broken relationship, the church is the party that’s being left.
Imagine one spouse is walking out. Pat says, “Why are you leaving me?” Chris explains, revealing heart and hurt and motivations. “Oh,” says Pat. “Well, let me explain why you are wrong to feel that way.”
This conversation does not end with Pat saying, “Oh, well, since you’ve explained why I shouldn’t feel the way I do, I’ll just stop feeling that way and stay here.”
Last week was not meant as a personal plea. I am working through my own issues in my own way. But people who abandon the church rarely explain why, leaving the church to fly blind on the increasingly common issue of “Hey! Where did everybody go?” I wanted to add some data to the conversation; folks are free to use the info, or not, as they wish.
But my mail has led me to one more suggestion.
The most universal comment in my mail, from all sides of the pews, was that I was brave to write last week’s column. On the one hand, I get that. Talking about religion in Venango County is like complaining about the Pope in an Irish bar – some kind of argument will certainly break out.
But on the other hand—really??!! Is it really that hard to talk honestly about a subject that is so critical? Religion is one of the few issues that is so pervasive, so important to us as a society, that it shapes the lives of even those who choose not to be involved in it.
The emails, from believers and non-believers, churched and unchurched (need I really explain that those distinctions are not the same?), moved me and reminded me of how much I missed simple, honest discussion of the matter, with people sharing what they really think and not what they think they’re supposed to think. And I’m told that some of these conversations have spilled out into the real world. In this season, when it’s so easy to go through motions without remembering why, that can’t be a bad thing.

1 comment:

Matt and Steph Bell said...

Again, thank you for your honesty. I actually enjoyed the confrontation soaked in a little humility this week. And you were right. You did create quite a stir. It promoted alot of my church family to discuss the issues that you spoke about. I heard it was quite a topic among many homegroups. Homegroups, where varieties of people from within and around the regular church body ask alot of questions and challenge each others perspectives and faith over a weekly or bi-weekly potluck.
Im certainly glad to see that you shared that the responce was positive. I hope that you dabble in this subject again.

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