And it’s all because I read this post yesterday from Rachel Held Evans. Now, I’m no stranger to Rachel’s blog. And while I can’t claim to be a “fan,” I do find Rachel’s writing witty, engaging, and in a way, courageous. She says things that a lot of people are thinking but won’t say out loud--and I’d venture that’s exactly why so many people follow her faithfully.
And although we’ve never met, I feel a bit of kinship with Rachel. Her story and mine seem to have run parallel courses. We were both raised in conservative Christianity; we both excelled in that context (i.e. we were “good” girls, unafraid to eviscerate anything opposed to the expression of Christianity we knew); we both attended Christian colleges that originated out of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920s; and we both studied the liberal arts.
But after college, Rachel says that she began questioning her upbringing, and her faith took a decidedly liberal turn. The funny thing is that after college, I started evaluating my faith too. But I ended up nowhere near where she is today. Yesterday Rachel revealed a bit more of her journey in her post Fifteen Reasons Why I Left the Church, and after reading it, I had to stop and reflect, “Why did I end up staying in the church as I knew it?”
Because if anybody had a reason to leave, I did.
Imagine the worst case scenario of church politics; add to that having to live on government support because the church won’t pay your husband (the pastor) enough to support you and your three children ("Nobody asked you to have another kid.") Throw in some deputation experience and seeing first-hand how we’re often simply franchising American Christianity via missions. Stir until you reach mental, physical, and spiritual exhaustion, and you’ve pretty much got our story covered.
And yet we stayed. Even more, we subject our children to the weekly routine of church life (despite the fact that my five-year-old pouts every Sunday morning about having to go.) To top it all off, my husband just accepted a position as a senior pastor of a conservative church only a little more than an hour away from an evangelical Mecca.
So why have we stayed unlike so many of our peers? I hope it’s not because we’re co-dependent or that we’re blind to the problems. And I hope it’s not because we haven’t evaluated our position or because we lack critical thinking skills. Actually, to be honest, it’s probably those very things that have kept us in the church. So here’s my list in no particular order:
Fifteen Reasons Why I Stayed in the Church
- I believe that there is no such thing as Church (with a capital “C”) without church (with a lower case “c”)--as messy and as difficult as that may be.
- I want to be the change in the world that I seek. And that means engaging the problems closest to me. Like in the next pew. Like in this pew. Like in my own seat.
- I believe that reconciling nations and people starts at home. If I can’t work toward reconciliation in my own church, there is no way I will be able to accomplish it on a broader level anywhere else.
- I’m not a militant separatist. I don’t believe that everybody has to think EXACTLY the way I do before I will worship with them. Even if they are more conservative than I am.
- I don’t expect the church to be anything other than it is—a group of difficult, broken people plodding their way to glory. The kingdom of God is coming; it isn’t here yet.
- I believe the church is bigger than political parties even if the people attending it don’t understand that. Even if the people who leave it don’t seem to understand that either.
- I believe Jesus can and wants to redeem Pharisees as much as publicans.
- I believe by staying in the church I earn the right to speak about the problems I see. It’s the old adage that you can criticize your family but no one else can. By staying with “my family,” I can speak about our failures and the doubts I wrestle with.
- I believe that 2000 years of church history holds a bit more weight than my personal experience.
- I have brothers and sisters in Christ who have been imprisoned and lost their lives for doing the very thing that I would be giving up.
- I do not want to lose people I love and who love me and my family. And while there are times that conviction must trump relationships, these relationships act as a grid to help me determine whether my convictions are sufficient enough to risk losing these people from my life.
- I need the church to regularly remind me about the things that I don’t like in the Scripture. Things like God’s anger and my sinfulness--things that if left to myself, I would conveniently ignore or rationalize.
- I am not an island. My choice to leave church affects everyone else in the congregation. Remove one part from the whole and it is no longer the same entity.
- I have children. And while I’ll be the first to admit that it’s dangerous to raise your children in a church that distorts the gospel, it’s equally as dangerous to raise them apart from church altogether. One way the gospel is expressed is in the loving covenant relationship that happens in the church – I want that to be part of the warp and weave of their experience. I want them to know that real commitment means taking the good with the bad.
- Jesus hasn’t left the church. No, of course, I don’t mean this in a sanctimonious way. (If I had, I would have put the word sanctimonious in asterisks.) I mean simply that after he threw out the money changers, Jesus continued to worship and sacrifice in the temple. His work is to purify and redeem, not to alienate or destroy.
Don't get me wrong--I understand that many young people are leaving church because they honestly don't think it represents Jesus well. But I wonder if the reality is that they are leaving because the church doesn't represents THEIR view of Jesus well. Like Rachel said, she and her husband "are struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong."
But I’m not entirely sure that’s the right goal.
Isn’t that the whole point to realize that the brokenness invades everything – even our churches? Isn’t the whole point to model faithful, loving service to people we don’t like—even in our churches? Isn’t the whole point that Jesus came, not only to establish justice, but to save people from their self-righteousness—even in our churches? Like I said, I get this generation’s frustration and I understand why many of them are leaving the church. I’m just not convinced that frustration equals maturity or that leaving equals courage.
In fact--in this day and age—leaving may be the easy way out.
(Edited: 3/21/12 10:09EST)