When I go home to visit these days, my parents confront me, more or less every single time, with two questions: “Why are young people leaving the church?” and its more dangerous twin, “Why are YOU moving away from the church?” To which I reply with my old standby, “Uh. . .”
This is a worst-case scenario for my poor parents, even if they’ve seen it all before. Not to mention my poor pastor, who tries so hard to keep in touch with church members when they go off to school in the hopes of keeping them from leaving the church. My heart bleeds for them because they honestly believe that they’re doing the right thing; that the best thing for me and for people like me is to remain in the church family and that there’s an ongoing battle for all our souls that must be won. They’re trying their best to do good.
My parents tell me the story of how, up until my generation, young people would go to university, stay in contact with the church while they were gone, then return as full-time members when they were finished. That was just the way things were done.
But that doesn’t happen anymore.
Or at least not very often.
What happens instead is that young people finish high school, go off to university and never, ever come back into the fold.
And they want to know why.
“Uh. . .”
Well okay. The easiest answer, the one that requires the least amount of though and is the least satisfying for anybody, is that what the church teaches is just so darn far-fetched. Heaven? Hell? A virgin birth? Resurrection from the dead? Not to mention the old Creation vs. Evolution debate. It’s all just so unlikely to be true.
But is that really why we turn away from the church? Don’t we acknowledge that these things are difficult to believe? Sane, rational challenges to our faith aren’t something that just appear for the first time in university. This isn’t new, and as such it’s hard to believe that it’s responsible for driving people away from the church.
At least, for me.
So what is it, then?
I think it has something to do with some of the things the church is supposed to be good at: morality and living well. The ethics of the church get called into question. Here’s an actual conversation that took place that will help explain:
“So wait, women aren’t allowed to become pastors?”
“Not in my denomination, no.”
“So in some churches they are?”
“Why not in yours?”
“Uh. . .”
The truth is, women aren’t allowed to become pastors, or, for that matter, elders, in my church because a majority of the members, both male and female, honestly believe that women should not have positions of authority. The systematic favouring of men is both acknowledged and approved of. And it’s not something that I approve of or want to be associated with.
Should we even start on the issue of same-sex marriage? Or the concept of “hating the sin while loving the sinner” that inevitably accompanies any discussion of homosexuality? Will it be worth the trouble? Or can we just acknowledge that homophobia is associated with the church and move on? Lets do that.
The question that comes up, then, is: “Is it possible to belong to the church, to be a Christian, without being a misogynist and a homophobe?”
I’d like to think that the answer is “yes.” But doesn’t that mean, technically, violating the church’s teachings? And doesn’t that make me a hypocrite, claiming to be a Christian while really not accepting certain teachings? And why does thinking about these things always leave me in worse shape than I was in before?
I don’t know. I just don’t know.