Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why the Critics and the Evangelists Are Wrong About Church

This subject warrants a much longer post by me, but I want to write quickly that I'm so distraught by some of the things I read from conservative Christians, who love their churches, and also from those who grew up in those churches and have rejected them as adults. This post by Rachel Evans, popped up on my Facebook feed (I don't read her regularly), and I wanted to respond by telling her "thank you" for an honest, insightful response to her upbringing in a conservative Christian church, but also to say that this story does not paint a valid picture of the entire universe of organized religion in the United States.

I have attended several wonderful churches--particularly Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), United Church of Christ, and Unitarian congregations--that are doing all of the things most people say churches do wrong, right. They are inclusive. If you visited, you would see women on the choir risers and in the pulpit as salaried clergy. In fact, you would see people of color in those places, too. And gay and lesbian clergy. And a whole mix of folks sitting in the pews, next to one another, talking to one another, and interacting warmly and genuinely in the coffee hour after church, too. These churches are multi-generational, and all types of families show up on Sundays. Doubts and questions are expected, even encouraged. Perhaps these churches err on the side of assuming everyone is voting Democrat, but I've been to some that don't assume at all. From the pulpit, and in Bible studies, and in the impassioned conversations in women's groups (even youth groups!), talk about sin is almost exclusively about the ways people commit injustices against each other. There are plenty examples of that in the Bible. Sex is part of the conversation, sure, but it's about sexual violence, and misplaced societal value on sex, and sex as a means of subjugating certain people, not really about abstinence.

These churches believe deeply that every person (not just people in church) are works in progress, even that the Church and its doctrines are works in progress, too. People at my churches believed in evolution and also respect and study the Bible. "Community service" is an act of humbling ourselves before God, being accountable to the creation we nurture (and often destroy), and practicing an unconditional love and care for other people, as God loved us. It is often about collecting stories and sharing them with friends; breaking bread with people we might not have otherwise met at a dinner table. It is never about converting people or showing them why they are wrong to believe or live as they do. My churches make an active effort to avoid becoming a "country club" of the rich, white, and well-dressed, and instead aim to be just a meeting place, where we practice being members of the type of world we envision would bring about the most peace (in the broadest sense of the word).

I admit that these churches are rare. They take effort to seek out, but they exist, and they offer an organized, loving community whose reality and teachings run completely opposite to everything the un-churched or dislocated conservative Christians say is wrong with modern religion. I understand the need to rebel against institutions that oppress you and people you care about. I support that, in fact. But I wish those rejections didn't reinforce such a one-sided portrayal of who Christians are. I am progressive, and justice-seeking, and full of doubts, too. And going to church on Sundays edifies who I am at my core.