“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations, your image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice-oceans of it. I want fairness-rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” Amos 5:21-24
Membership in Mainline Protestant churches on the decline, while many charismatic/fundamentalist churches are currently growing-they will eventually hit their peak and then they too will begin to eventually decline. Especially with the rise of the “nones” those who consider themselves unaffiliated with any particular religion. Many denominations and churches are trying to do damage control-they are desperately trying to remain relevant, yet how can one expect to grow when one insists on the same old, same old? More and more people are getting tired of religious institutions.
While some argue that the declining interest in church attendance is because young people want a “buffet” spirituality where they can adhere to the parts they like and discard the tough, difficult parts, I argue, how many churches are truly theologically relevant? Socially relevant? How many churches preach Sunday school theology-where most of the congregation are Biblical illiterate or simply resort to Biblical literalism, since that is the default option in American Christianity? How many pastors have gone to seminary, learned about the historical critical method of studying the Bible and about the various authors/editors throughout the centuries that have changed/added/subtracted from the Biblical text yet have members in their congregations that still thinks the Bible was literally written by God, is error-free, and that every member of the clergy believes as they do? Many pastors maintain that their congregations are not interested in the “academic” side of Biblical studies or they feel that what they learn academically is irrelevant to the lives of their parishioners. An interesting concept if one thinks about it-so the text-considered to be sacred by many in your tradition- is not important enough to be studied, to be examined? If the congregation-many of whom consist of those who had been attending the same church for years-are not interested in learning about the Bible, then how can you expect someone who is younger and has no such commitment to the church to even want to stop by for a service? Of course academics needs to be tied in with practical experience-such as helping and advocating for the poor-but being interested in what you claim to hold dear is vitally important.
As someone who received her BA in Religious Studies and plans on going to Divinity School in the fall, I find it disheartening how little basic knowledge many members have about the Bible. (This is a problem that affects churches regardless of their theological leanings). And the worst part is they don’t really seem to care. Even in denominations and churches where the Bible is elevated to divine status, they have a serious lack of historical background in regards to the formation of the Bible. They don’t want to know because it might cause them to question their interpretation; they don’t want to know because they don’t truly care about what the Bible says, but only about being able to prove to others that they are right. More and more young people are getting tired of attending churches where the Bible seems to evoke nothing more than a yawn or where it is wielded like a weapon to cut down all those with differing opinions.
Others argue that this generation is too independent or selfish to want to get involved in the messy work of congregational life. Perhaps that true for some, but I argue that many young people don’t see the point in getting involved in an institutional whose main purpose seems to be to reinforce the status quo. In many mainline churches, (not all) the emphasis is on tradition-which is not necessarily a bad thing-but whose tradition are they trying to preserve? Read through many of the hymns, find out the information of the authors. How many owned slaves? How many were upper class? How many were in favor of the subjection of women? How many people in the congregation can even answer these questions or even care enough to ask? I am not suggesting we discard tradition, but to be aware of whose tradition we are preserving. As a Hispanic female, I am not necessarily interested in hymns written by slave owners.
As for the conservative/fundamentalist churches, many tend to uphold the status quo of men as head of household and in positions of power, and heterosexual identity. Sorry to disappoint you but women are earning advanced degrees at a higher level than men and more and more women are gaining positions of power outside of the home and are becoming the primary bread winners for their family. Furthermore, the LGBT community is vocal. Even in conservative educational institutions such as Wheaton College, the LGBT community is making their voices heard. More and more people—including young evangelicals are in favor of same-sex marriage. Why would people want to attend a church that wants to set back society and nullify human rights?
Even mainline churches, which are often viewed as more “open” are still struggling with ordaining an open member of the LGBT community, and even though mainline churches have been ordaining women since at least the 70s’, many female clergy members continue to be underpaid and shuttled to congregations that cannot afford a male clergy member.
There have been exceptions-there are always exceptions. One cannot forget the vital role that the church played in the civil rights movement, one cannot forget the individual churches and pastors that have stood up for LGBT rights, comprehensive immigration reform, healthcare reform, veterans support, and who are questioning the nation’s pathological need for violence and war. However, unlike many who find comfort in the church, I find myself identifying more and more with those who have left. Those who are have decided that enough is enough. There are those who have been called to reform the church, to act as a prophetic voice, but more and more are deciding that the Church has had more than enough time to change, more than enough time to heed the prophetic voices calling out to them but have by and large chosen to ignore them.
The Church has done good and will continue to do good, but the Church has also done incredible harm. In fact for some people, a relationship with the Church can be termed abusive. When the Church demeans you because of your race, your sexual orientation, or even your mental health status then I firmly believe people have the right to decide they would rather disengage then try to reform it. In my opinion the Christian Church in America has two options reform or die. And quite frankly, it is those who are in love with the concept of the church’s responsibility to ensure it survives. As for me, I find it much more exciting to wonder if Christianity can exist outside of the traditional Institutional church, and if so how? It does excite me to see organizations and churches who are doing their own thing, who are stepping outside of the institutional status quo and who are embracing change. I can imagine myself working with such congregations and organizations, but with the majority of churches that seem to be intention preserving the status quo? Quite frankly, I am not interested and neither are most of my peers. And I don’t really think that’s a bad thing.