Tuesday, April 9, 2013

That Open Letter to the Church from My Generation

My Facebook feed the last two days has been filled with postings of An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation. The supposed money quotes are
I’m writing this because I’m worried about the safety of the Church. The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70% of 23-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave. I’m going to offer a pretty candid answer, and it’s going to make some people upset, but I care about the Church too much to be quiet.
So, my advice to you, the Church: if you’re looking for some intelligent biblical liberal opinions on the subject, have a little coffee chat with your local Methodist or Episcopal pastor. Christians can be all about gay people, it’s possible. People do it every day with a clear biblical conscience. Find out if you think there’s truth in that view before you sweep us under the rug. 
This author self-identifies as a "A College Kid Who Misses [the Church]." I actually really don't like this letter at all and don't like how much it's been shared. I am making the assumption that it makes some big assumptions as it uses a plural pronoun to cover 23-30 year-olds. I'm in that category. In some ways I am certainly an outlier: I am a priest at 26 which is not the typical 23-30 year old, and the author makes some assumptions about me based on my age. Making assumptions about people based on similar demographics to our own and is just as dangerous as making assumptions about people based on demographics different from our own.

I am glad this author found truth in Macklemore's song, but I fear that her blog has a tone of "If the church would just get on board with the gays everyone would come back." [Edit: It's not just a tone, it's explicit, "But my generation...will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment," and "We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends)."]

My favorite line, rather than the ones I've seen quoted is "I’m saying this: we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress." That's true. More of what I've encountered about people my age who are interested (or disaffiliated) from the church is that there isn't much about Jesus from the Right or Left but a lot of hot button political/social issues.

I am glad that this experience of truth in song rang true for her in her Midwestern town where there are churches that preach only hate or things the author doesn't like. I am from the rural south and know all too well messages of queer exclusion and feminine submission. I am frustrated as mainline protestants (many of whom are clergy) who share this letter highlight this author's encouragement to have coffee with mainline protestants. I am frustrated at this author's candid answer that we're scared of change.

Yeah, sure we are, but there are a lot of real studies about formation and discipling as followers of Jesus that affect people's attendance rates. I find these ten reasons (link) more compelling based on my own experience. As I encounter people my age who are really willing to commit to a faith tradition they are looking for authentic expressions of that faith tradition. The author says we can smell fake a mile away. A sudden shift about teh gai is going to look really fake the same way politicians' all suddenly, as Chief Justice Roberts put it, falling all over themselves to endorse marriage equality. A friend of friend said, "I almost respect Muslim and Catholics the most because at least they go big and stay nuts." I don't agree with that assessment, but this person isn't religiously affiliated and has some hints at how those religious traditions are seeing their own authenticity.

An authentic expression of Christianity is that things take time. Sometimes more than they should, but sometimes not as much. We look beyond ourselves to the larger and we look to our future. I don't fear for the Church, though. I trust in grace and the guidance of the Spirit. Mainline Protestantism has been on a journey about dealing with queer people for a while, and not every branch of it is on the same page. The remaining denominations not onboard have been struggling for decades like those who do endorse marriage equality.

I am a gay man and my faith was the biggest impediment to my coming out to myself, to my family, my friends, and my faith community. Others' interpretation of my faith was an impediment for years after many of those coming outs. The author signs the blog entry "A College Kid Who Misses You" while also encouraging talking to United Methodist and Episcopal clergy, which is exactly what I did. Rather than leaving the church though, I left the church of my past, and in so doing I learned a lot more about Jesus than I had before. I started encountering parables that I didn't remember and words of Jesus that felt fresh and new. I left the church of my past and discerned a vocation to ordained ministry in another church.

I never missed the Church. I sometimes miss the people I grew up with, but I think it's anachronistic to say that one is scared for the Church's decline while also identifying with the statistic of 23-30 year-old's who've left the Church (compared to leave the church of one's past). Being fearful for the church (which I don't think is necessary) I think necessitates a staying in it and speaking to it. I feel like a curmudgeon as I say all this, but saying you miss the church reads to me like you've left it and are armchair quarterbacking to speaking to it on your blog rather than making or maintaining relationships with church people.

So, no, this isn't a letter from my generation. It's well-written and has some good sentiments, but I think needs some more depth to it to get the kind of sharing it's gotten. I continue to pray for the church to be discerning and to be focused on the message and person of Jesus — which doesn't exclude social concerns, but must be the starting point rather than an after thought for how we engage with society.


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