I didn’t want to get involved in this mess. In some ways, I’ve already said my piece– twice, really. I mean, the first time I wrote about “why are we leaving the church” was June 7– almost two months before Rachel Held Evans wrote about it on CNN. And yes, I feel like a hipster. “I wrote about it before it was all the rage!” #humblebrag
Not to say that I was saying anything new, or original, or that I was really contributing to the conversation at all. Those two posts were about myself, really. Interestingly enough, my “Why are we leaving the church?” post– I didn’t write it for my blog, actually. I wrote it for her.meneutics at Christianity Today. I wrote up a big long pitch, the editors accepted it, and then I spent a two weeks working on it. When I sent it to the editor, she ignored me for weeks, until I finally asked if she was going to put it up, or if I could go ahead and post it on my blog or maybe try to get it published elsewhere. She said that they weren’t interested in it because while “it is a very important topic,” it “doesn’t fit our emphasis going forward.”
Which is fine– I’m comfortable with this sort of interaction. It happens to writers all of the time. We probably just had a misunderstanding about where I was going with it based on my pitch, and when I turned in the 1,000 words, it was probably just a slight too liberal for them, Which is fine. I’ve hammered “remember your audience!” into my freshman composition students enough times to remember it for myself.
But, considering the reason she gave me (“it doesn’t fit our emphasis going forward”) I was curious when this article showed up on her.meneutics this morning.
None of the authors said anything I haven’t read yet– which, honestly, I stopped reading all these “oh, noes, the millennials!” articles almost immediately after Rachel posted hers. It got wearisome awfully fast, and trying to read the variations on a theme got exhausting. There were a few that were interesting– Sarah Moon’s was especially good, in my opinion.
But, I read today’s article anyway.
And then I read this:
As a true sign that I am getting old, Rachel Held Evans’s uber-popular CNN post Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church brought about a wistful, nostalgic response in me: Ah, to be young and turning my back on church again.
My mind traveled back to 1990, when I swore off church for good. I told God I still loved him, but his people I wasn’t so sure about. Like a good Gen-X-er, I was angry. Angry about what I saw as wrongheaded views on women in the church and a hostile stance toward the gay community. Angry because I thought the church was filled with hypocrites who cared more about sexual sins than greedy ones . . .
Today, I love church more than I ever could’ve imagined. I love it for the things that used to drive me nuts: for the hypocrites and other messy folks who gather together every Sunday
My heart sank, because these are the opening words of the article. Because this– all it does is make me feel incredibly hopeless. You mean you were frustrated enough to “leave church” because of the same exact issues? And you came back even though nothing had changed? Because nothing had changed?
That’s just… depressing.
I’ve read a bunch of articles on “if millennials want to see the church change, they should get into the trenches with us and work! Be the change you want to see!”
And yes, I’m a millennial, and I’m 25, so how hard could I have tried, really? How much effort could I really have expended? Did I really give it my best effort?
But then I think back to a few of the encounters I had with church leadership– at a pretty typical, run-of-the-mill evangelical church– and I just want to cry all over again. Because I wanted to get involved, to work, to use my gifts to help my church. I was excited. So I went to people in leadership with some creative ideas– simple things, really, like wanting to use my choral conducting experience to put on a Christmas cantata. Nothing drastic– nothing that even touched the tough issues. And I was told no. When I asked why, the answer was always the same: you’re a woman, and our church is not ready for that yet.
Not, you’re young, or I think that would take more time than you have or our choir doesn’t have the skill to sing a cantata or any other BS reason that I, honestly, would have thought nothing of and gone on my merry way. No, he was honest.
I’m a woman.
And it didn’t matter that I had far more skill and ability than the current choir director– and had demonstrated that. The only thing that mattered was that I have a vagina instead of a penis.
Apparently, these ideas were enough to bother Generation X, but, in the paraphrased words of Caryn, Sharon, and Megan, they just got over themselves and came back.
Which makes me wonder if anyone is really paying attention. Because yes, Rachel’s article was a really, really good place to start. But there are so many other reasons– as many reasons as there are people. So when stories like these are shared, when my generation is groaning under the weight of back breaking religion, under the movements that have left deep scars– like the Purity movement, and the Courtship movement, and all the others that have left us with gaping wounds, ruined lives, and destroyed marriages, I wonder if anyone is paying attention. I look at all the articles floating around the internet, and I feel like Stephen watching the Sanhedrin stuff their fingers in their ears and gnashing their teeth.
Because we’re not just narcissistic. We’re not just selfish. We’re not just liberal. We’re not just impatient.
We’re hurt. We’re bleeding. We have been stabbed in the back so many times by the “church” that claimed to love us. And as long as no one acknowledges how deep our pain is– how real and life-shattering it is– we’re not going to come back.
Go on, “church.”
Go on saying that we’re just young, and foolish, and we don’t know what we want, and we’re going to change our minds in 20 years, that we’ll come back, that, eventually, we’ll realize that we need community, that church isn’t about us, that we shouldn’t make it about us.
And sure, some of us might come back.
Most of us probably won’t.