Who is the Church?

I hesitate to write this post, because I’m afraid some will get the wrong idea – that they will think that I don’t like the church.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  I love the potential the church has to do good in the world.  What concerns me is that many, too many, people in our society today don’t see that because of stories like this. I wince when I hear the phrase ‘Christian Militia’, and I think if we care about the message Christ brought to the world, we should all be concerned by how outsiders see the church.

We spend a lot of time caring for each other, crafting beautiful liturgies and talking about the difference between Easter and Easter Vigil.  This is important work, of course.  But what is our primary concern? The future.  How do we survive and thrive given the experience of a generation who barely knows what Easter is? Whose only knowledge of the church is militias and homophobia…who sees the church worrying an awful lot about something Jesus didn’t mention once – homosexuality – while neglecting the plight of the poor, something he talked about pretty often.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be engaged in honest debate about controversial issues, of course we should.  Our collective problem, though, is that we are seen as completely out of touch with the real world.

Pretend for a second that you are 25 and have never been to church.   What message(s) have you heard about the church?  Chances are it’s stuff like David Koresh, Priests who are Pedophiles, and Christian Militias.  You haven’t heard much about the love of Jesus and how Christians show it in the world.

Once in awhile, during a time of great disaster (9/11, January’s earthquake in Haiti, Katrina), the Red Cross, an organization with a Christian symbol for a logo, help people in need.  But there’s a disconnect between that and a stroll down a typical city block (even here in Charleston) with broken glass and hungry people.

That’s where the church is viewed as judgmental and hypocritical by many young people.  That’s one finding the Barna Group discovered in their research over the past several years.

Here are some highlights:

When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was “Christianity is changed from what it used to be” and “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.” These comments were the most frequent unprompted images that young people called to mind, mentioned by one-quarter of both young non-Christians (23%) and born again Christians (22%).

David Kinnaman, who is a 12-year-veteran of the Barna team, pointed out some of the unexpected findings of the research. “Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.”

Christianity started out as a movement that was counter-cultural.  Jesus brought peace and forgiveness to humankind with his death on the cross and resurrection.  He told his disciples to “put away the sword”, that “my kingdom is not of this world, or my servants would have fought to prevent my arrest…my kingdom is from another place.”

Many Christians today (myself included) are appalled by how this message of peace, grace, and loving others has been taken away from Christianity.   Somehow, we need to regain a place in the dialogue…how that happens is topic for many blog posts and prayers to come.

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Posted in Theology

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