There are good reasons for leaving church: scandals, abuse, hypocrisy, patriarchal structures, intolerance.
Nearly 40 million American adults were once churchgoers but aren’t any longer, according to Jim Davis, Michael Graham, and Ryan P. Burge’s recent book, The Great Dechurching.
But not all are leaving because of scandals and abuse. There’s also a phenomenon of people leaving the church because they are drifting away. I have friends who speak fondly of church, in a similar way that they speak of their sweet Great Uncle Joe or memories of the ferris wheel at the county fair way back when. I was reminded of that nostalgia, when I read Perry Bacon’s essay for The Washington Post last week. His drift occurred because of doubt and politics and Covid and other things to do on a Sunday morning.
And for those of us who are drifting, not running, away, I wonder whether that is because we are forgetting about Jesus. The center of Christianity, as far as I understand it, is this idea that God came to us, in the person of Jesus, in order to let us know that we are loved, and cared for, and healed and saved and invited to participate in all the goodness and beauty and grace and joy and love and peace (and more and more) of who God is. Forever. In and through the life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I forget it all the time. I think church is about committees to decide whether we need air conditioning. Or about hymns or creeds or confirmation classes. Or about showing up for one another. Or about opening up our space to serve our neighbors.
Church is many of those things, but we only become the church when we remember that the reason church is those things is because of Jesus. The one who lived what he taught. Loving our enemies. Slowing down to listen to the people who are oppressed and overlooked. Upending social structures. Rejecting power and position. Moving towards the ones in need without judgment. Critiquing the ones in power without fear.
I am incredibly sympathetic to the “nones” who are religiously homeless. I resonate with Perry Bacon’s desire for a place to belong, a place to worship, a place to call home. I just want that place to be with Jesus. Because I believe that place is the only one that holds us all together.
Church should remind us of, and return us to, Jesus, so that we can find ourselves within him and live out of that humble, patient, unending, faithful, abundant love.
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