85 million unchurched Christians. Is that good?

The moment I became a Christian (see I, a Rabid Anti-Christian, Very Suddenly Convert), I did not also simultaneously transform into something which apparently God himself can’t turn me into, which is a joiner. I have no idea why it’s true, and I’m not proud of it, but if independentitis were a disease I’d have died of it long ago. I couldn’t join an “Up with Water” organization in the middle of a draught. It’s not that I don’t like people; I’m resolutely pro-people! But if I’m in a room with more than about three of them who all start agreeing upon the same things—let alone upon the same set of, say, moral principals—I can’t help but feel that I’m about two minutes and the working out of a secret handshake away from being waterboarded until I confess something.

Upon converting to Christianity I also did not become a conservative evangelical Christian. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being gay before I was a Christian, and I didn’t think so afterward. Before my conversion I thought it was crazy to think that upon dying all non-Christians are automatically sentenced to hell; after my conversion I thought that was even crazier. Before my conversion I thought it totally obnoxious for Christians to “evangelize” to non-Christians; the very thought I had while reaching for the doorknob on my way out of the supply closet in which I had my conversion experience was, “Oh. So that whole evangelizing thing really is bullshit.” Before I was a Christian I thought Christian rock n’ roll was the most painfully awful thing in the history of ear drums; after I was a Christian my taste in music remained intact. (That’s an obnoxious joke; sorry. I know lots of today’s Christian music is great.)

So though I’ve been a Christian for some eighteen years now, when it comes to church I’ve largely remained as ever I was, which is less of a go-to kind of guy, and more of a, “If I wanted to be bored into a coma I could spend the morning staring at my sink full of dirty dishes” kind of guy. Or I could watch golf on TV. Or I could polish my ancient fancy shoes—the shoes I would wear to church if I ever went—that I bought at a thrift store.

Generally speaking, I would prefer to do just about anything on a Sunday morning other than drag my disheveled, unshaven, still-sleepy self to church.

Am I alone in this sentiment? Am I the only Christian in the world whose basic attitude is that church is to the life of a Christian what, say, Sea World is to the life of a dolphin?

A slew of polls in recent years tells us that about one in three Americans do not attend church. Furthermore, eighty-five percent of those “unchurched” people self-identify as Christian.

That works out to about eighty-five million American Christians who do not attend church.

So no, I guess I’m very much not alone.

Hey, I am part of a group!

And it’s exactly my kind of group, too: the kind that never gets together for anything.

Whoo-hoo!

Except, wait.

Wait.

Eight-five million Christians who don’t go to church.

Is that actually a good thing?

What do you think?

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • charlesmaynes

    great post John….. I personally think it comes down to one word, and it cuts both ways….. humility. The “Church” as in the formal expression, and organization, has largely lost “it’s” humility- and fallen into little niche cubbies of absolutism based on the plague of certainty- and the individuals (I think) have lost a certain bit of humility in losing the notion of community in the church. I think you have a lovely book idea in unpacking all of that…. because if people felt connected to their community, they will participate in it- the lack of participation suggests disconnection, and perhaps worse, irrelevance.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      NICE comment, Charles. Deep. Thank you.

    • Jill

      I think I may be quoting you Charles when explaining (again) why I’m not choosing to join.

    • charlesmaynes

      one thing I would like to add- America is a sort of sucky place for things like community- we Americans are far more interested in telling people why we are right, than listening to people tell us about how our actions harm. If “the Church”viewed both themselves, and “the lost” with the love that Jesus’ preached we would have a very different construct- therefore it is is our personal job to “preach the gospel always, using words when necessary….”.

  • CK

    I too don’t attend a church but am lucky enough to live in a city in which there are many churches open throughout the day and do lunchtime and teatime services. So if I feel the urge to go for communion, I can just pop into the Minster at 12:30 and hey presto, I have been to church without the baggage and boredom.

    The place I actually feel has the best church community is a redundant church (one that no longer has a parish). It’s run by the Churches Conservation Trust, which, quite astoundingly, conserves churches. Although it’s not a religious organisation and not all volunteers are Christian, it is the best kind of church for me. There’s a great sense of community; our love of history and archaeology unites us. Church is what you make of it, whether it’s a typical one or not. Indeed, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” isn’t limited to a certain time or place.

    And John, Christian metal/hardcore is where it’s at.

  • Libby Serkies

    I think some of the disconnect may also come from people who find a significant difference between faith and religion. For many – myself included – one’s faith is seen as an anathema to church doctrine (religion). In living out my faith, the church I was raised in said “no thanks” and will not allow me to participate in communion. So I am searching for a new church – a church where faith is the focus. Technically, until I find a new church, I am an unchurched Christian as well – but for me, it is not by choice.

  • Tracey Grimes

    i tried to be a church person, i really did…..i dove in head first in fact, attending several services a week so i could attend one and work one, attending group bible studies and other ‘christian gatherings’……..i cannot point to one specific thing that drove me out, it was a lot of things…..when i opened up to a few friends that i was thinking about not attending anymore, they expressed deep concern that i was losing my faith and that without the support of my faith community it wither and die and i would become a godless heathen …..and that conversation was a nail in the coffin of my church life……..if yours is a god incapable of showing himself real and maintaining a relationship with his children if they don’t go to, volunteer at and drop money in the plate of a particular building every sunday, then i KNOW that i’m not in the right place……. the god that reached into my life in the darkest moments is not one bound by church walls and what i found inside church walls bore little resemblance to him….oh and btw, just for the record, my faith is now stronger than ever, so my friends can stop worrying :)

    • Libby Serkies

      I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that really struck me. It said “We can’t save the world by going to church… We can only save the world by being the church.” THAT is the kind of church I am searching for.

    • BarbaraR

      Yes! The “Losing your faith” thing was thrown at me too. As though you cannot have faith outside an organized group. All part of the fear thing…

  • Jill

    This is great. Just what I needed today.

    A very kind, well-meaning friend and member of “my” (using that word loosely) church reminded me with capital letters to make sure I got my membership paperwork in order this week so I can be announced as a new member in two weeks.
    I’m not waiting for the waterboarding so much as the colored “kids drink” in paper cups.

    Sigh. I’m not a joiner either.

    • Maria Jones

      If you’re not comfortable about joining, don’t do it. God will still love you. That kool-aid is dangerous!

      • Jill

        My friend came back to me and said he (my friend) loves me regardless and did not want to pressure me. I do believe him.

        I’m not so doubtful that God loves me, I’m much more doubtful that being in church is somehow more significantly spiritual than any other place of being.

        I really go for the fair trade tea (in ceramic cups!).

  • Nicole King

    I think if the “church” were actually following Jesus people would want to be apart of such a community. Church is less about a specific time and place and more about community. Within community there is power, just as we see you have 12,000 followers on your Facebook page.
    What if church looked like this: having an outreach clinic for the poor in the basement of the church, having pub theology on Monday’s where you argue about lots of controversy and even get a little tipsy, having a reconciling ministry that marched in gay parades, showing films with a panel of people for discussion like ‘fish out of water’. What if church was a social gathering that wasn’t a one time a week institution but rather was about a community of people who want to grow and question life together. The above description is my church at Grace United Methodist Church, in Dallas. That was just a small list too! Church isn’t for the mundane, it’s for the hard stuff.

    • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

      If I lived anywhere near Dallas I would so join your church. Pub theology is one of my favorite things.

  • Matt

    I was raised in a “home church” but I don’t have one anymore. When I work in a hospital, the chapel works just fine to meditate. The pastoral care department brings communion, ashes, and other things to those of us who must work through holy days. If I need to worship or commune with God I mostly just take a walk in the park.

    What I dislike is church politics–budget votes, who just got divorced, etc. Things you can and cannot talk about. Charities, ministries, and so on that are “acceptable.” The obvious impression that this is primarily a social club for a core group of people. These are complaints I get from a lot of other “un-churched” as well. For those who are LGBTQ, there is of course the extra dimension of safety and acceptance.

    So, that 85 million–more power to us, if it works better. I’m nothing if not practical.

    • Jill

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m ecstatically glad to be an active part of the only openly LGBTQ friendly church in my locale, it’s like gold to me. For some of my friends there, it’s the only place they are fully open and accepted in their entire day/week/whole life.

      And yet, politics, budgets, feeling slightly guilty when I can’t afford a donation to a deeply worthy cause. There are always unwritten rules in groups of people. You find out as you go whether or not those rules even work in your life. So, I stay in as much as my comfort allows.

      • Matt

        I get the impression (at least here in the Midwest/South) that churches are still in the mindset of being home base for a small geographic area first and foremost. Whereas so much of faith is being out in the world.

        Groups are no problem for me, as long as we’re actually doing something except looking at each other at regular intervals and making nice noises.

        • Jill

          There are benefits I have found in belonging. So much time spent attempting to belong to something that was much more interested in spitting me out. Thankfully that feeling became mutual, and I left.

          But belonging to a church, at what cost? I love the inclusivity I actually see and feel, and yet what of my Buddhist values? I’m sure I say much too much about it but it’s only because there’s always a sweater-two-sizes-too-small feeling about all kinds of groups. And so I sit uncertainly, tallying up the costs and deciding if I can afford it.

          • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

            I find no contradiction in being a both a Buddhist and a Christian. I self identify as a non-Calvinist Buddhist Presbyterian. I may not make sense to some people but it works for me.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            When I was taking a good hard look at where my faith should head, I seriously contemplated Buddhism, as there was a lot I saw that I liked, especially the introspective aspects. I also saw some similar themes between the teachings of The Buddha and the teachings of Jesus. So I can identify as a mystical thinking, unorthodox leaning Buddhist admiring Methodist.

          • Jill

            Oh how I like that James!!! You have just given me much more hope that you can imagine.

            No matter where I go it seems I’m checking something at the door before I enter. I don’t mind if it’s my ego that needs the coat check, I just don’t want to feel lost in the shuffle of any one group’s trajectory.

          • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

            I am so glad that I was able to give you hope. Its taken me a long time but I’ve learned that those who truly love us accept us for who we are. I sent far too much time trying to be who others wanted me to be before I realized this.

          • Jill

            Yes, and knowing that I am more than willing to love others enough to make that leap– to be on their side, to support them through what life throws out, then I too expect people I love to at least try to do the same for me.

            If all I am is someone to shake hands with at church and ignore the rest of the week, that’s just not a relationship I need to concern myself with.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            There is a lot of value in the Buddhist discipline, and I happen to think it fits seamlessly in my personal views as a Christian.

  • Owengirl

    My church is very meaningful to me but it took a loooong search to find it. Many people would stop looking after half as many as my hubs and I tried. There were long stretches of not going mixed in as well. I think it will take a huge reformation to retain and gain members in American Christian churches.

  • LaNae Miller

    I used to attend “religiously” every single Sunday and my faith was my entire lifestyle. I did everything I was supposed to. I wore the clothes I was supposed to, used the language I was supposed to, shelled over the tithing that decided my “worthiness”, and took my kids to learn the same things. When my then-husband started to suffer from very serious mental issues and became increasingly violent and dangerous, I sought help and support. They treated my family like a burden and wanted me to just pack up and go off to my family 2,000 miles away. He would threaten to have me arrested for parental kidnapping if I fled or tie me up in court over custody if I tried to divorce him. They let him continue to neglect and abuse us with a strict “no supporting divorce” stance and when I finally broke free, they were glad not to be bothered by our “uncomfortable” situation anymore.
    I hoped it was just the location and tried to continue with attendance. My ex left even more bruises and faced jail and finally signed divorce papers so my kids and I fled to my family for safety. A church family even took us in so I could get on my feet only to use church “doctrine” to beat me down at every conceivable opportunity. I was never a good enough mother, person, or member of the church. I met a wonderful guy that did not fit the church’s expectations and this family containing actual church leaders kicked me and my kids out on the street while my third child was in a hospital an hour away. The whole church was aware that they did this to us and they turned their eyes and did NOTHING with five members homeless. My real family stepped in. The man I love stepped up. My real friends did everything they could.
    As of right now, I don’t feel SAFE attending any organized religious group. I did every. single. thing. they ever asked of me but when I was LITERALLY bruised or barely free from abuse, they stomped on my whole family. That is ugly and I want no part of it. I want to know my Father above personally and no one is going to boss my beliefs around ever again. Church attendance served its purpose in my life and now that is over.

    • Matt

      I’m so sorry that that happened to you, LaNae. How awful. I’m so glad that you’ve gotten to a safer place.

      • LaNae Miller

        Thank you so much. It took me a pretty long time to get over the intense anger and feeling convinced that not being a part of that church meant I wasn’t right with God. Now I am able to pray and read scriptures and feel good in my skin and it took time and reading “Penguins, Pain, and the Whole Shebang” to realize I was still loved in the first place.

  • Emily Harding

    I’ve struggled with my secret dislike of church all of my life. Mostly because of the format; I find sermons to be exceedingly boring (this probably because I am a kinesthetic learner). And I suppose my dislike of church also has quite a lot to do with me wanting to control who I allow around me in moments of spiritual vulnerability. Nobody wants to allow their frailties and doubts to be laid bare around a bunch of schmucks.

    • Jill

      Right there.

  • AnnieOly

    I’m unchurched now for quite awhile, after having been churched for a number of years. I became unchurched because of the hugh disconnect I experienced between my understanding of what Christian community should look like and what happened – and didn’t happen – at church. Not to mention the disconnect over what Jesus actually teaches and emphasizes as important.
    Do I think it’s a good thing? For awhile it was necessary because i had a lot of detoxing to do. At this point though I really long for that connection but don’t know where to find it. If I lived in Dallas I would be checking out Nicole’s church for sure!

  • BarbaraR

    I was thinking about this yesterday – specifically, about the first time I visited any church when I was actively looking for one to call home. (Never did find one and I am fine with that.)

    I hated the immediate “Oh, you’re new? Here, I’ll sit with you!” stuff (always from women) – as though I was the new kid at school sitting alone in the cafeteria. If a man met me first, he shuffled me off to some women to deal with me. I immediately felt smothered, watched, and glad-handed by people whose names I had forgotten 30 seconds before. Suddenly we were BFF – and it was assumed we all believed exactly the same thing. “We have a great women’s group! Do you have kids? Did your husband come with you? Oh, you’re not married?…” and suddenly the chumminess changed. In some subtle unspoken way, I was not one of them any more.

    Eventually I learned to NOT put my name and phone number on the little envelope that goes in the collection plate.

    Gradually I became aware that I was compartmentalizing my friends: the people I met at church never mixed with my other friends, because I knew never the twain shall meet. And I realized I liked my non-church friends a LOT more. I didn’t have to pretend. I could be honest. And on the two occasions when I left a church after attending and participating faithfully for more than a year, I was dead to them. No one ever called to ask how I was or see if I wanted to go to lunch. It was quite clear that church was ALL we had in common and that no one could be bothered with me.

    At this point in my life. I cannot imagine subjecting myself to that again.

    • Jill

      I’m going to have to try that out– mix church friends with non-church friends, see how that plays out. This could get interesting!

      • BarbaraR

        I suppose it would depend on the church, of course, and your mix of friends, but I just can’t see it being a fun evening. Maybe I’m not giving people enough credit, but… I remember one dinner party I had where there was an ENORMOUS amount of tension until one of the two conservatively-religious guests poured a glass of wine for herself. Everyone else was being very cautious around her & her husband and trying to be respectful of their devoutness; once that ice was broken, it went OK, but it was not really a comfortable mix.

      • James Walker

        I’m definitely the sort who’d keep “church friends” at arms length until I decide whether they’d mix with my “real friends” or not.

    • Jane Arney

      Wow, my experience is so similar, it’s like we’re twins separated at birth or something, except that I keep trying. What’s that proverb about a dog returning to its vomit,lol?!

      • BarbaraR

        The dogs I’ve known think vomit is awesome, but not quite as awesome as cowflops, dead squirrels, and the lumps in the kitty litter box.

  • Kenny Pierce

    A friend asked me for a perspective from 2 sisters of mine – both of whom have refuted church attendance. One was raised in the Catholic tradition and walked away about when I did (and my parents did as well). We’re familiar with the non-evangelical label, scripture, etc. My other sister gave her response below (I asked for her recollections prior to beginning to attending an affirming non-denominational community church – why she stayed away from religion, and why she refuses to this day to read the bible). The transcript from that Q&A follows:

    To blogger: “OK… so this is my youngest sister’s take.

    She just started attending a church similar to Renovatus in the Seattle area for the first time, a couple of years ago. It’s fairly accepting but she’s the one who still refuses to read the Bible to this day. She’s 13 years younger than me. I left home at 21, when she was 8. She and I really weren’t close/didn’t know each other well until we lived in Seattle together, when she grew to an adult. I was in San Francisco when she was a little girl.”

    Kenny Pierce: Why did you stay away from religion, bottom line
    for so many years?
    Why don’t you read the bible even now?
    And what would you tell someone now who writes to other Christians who only has been in church and is open?
    What would you say they should do differently that could have made things different in your mind all of those years?

    Sister: I stayed away from religion because I was turned off by Christians talking the talk but not walking the walk. I don’t read the bible because it is used as fuel to encourage so much hatred.

    Kenny Pierce: What turned you off about it?

    Sister: Lack of loving thy neighbor and too much of finger pointing and judging of others.

    Kenny Pierce: Did you see it, or experience it? Where did you get that perception?

    Sister: I saw it. I was also negatively judged by my Christian friends on my lifestyle and the fact I did not go to Church, being told I was a heathen and going to hell because I did not follow Christ or know the bible. Those Christian friends were the ones who all have been divorced and had babies in their teens. Hypocrites, is how I perceived Religion

    Kenny Pierce: Really? Who was this? Was this in Redlands, or Washington?

    Sister: This was growing up, in Redlands. I was in Jr. high

    Kenny Pierce: Did you think that they were all this way or just some? You never went to church before that

    Sister: I thought they were all that way. It only takes one bad apple. I was not raised in a Church, so what I saw and heard from these people was all I knew about Religion. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I was more Christian in my heathen ways than they were going to Church.

    Kenny Pierce: So if it were then, what would you say to someone in there to make you change your mind? How could someone reach you if you were in that mindset?

    Sister: For me personally, it isn’t it what they say to me, it’s in their actions.
    I have very biblical morals/values having never been raised in a “Church”. I relate to people more who are open to dialogue, don’t tell me that I am wrong because the bible said to do this and that.

    Kenny Pierce: Is that what you’d have said then?
    (I’m trying to get into your mindset then.. and what they could have done to reach you, what you’d wish they’d know). A lot of atheists are turned off by Christianity, but it isn’t one big giant blob that is all the same (as you know now). But if someone is more open, how could they have reached you then, when you stayed away and didn’t know religion at all?

    Sister: Here’s how I felt. Don’t tell me I am wrong for how I feel, don’t quote scripture, don’t tell me you are praying for me. Be open to dialogue, invite me to volunteer and help others (my favorite memories going to youth group with friends were always when we were helping others), without an agenda like. selling me on Church at the end of volunteering.

    I think I am unique, I was never Atheist. I always believed in God, I just didn’t relate to mainstream Christianity, I felt more connected to Native American culture, spirituality.

    Kenny Pierce: Well, that’s our Juju from the Mexican old country I think.
    I still love Native American and Celtic spirituality

    Sister: Me too!

    **************************************

    Postscript. My 47 year old sister lost many friends to AIDS, blames religion for the wounds of that time, and was deeply wounded as well in the Catholic church. She was, but is no longer churched (I don’t know whether she’d fit the criteria of this discussion). She’s so vehement that she refuses to have her 3 girls baptized (in much the same way that my other sis refuses to touch the Bible – she calls it a “weapon.” I asked 47 year old sis recently whether or not she still believed in God. “Yes, I pray all of the time.” I was surprised at that. “It’s the only way that I stay sane.”

    Great conversation. Signed, Once was Lost, Now am Found (but not by you – by Him)

  • Ashley Cohea

    I’m going on 12 years of being a “church-free” Christian. In my case, your description hit the nail on the head. I’m not a joiner and I don’t feel the need for an external community or support system. The fact that I’d rather sleep in on Sundays and have no desire to join church activities is compounded by the fact that it’s become almost impossible to find a church that I WANT to support. I know that inclusive, loving, Christ-centered churches exist, but they are incredibly hard to find in my neck of the woods.

    I don’t necessarily think that lack of an organized community of worship and religious teaching is bad or negative. In fact, I personally am happy to hear such statistics, but I admit that opinion is colored by the fact that churches in my area do far more harm than good, both politically and personally. The main thing is that church isn’t NECESSARY to Christianity. That concept is something many Christians still fight against.

    • jodi_3

      Incredibly hard to find in my neck of the woods also! The majority of churches in my Bible belt small town are about having all the answers and conforming.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

        Most of the churches in my link of the Bible belt, have nothing to fear from my walking through their doors. Right now, the one I’m attending is not polarizing or conforming at all, which was a happy surprise to discover.

  • Clairnel Nervik

    John, some churches are loving Christian communities; where both faith and doubt are honored; where people truly care about one another rather than judging one another, where we try not to be boring but rather to be genuine. You can find such churches in the strangest places: for example, Peace United Church of Christ in tiny Hartsburg, Missouri. I would love to have you come visit us! We are just real people trying to live our lives with faith, hope, and love. Is it OK not to go to church? Yes, absolutely. But I truly think churches like this one have much good to offer one another and the world.

  • Tadd Maffucci

    I belong to a church and always have however i do struggle with this. I find the traditional music (organ and hymns) to be boring beyond all abilty, I don’t believe in the creeds so i don’t say them…

    So why do i belong? Community and service. My church family for the most part is truly a family that cares for each other which i love. I also get to serve the youth of the larger community which is something i really enjoy. I have been trying to ring the alarm bells for my church to wake up and realize times are changing. Right now the establishment is trying to understand why almost no one signed up for the pictorial directory pictures. Times change but the church stays sitting still. Thankfully on important social issues my church is progressive and fairly active.

    Listen to these voices about spirituality outside of the church walls:

    “when i feel the need for…religion i go outside and paint the stars” -Vincent Van Gogh

    Religion is for people afraid of hell, spirituality is for people who have already been there.

    Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – by Emily Dickenson

    I keep it, staying at Home –

    With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

    And an Orchard, for a Dome –

    Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

    I, just wear my Wings –

    And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

    Our little Sexton – sings.

    God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

    And the sermon is never long,

    So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

    I’m going, all along.

  • Barbara Heller

    I don’t feel that everyone needs to belong to a church, but I do think it’s really important (healthy, enriching, necessary) to belong to a community. Belonging to a community is hard work; belonging to a faith community can be extremely challenging. And unfortunately, the pathology in some faith communities is so bad that you’re much better off staying away from them. To me, belonging to a community is part of following the Christ Path. It’s the ‘love thy neighbor’ part of Christianity, which is really hard to do in the abstract without belonging to a community. Whether that community is a faith community or a social, civic, or virtual community is rather irrelevant, to me. What’s important to me are: Do I have opportunities to confront my ‘shadow self’ and be challenged to improve myself as a result of being part of a group? Do I have opportunities to experience feelings of belongingness and separation within a broader- than- immediate-family community to guide my spiritual development? Do I have opportunities to form fluid, flexible, meaningful, healthy bonds with others within a group who are similar as well as different from me? Conforming freaks me out, too. But I’ve found enrichment in belonging to a (Catholic) church while maintaining my very non-conformist views, independence, and identity.

    • Ashley Cohea

      I am so tired of people telling me that I need to belong to a “community” in order to be a happy healthy person that I go cross eyed at the mere word these days.

      I work at a university. Through the course of my job, I encounter many young people and (I believe) help them in some way, but I often don’t see them for more than an 8 week production period. I do not consider them my “community’, but I get a similar benefit that one might working with a church youth group or college ministry.

      I have close personal friends whom I love and who make me feel like I “belong” and would be there in a moment to help me if I needed it. But we are not a group of people, rather they are all a number of individuals that I have a relationship with.

      My improvements, challenges, and personal growth actually all tend to come from interactions with my spouse or my reflection on and personal relationship with God. I have no need for a group or community to make me a better version of myself.

      If that is what you need, Barbara, then I wish you all the love and support in that endeavor. But to assert that it is important or necessary for everyone because it just happens to be how YOU fulfill certain needs is failing to see the bigger picture, in my opinion.

  • Janna Zepp

    I don’t go. I tried to go back 8 years ago in the midst of a nasty divorce and was run out by my exes “friends”. I tried to join a different church…but was overwhelmed with the whole evangelical thing. I can’t set foot in one now. I find the greatest “study” on your blog and on that of Rachel Held Evans. I have a community of support elsewhere, but it is not now, nor has it ever been in a church.

  • jodi_3

    We go about once every couple months to a church we have no official commitment to. That’s enough for us.

  • James Walker

    I miss the feeling of fellowship I had when, as a child growing up, we’d attend church every Sunday as well as Wednesday night prayer meeting, Vacation Bible School and “revival” meetings. but I don’t miss the feeling of alienation and needing to keep secrets from people who were supposed to be my support and fellow seekers in the faith when I began realizing my attraction to males was not going to go away.

    to this day, I view going to a church service with a mixture of hope and loathing. I’m quite content, for the moment, to consider being here on John’s blog and on the UC blog, interacting with people, to be my “church”. I do it almost daily, which is more than I ever attended churches in my youth. this type of “church” requires me to deepen and broaden my knowledge of the Bible and of the scriptures of other faiths as I support others and as I defend my own understanding here in this very public space.

    so, in one sense I am “unchurched” and in another, I am even more “churched” than I have ever been.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Yeah, this setting has proven to me much more beneficial to me and my faith than any setting that includes a building, chairs, hymns and a preacher.

  • Maria Jones

    I’m a member of a United Methodist church in a small town in the south. I was raised baptist. My personal experience has been that my desire to practice the teachings of Christ is inversely proportional to my church attendance. So much materialism, intractable tradition, egos, bad leadership. I know, I know, everyone is flawed, especially in a church. But good grief, it should be about more than hating gays & the poor, subjugating women, building and maintaining grand facilities that get used for 1 hour each week. So much energy spent toward “the church” and so little spent helping the folks Jesus loved. It just makes me sad. I leave most services extremely sad and somewhat angry. And these hateful movies like “God is NOT dead”….. when my Christian friends gloat about how great it is, I just want to walk away from the whole mess. I have not self-identified as Christian for years. Because in the U.S., “Christian” has come to mean “asshole”. I’m an apprentice to Christ, but I’ve still got so much learning to do. I just don’t want to do it around “Christians”.

  • Leigh

    I’m one of those Christians who was born into church culture. I was in regular attendance from infancy until high school and while I loved the people, practically living at church took its toll on me. If the doors were open, my mom would drag me to midweek services, practices and the ever-dreaded second service my good Baptist folks know allllll about. My father was also a pastor so I had my own church commitments to fulfill with him as well.

    Being a PK (pastor’s kid) allows for you to see a side of the church a lot of others don’t. That said, my family stopped going to church for a while because of the wounding we experienced as a unit after a failed pastorship for my father. Honestly, its in that time that I realized how much I appreciated sleeping in on the weekends and having lazy Sunday brunches with the people I love.

    I personally see merit in attending church for regular corporate worship; I did it through college and my first few years working. But for a number of reasons, my commute and schedule chief among them, it has been hard for me to go to church regularly in these last few years and I’ve battled with guilt over it. Right now I’m in space where I’m ok if I don’t go because of needing rest or life getting crazy. However, I am cautious in examining my reasons for not going if it is for another reason. Being so “churched” has led to a lot of woundedness for me so I have to work to not shut out the idea of Church because people suck. Sometimes were called to a particular place to teach them how to suck a little less or come alongside someone who needs a friend. Or to find family or participate in worshiping God in the unique beauty that comes with corporate worship (which is varied and holds different meanings).

    That all said, I think to Church or not to Church needs to be something we all pray on individually, in different seasons because the need for your presence in a space may change. You may be called to serve or be served in a physical church in one season and have an incredible time of solitude with God the next. But like in anything else, I think you need to seek God and his purpose for you and those around you to find the answer.

  • Eve Fisher

    I go to church, but I go to what is very much a laid back, drinking coffee and talking, almost recovery meeting church in the basement of a country church, where we take turns doing the “sermons” and everybody gets to talk, and I mean they can say anything they want to say. Then we do communion, then we share some good news, pray for everybody, talk some more, and go home.

    At the same time, I totally understand why a lot of people don’t go to church. I don’t go to any church that is gospel of prosperity, ultra-conservative, is full of really “nice” people (the kind that smile endlessly and never have any problems), etc. Most churches give Jesus a very bad name. And, just as a note: Jesus didn’t found any churches, as far as I can tell. He went from town to town talking to people. He liked hanging out with some more than others. He was usually booted out of the local synagogues. Some places tried to kill him.

    So… community, yes. Church? Maybe.

  • andray68

    We just stopped going. Interestingly my kids (10&13) shed it like an old skin. I have my doubts that my 13 year old is even a christian. They have gone to church from birth. I think seeing how wounded I am from church has played a role in them happily not attending. I talk about looking but they have no interest. I wouldn’t even know where to begin attending. I’m an excommunicated Catholic and after attending the Baptist church I know I’m not fundamentalist…..truthfully I don’t know what I even believe any more. Basically I’m just going to keep reading and hopefully learning on my own and see what happens.

    • Maria Jones

      My daughter, also raised in the church- happily has ‘shed it like an old skin’ since going to college. She was so disillusioned by what she saw at church- particularly the hatred and cliquishness. A boy from our church committed suicide, and at the next youth meeting she mentioned that the church, and perhaps the youth in particular, had failed him. This statement was met with absolute rejection, with other church kids calling the poor boy names and saying he was always strange. The lack of love or concern for a fellow child of God was chilling to her, and she has shied away from church ever since. She often brags that every Sunday School teacher she ever had was rabidly anti-gay, and she finds herself befriending every LGBT person she meets. I guess she learned a lesson from them, just not the one they intended. Perhaps God was at work in spite of her SS teachers.

    • Ashley Cohea

      Be careful with your doubts over your children’s religious beliefs. My mother and siblings have thought that about me since I was 15 and became markedly less involved in church before quitting altogether when I left for college.

      Those feelings have always been fairly obvious to me, even though they thought they were keeping them secret, and have created a lot of hurt and anger in the past.

      If you aren’t sure if your kid is a Christian, I’d recommend asking.

    • Tracy

      Keep reading. And say positive things to your kids about what God has been doing in your life. Look for the good and tell your kids. It makes a big difference, and then they get to see God…I have one that enjoys church for the social aspect, and the other not so much. But both are believers. They do and will pick up on what you think, but you can remain positive about God while not so much about church. Then they get to see there is a difference. Sometimes I say to my kids when I see a beautiful sunrise – “Isn’t God amazing in the colours that he has created”… just little things that will make then think and ponder about their creator. :) Hope it helps.

  • Johannes Richter

    How much of the problem, if it is one, has to do with the recalibration of what it means to be a “community” on one hand, and the role of the church (as a “local” assembly of Christians) on the other? These seem to be two satellites in orbit around one another, never quite settling on the same thing, but never quite leaving each other either.

  • R Vogel

    If it leads to the eventual divorcing of power from institutional christianity it is a great thing! Otherwise I am completely indifferent. I do wish they didn’t get subsidized with my tax dollars though….

  • Jakeithus

    I’ll be the first to admit that many churches can make wanting to attend or feel like one belongs a very difficult task at times. I get the desire to follow God individually, even if I don’t totally agree with it as the way it should be done.

    It’s just recently that I’ve been able to better appreciate the community aspect of church. Church is one of the few places where I get the blessing of being able to interact with people, on equal ground, who are different than me; whether it be the stage of life they are in, their cultural background, or their particular interests and opinions. Individualism is rampant in our culture, the church is the place that reminds me to check my own individualism as subordinate to something greater. It makes me sad to see so many Christians unable to find a local body, but it reminds me of my own blessing at what I’ve been able to find and the situation to maintain it.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      I have long worked with the public, having to interact directly with people from all walks of life. I enjoy it, but as an introvert, I need the retreat from humanity on a regular basis to recharge. For me church is more of the same, and while I do enjoy the participation, it often exhausts me. There are so many times, I’d rather be on my back deck with only birdsong for my hymn, coffee and cheese toast for my communion, and spring breezes for my homily.

      • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

        I think that being an introvert is a good thing. It makes you more thoughtful. Too many people equate being an introvert with being lonely. I’ve always loved what Paul Tillich said in his book The Eternal Now.

        “Our language has wisely sensed these two sides of man’s being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. Although, in daily life, we do not always distinguish these words, we should do so consistently and thus deepen our understanding of our human predicament.”

        • Tracy

          I like that. I am an introverted extrovert :) My main personality being that of an extrovert. However, the older I have got, the more I appreciate solitude. Thank you for that excerpt – it is great.

      • Jakeithus

        I really do get it. I believe my own status as an introvert is above questioning, and my job requires interaction with a diverse segment of life. Getting the opportunity to retreat into myself is one of the highlights of my day/week, and is necessary for my own well being and staying charged.

        I guess I just view it this way; I interact with people through my job mainly because it is required of me, but feel that making the choice to do it voluntarily with my fellow believers, even when I might not always want to, is healthy not just for myself but for those I get a chance to interact with as well. My comments aren’t about making introverts stop being introverts for the sake of the church, but that introverts can be introverts as part of the church, and that God’s expectation is that we work at finding ways to do that.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          Church settings have not always been healthy for me, and I’ll bolt if it ever becomes so again. Like I mentioned, I go, because they let me sing, and play handbells, and be in a setting that offers opportunities to help and love one another and our community at my own pace, or comfort level. For me, that’s enough.

          • Jakeithus

            And that sounds great. While I feel very strongly about Christians being connected to a local church, I don’t want to guilt people or make them go to an unhealthy situation. The Church is more than a building and a local body, but the Church is also more than individuals following God in their own way, loosely connected to each other through a vague idea of shared beliefs.

          • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

            Zactly!

      • Ashley Cohea

        That is a great way to put it, Allegro!

        I’m also pretty introverted, and through so twist of irony I ended up in a career where I work with students, community groups, and the public every day. When the weekend comes, I just want to lock the door and curl up with my husband and my cats to watch a movie or read a book.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    I grew up in a fundy cultish church. Attendance everytime the doors were open was mandatory. The only thing that kept me sane was being involved with music. Then I left it, I still thought it was mandatory, and joinged a Southern Baptist one…because they needed a pianist. However I became increasingly dissatisfied for reasons I just couldn’t express.

    When I divorced, I took a year off from religion. Then tentatively tried the UMC. Again it was the music that drew me as the congregation I chose has a fantastic choir and handbell group. In reality, that is why I attend, and I do enjoy the peaceful liturgical setting, and that this congregation really focuses in helping those in need in our community. I also attend for my new husband, as it is more important for him than me, our theologies vastly differ, so I decided to compromise for his sake. I rarely pay attention to the sermon. In fact I recently began the lines of a new poem during one, scribbling on my church bulletin. If I outlive my darling, I’ll reevaluate things.

    On another note. I read recently that the disabled and their familes are very under represented in most church settings. There are some that would like to attend, are unable for a variety of reasons. To me that is quite sad, but not really unexpected. The disabled are under represented everywhere.

    • Amber Gustafson

      I have a son with profound ADHD and church is so, so, so, so difficult for us. He fights us tooth and nail about attending and is constantly getting in trouble while he is there. He is a great kid and gets along great in school AND our church is very, very welcoming to kids and adults with disabilities but it is still very much a struggle. And ADHD is minor compared to the physical and mental/social disabilities that others face. Many days it is just easier to stay home and watch a sermon online…

      • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

        And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • paganheart

      Your story sounds somewhat like mine. I was raised in a “Red” state, grew up in a Baptist church, and got kicked out of my confirmation class for the crime of “asking too many questions.” I became so thoroughly disgusted with Christianity and the racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia and intolerance I saw there (and the experiences of friends and loved ones who had terrible things done to them in the name of Christ) that I swore it off completely in college. Later as an adult, I was drawn to Pagan spirituality and Wicca (hence my nickname), and even belonged to a Wiccan coven for a while, but never found it fully satisfying (though I will say that what most Christians are taught about Paganism, Wicca and Witches is emphatically NOT TRUE!) More recently I discovered the writings of John Shelby Spong and blogs like this one, that offer a different perspective on Christianity than the ugly version I grew up in and around (and to which much of my extended family still subscribes to, unfortunately.) But I am not sure I am ready to call myself a Christian again, yet; I’m kind of an aggravated agnostic with Pagan and Christian leanings, I guess.

      That said, after vowing at one point that I would never darken the doors of a church again, I now sing in the choir of a Lutheran church almost every Sunday. Singing was one of the few things I enjoyed about church as a kid, and I was very involved in choir throughout high school and college, but drifted away as an adult because I “just don’t have time.” Well long story short, after going through several years of career, money, health and family upheavals, I ended up in therapy, and my counselor suggested I start singing again. I tried a community choir but was disappointed with the music, it just wasn’t challenging enough (I was privileged to sing in one of the top choral music programs in the US during my college years, so I’ll confess I’m a bit of a choral music snob.) A musician friend told me her church had an excellent choir and was always looking for singers, so I decided to check it out…rest is history!

      The church is located in a comfortable suburban community, with a congregation that skews a little older and a little whiter than the community as a whole. The people in my choir are all very kind, and they have put no pressure on me at all to join the church. Which is good, because if it weren’t for my wonderful choir director and the music we sing, there is little else to attract me. There’s no “fire and brimstone” here, and the pastor is a very nice man, but his sermons are deadly dull to me. He seems to very carefully avoid any controversial topics, such as the issues faced by women and gays in the church (though it is perhaps worth noting that the church has two associate pastors who are both women.) And the worship services follow the exact same format every week, which can be comforting, but also dull.

      I guess I would be more willing to consider myself Christian and join a church if church were more about “doing,” and less about “being.” The coven I belonged to spent time in some of the poorest neighborhoods of my city, talking to the homeless and the runaway youth and giving them bottles of water and bags of sandwiches. It was scary at times, but it was also very fulfilling. We also spent time on an environmental restoration project at a state park; again, very hard work, but very fulfilling. There seems to be very little appetite for those things here. The church hosts several AA and NA meetings, and has a ministry for veterans suffering from PTSD, and I respect them for that. But there’s not much willingness to “get our hands dirty,” and to love those who are among the least lovable among us. (Of course that is perhaps what makes Christ’s message so revolutionary – judgement is very easy. Love is very, very hard.) Also I don’t have much appetite for sitting there listening to someone preach; I would rather engage in dialogue and ask questions and even get into debates, and there’s almost none of that in most churches.

      If churches are to succeed in the future, perhaps they need to replace sermons with discussions, make it abundantly clear that they welcome all people without judgement (even those who aren’t sure they want to be Christian), spend more time out serving the people and the planet, more time out of buildings and out in nature. (I still find more spiritual peace sitting under a tree out in the woods than a I do in a church building.) There might still be a place for churches to preserve traditional liturgy and the arts (such as choral singing!) that it has inspired, but church needs to become so much more…and so far, I have not found a church were I live that is any of those things.

      Sorry for the long post….just the observations of a rather spiritually confused person, I guess….

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

        You don’t sound spiritually confused to me at all, I completely get it. And ditto on being a choral music snob. I made all state Chorus in high school, and I delight in challenging music, which our choir does. My first Easter there, we did Faure’s Requiem, a gorgeous work, in Latin, of which I was seriously rusty. I had to learn the entire thing in three weeks. Such fun.

        From what I know of the more earthy faiths, I find some kinship there. The beauty of nature speaks to me, in a way I struggle to explain. I get deep pleasure out of the simple task of weeding a flower bed, and watching things grow, as well as seeing earthworms, a sure sign of healthy soil. I find peace there, and the hands of the divine.

        I agree that discussions on the divine and theology, service, finding the joys of nature and connection with community, are too often given too little importance in Christianity. To me what happens beyond that hour of music and liturgy is the more important.

        • paganheart

          I love the Faure Requiem! We did it last year, and this year we are doing John Rutter’s Requiem. :)

          And the reverence that Pagan spirituality has for the natural world is one of the things that drew me to it, especially its emphasis on the Earth as Gaia, as “Our Mother.” I was inspired by a belief system that sees divinity in the feminine and the masculine.

          In most forms of Wicca both the God (the Lord) and the Goddess (the Lady) are venerated, and sometimes the Goddess is even seen as more important than the God. In church, at least as I experienced it growing up, the feminine was always treated as “lesser,” as not as important as the masculine, as more sinful, even. There are not many female “role models,” if you will, for women and girls in the church, and those that exist are not always portrayed in the most positive light. Eve is usually portrayed as the one who caused the fall of humanity. Mary is admired as the mother of Jesus, but she is honored for being very much the model of what Christian women are supposed to be; meek, mild, self-sacrificing, subservient. And that is not an archetype that speaks to me at all.

          In Wicca, I was drawn to the aspects of the Goddess that are strong, smart, powerful, and even warrior-like, such as Brighid and The Morrighan (I am of Welsh and Irish decent so the Celtic gods in particular speak to me.) In fact I have tattoos of a Brighid’s cross and a crow, which is the symbol of The Morrighan. They are that important to me.

          This is something else Christianity is going to have to find a way to deal with, if it is to succeed in the future. It must acknowledge that there is divinity in the masculine and the feminine. Women are no longer willing to accept being told that they are “lesser” or that they must “submit” and “keep silent,” or even that they have “seperate but equal” roles. Sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore, and is one of the biggest reasons I cannot fully embrace Christianity.

      • Jill

        FWIW, Mark Townsend (author, blogger, member of Progressive Christian Alliance) connects Christianity and Paganism quite nicely. His book, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes, restored a great deal of my Christian leaning, interestingly enough. Amazingly informed book.

  • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

    The older I get and the more I think about things, the more I come to believe that the way we do church is broken. If being unchurched means that you do not go to the same building every Sunday at the same time I don’t see that as a bad thing. If being unchurched means that you are not part of a community that is another thing entirely. Everyone needs community whether it’s a church, a science fiction book club or a regular pub night to name a few types of community. The biggest problem we face today is the breakdown of community. It is only through community that we can really know ourselves and God. Sadly, the times when community is strongest are the times when some disaster or tragedy reminds us how much we really need each other.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      I’ve seen the slogan “A different way of doing church”. When you get inside the building, the only thing that seems to be different is what you sit on, or the music, or what everyone is wearing. Everything else seems to follow a very traditional and similar format.
      You are right community is important, a sense of belonging, of mattering to one another. One doesn’t need to have a butt in a pew every week, (or folding chair) to have a sense of community.

      • Shelley

        Agreed. Churches with the “we are different!” marketing tool are only different on the outside. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the theology and especially the exclusionary attitudes are all the same. Which is why I stopped attending church. I can’t find ONE that truly and in all aspects of living follows the principles that Christ put forward.

      • Ashley Cohea

        Because obviously, it’s the lack of linking padded chairs or a drummer that are driving people away from church.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          I once attended a church that had all that. I left it. Why?

          Because I decided to divorce an abusive spouse. Because I was open about what had happened, and determined to make my way alone. They didn’t know how to take a woman grieving and bitterly angry What pastoral advice I got was to remind me that I couldn’t remarry, because my husband hadn’t been sexually unfaithful. What few friends I had gained there, withdrew, and I was all alone, surrounded by 500 people every week.

          So I left, and almost chucked religion for good. Thankfully a long distance friend who was also a pastor, and the discovery of John’s work, had me reconsider.

    • Tracy

      Paul the Apostle was VERY stong on community and unity. Today we are seeing disunity in the body of Christ. You are right. This is NOT a good thing. How are we to draw others to Christ as a body, if we are all disunified? I think if Paul came back today that would be the thing that would sadden him the most. Not the gays, or the hate, or the different religions – he already had that in his day, but the disunity that he was so against. When we had our big earthquake a few years ago, and our city was plundered, it was awesome seeing people helping each other, bonding with others they never knew. And the Christians stood up and functioned as they should. It was awesome! I thought – THIS is the church in action. Maybe we need a few disasters? :)

      • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

        When hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of Louisiana it was the churches who were the first on the ground. I talked to many people who were saved from hunger and sheltered by a wide variety of churches. My church sent seven teams to Mississippi and Louisiana over six years. The sense of community that we experienced was trans-formative for everyone who went. The greatest lesson I learned was that even when the building that is called the church is totally destroyed the church remains.

        • Tracy

          Very true. Its just great when you see legs to that faith that people profess.

  • Charles Gill Sfo

    The bottom line is that if we are going to get people to go to church, Kyrie Oikos, Home of God, we have to be the home of God. One question I always ask is, “All the world loves lovers. Christ is the groom, we are the bride of Christ. Mass has incense, flowers, a dimly lit room, with candles, a meal, with wine. In the readings we discuss our lives with God, and he, his life with us. Mass is a romantic dinner. When we leave, we are the bride going out into the world, telling the world about the wonderful man we are in love with. Why is it that nobody loves church goers?

    When we get the answer to that question, we can start to ask what we can do to get those who do not feel they belong, back into church.

    • Ashley Cohea

      Personally, comparing love of Jesus to a sexual/romantic relationship squicks me out. So, that particular description would make me even less likely to go.

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

        Although equating sex with worship is quite ancient, its a poor depiction for me. I prefer quiet relection, moments of wonder, and the joy of pondering all those questions. Sex to me is much more earthy activity.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Not everyone looks at the marriage analogy as something beautiful and desirous. Not everyone percieves God as a bridegroom. Not everyone portrays themselves as brides enamoured, nor their bridegroom as someone who is enamoured of them. For some this analogy works, for others it cannot.

      • Ashley Cohea

        My response for the rest of the day will simply be “what Allegro said”.

        • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

          Right?? She’s awesome.

    • reconstructorofworlds

      Some of us find the “marriage analogy” a stinging reminder that we are not considered “normal”. Sometimes it has been used to tell us that our relationship with God must be “broken” because we “do not love our ‘heavenly Groom’ enough, and God has therefore clearly never blessed us with the only blessings that count since we are still not married”. But our desires for human companionship, for this “blessing”, have been shamed with admonitions that our love of God should fill that desire instead. Damned if you’re single, damned if you don’t want to be single.

      We have been told that because no human loves us, that God probably doesn’t either.

      Maybe, because God is nice, God will pity us and allow us to worship as second-class believers. Or maybe, the Church could treat everyone like the equal sisters and brothers in Christ that we are, instead of sidelining those who may have a great need for a community’s support.

      • Jill

        “Damned if you’re single, damned if you don’t want to be single.”

        Got it in one.

  • James Walker

    it did just occur to me that the single biggest problem with 85 million people estimated to self-identify as Christian and unchurched is that they don’t have any kind of organized way of learning about their faith. all of us here have encountered exactly how badly one can go wrong by reading the Bible “in plain English” for oneself. I mean, part of the problem we face in modern churches with the LGBT question is well-intended church people thinking that “Bible” and “scholarship” go together like oil and water.

    so, despite the fact many of us are disenchanted with churches, there is a place in Christianity for discipleship and mentoring that’s left unfilled when we are unchurched.

    • Ashley Cohea

      Nothing says that those people never attended church. Us disenchanted folks are part of that 85 million, but obviously we’ve been to church in the past to varying degrees.

      And I think anyone who is a fan of John Shore would agree that an “organized” teaching of the Bible is every bit as likely to be flawed as an individual teaching. I as an individual will teach my children that all love is good and that religious beliefs should not be forced upon others or made into laws. I couldn’t find a church on a single tank of gas who teaches the same in my area.

      • James Walker

        well, most of us who are fans of John Shore DO practice some form of discipleship and mentorship with each other. we challenge each other to learn more and be more than we were when we first found this community. so, that goes right along with my previous comment about attending the “Christian Internet Church”. ;)

        • Ashley Cohea

          You’re missing my point, James. You implied that one needs organized teaching of Christianity in order to avoid biblical misinterpretation. Yet you use the very thing you are speaking of as an example of that very misinterpretation.

          • James Walker

            sorry, for the confusion. I was trying to agree with you and make reference to my comment somewhere else in the thread about how I feel this blog and a handful of others that I frequent are my “church” at this point of my life.

            so, my critique about the 85 million or so lacking the means to receive discipleship and mentoring is undermined by the evidence here that we do have other avenues than “traditional” church to receive those.

          • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

            Hi James.
            I think this is a really smart comment. There’s been a lot of ink spilled over the “problem” of millennials leaving the church. But nowhere are they considering online communities and small groups. I’m not sure the Holy Catholic Church is truly shrinking – at least not to the degree some fear; I think we may just be organizing ourselves differently (and challenging orthodoxy along the way).

          • Jill

            In no small part because physical buildings housing groups of (maybe) like-minded people are becoming less and less relevant in the face of all the reasons why one-size-fits-all religion doesn’t work anymore.

  • Nathan Rolofson

    Eighty-five million Christians who don’t go to church is not a good thing. Christian faith is to be lived out in community. The universal church is not a voluntary society but the sole institution ordained by God. The church is a community of fallible human beings who can be judgmental, hypocritical and unchristian. Thus, I can understand why 85 million people are turned off by the church. Also, a genuine Christian community is not a “megachurch” where everyone knows no one but people who know, care and love each other and learn Christian faith from each other.

    One website where can find progressive churches is http://www.gaychurch.org. For a perspective on the importance of going to church, see Chapter 15 – “Surely You Don’t Go To Church” of “The Bible Speaks To You” by Robert McAfee Brown at http://books.google.com/books?id=Z2E5Wa65Ur0C&pg=PA190&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false.

    • Melinda Hailey

      I agree wholeheartedly that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the community and that the universal church is the sole institution ordained by God. But my definition of those words is different. I don’t believe that there is a need for a brick and mortar building called a church. There are 85MILLION of us out here holding “church” by the way we live our lives everyday. We are the church. My personal little corner of this church is all inclusive, messy, fallible, sinful, and totally devoted to doing the absolute best I can do to walk with Jesus in such a way that people see him beside me and in me. I go to church everyday, and I invite people in everyday. I just stopped putting bricks and mortar around the heart of my church.

      • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

        Beautiful, Melinda.

        • Melinda Hailey

          Thank you.

  • AJ

    I’d say 90% of the reason I attend church is because it’s where all my friends are. If I didn’t have such a good community I’m pretty sure I’d stop going.

    • AJ

      Besides, wasn’t it Jesus himself who said “Where two or more gather in my name, I am with them”? The idea of regular church attendance as some sort of prerequisite for salvation never sat well with me. If Jesus said as few as two is enough, then that’s okay by me.

  • JonsBlog

    I have no problem whatever with Christians (or people of any other faith, or no faith at all) who choose not to attend group worship services. It’s their choice, and that choice should always be respected.

    Though I’d been a church member since my childhood, when I first moved to this area in which I’ve now lived for nearly forty years, I didn’t attend Sunday services for about ten years. I’d just left a huge and oddly cold church in which I never felt welcomed, and thus had no burning desire to find another local one.

    Finally, and entirely out of the blue, a funeral introduced me to my present church; one filled with warm, welcoming, caring, and intelligent people I’ve come to love, and in which I am loved.

    During that ten year hiatus, my faith never wavered and I always felt connected to God no less than I do now. So for me, though church attendance isn’t crucial to the maintenance of my faith, I will admit that regularly meeting with other like-minded people makes it easier.

    BTW … I’m a completely “out” gay man in a 98% straight church, and that works for me just fine. Different strokes for different folks, eh?

  • Tracy

    Its funny how as I have got older, church has become less important, and Jesus has become more so. There are a few churches in the world that I would love to be a part of. Greg Boyds church would be one of them. Just because I see his heart on things, he is passionate about God and people, and he is pro peace. It’s not that the church I attend has anything wrong with it. It’s just that for the most, Jesus feels absent. And maybe thats my problem, not the churches itself. I still go, as I feel community and unity is vital to the body of Christ. I also love the people who are part of that church. Maybe i need to look for Jesus in people and not places? I think i understand that person who doesn’t like ritualistic meetings – which for me church is. I love house group more so, as its smaller, and we discuss biblical issues and get to know the people on a more personal level. Like i said, its more my problem than it is the churches, only i have found quite a few older people who feel the same as me. I dont think leaving church is the answer. Then the description of ‘the body’ – becomes one of legs and limbs in all directions. And God has given EACH of use a gift to use within that body. And if you are not there……. your gift is not blessing someone else. YOU are important in the body of Christ. How we do that is anyone’s guess – I just understand that to God he wants his body intact! Would’t you? :)

    • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

      I’ve just finished Boyd’s the Benefit of the Doubt and I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said. Where he and I part company is on the authority of scripture. Simply put I do not believe in the doctrine of Sola Sciputura. I also disagree with him that homosexuality is a sin. I do respect the fact that this is something he wrestles with and that he does not make believing that homosexuality is a sin a deal breaker. That said I think calling homosexuality a sin harms my LGBT brothers and sisters.

      • Tracy

        Some things are hard to hear I guess. If you take religion out of the equation and just look at the facts around homosexual activity. I listened to a scientist/ cousellor recently that was giving the plain facts ( and she did not bring religion into it at all) as to how the way the body is designed. The anus itself is designed for things to come out of it, not for things to be going into it. The bacteria it harbours causes so many diseases, unlike the vagina that protects against diseases. It was really interesting, and showed without doubt that homosexual activity is a high risk activity that the body was not designed for. This does bring forth the question – If the body is not designed for it – is it ok to be doing it? I am with Greg on that one. I have seen a friend who was gay die of AIDS years ago, and I am not homophobic as some might suggest – merely commenting on the facts. Not unlike the risk you run of breast cancer with abortions. Its just facts that should make you question weather an activity we do that can bring us harm is a good thing to be doing.

        • James Walker

          The anus itself is designed for things to come out of it, not for things to be going into it

          so, not to be offensive, but why then does it feel so good for things to go in there? even for women?

          unlike the vagina that protects against diseases

          wow, that’s some powerful ignorance of basic sexual health facts there

          Not unlike the risk you run of breast cancer with abortions

          head – desk

          I have seen a friend who was gay die of AIDS years ago

          clearly, this explains your level of expertise on the subject

          • Tracy

            You don’t have to get defensive. I was merely trying to point out the fact that the activities we engage in, and I gave another example with abortion and breast cancer – lead to high risk health issues. sorry – I was trying to reply to quickly so as not to burn my breakfast before :) and yes just because I have a friend who had aids, doesn’t make me an expert. I agree. I just get a bit tired when you have a difference of opinion, getting labelled homophobic etc. I am not. I openly have stated that you can be gay and a christian, and that we are all on our journey with God, and that journey will have different ‘looks’ to it. I don’t judge. But when faced with scientific facts, its presents the question – is this activity a good one, and if not, why not? Some things are there to protect us and put us off doing certain things to our bodies for good reason. I am just asking the question in light of those facts – would God have allowed for this activity in light of the harm it can do, unlike hetrosexual sex that seems to point to the fact the body is designed to protect against germs invading certain areas…. it’s just a question i would like a response to, thats all. Sorry if I worded it badly before.

          • James Walker

            I apologize, then, for the snark.

            I do take issue with some of the “facts” you presented but realize that you were trying to be respectful to the source. sad to say, your source was a poor one and did not explain to you how much of what they were presenting was their opinion as opposed to actual fact.

          • Tracy

            Well i guess I respected the fact it was her field of expertise. And like I said, she did not come with a religious bias. She was actually speaking about Family planning and how they are misrepresenting the facts. Which I guess is why she then went into the science on it all. It wasn’t just about homosexual behavior – it was ALL sexual behavior. I learn a few things I didn’t realize as well! It was interesting.

          • irena mangone

            Can I just say vaginal sex is supposed to be for making babies not an antidote to disease

          • Bones

            I thought it was for pleasure.

          • irena mangone

            Know what you mean have four of my own , just saying that is what the church says it’s for ,

          • Bones

            Then the church is wrong.

          • Jill

            One of the best sentences ever written.

          • Bones

            My wife and I don’t have sex to make babies.

            We have 5 and can handle no more.

            We do it cos it’s good and loving.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          To assume the anus is only for one thing, is like saying the ears are only for hearing…They aren’t, being an important part of how we maintain balance, and also make wearing glasses or earrings possible. Many of our body parts have more than one possible use. For some the one you mention is an erogenous zone, for both genders
          .
          Depending on when your friend contracted the disease, he could have caught it from a blood transfusion, as quite a few did until people realized it could be transmitted there. There are people who contract the disease who have never had homosexual relations every day.

          The abortion/breast cancer risk has been proven to be flawed, because research doesn’t necessarily note the difference between spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) and induced ones. That means if you stand as great a risk whether the abortion was induced or caused by your own body. Regardless, it is fairly low compared to other factors.. The pill offers the highest risk factor breast cancer of all rick possibilities, yet in all, there is no conclusive proof that any of these actually cause breast cancer.

          For example, my step mother never used the pill, never had an abortion, breast fed all her children, yet she died of breast cancer.

        • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

          I think this is one of those things we should agree not to talk about. I know where I stand on this issue and you have your position. So lets agree to disagree and move on.

          • Tracy

            Fair enough. I have no wish to start a fight with anyone over this issue.

        • Allen

          Tracy when i hear people saying this i have to respond. Now you are right waste come out of the anus just as blood and waste comes out the vagina. Both gay and straight people can get STD. Lets not forget whole civilizations have been almost taken out by STD by straight people and AIDS in Africa have been spread by straight people in countries that claim to be 97% Christian. Wouldn’t the wise decision be that everyone no matter age or relationship paring abstain from sexual intercourse? I mean straight couples don’t have to have sex to have a baby. Why not just take the sperm and insert it medically into the woman. that way they can check for diseases like HPV that most Americans are bound to get etc. the problem tho is every time i say this there are always BUT. because the reality is Christians aren’t really concerned about diseases they just want to hate gays. They want to take the moral high ground and say their sex is better. Look in the mirror sweetie straight people get diseases too and before vaccines other STD took at straight people just like AIDS is taking out straight people and gay people. It doesn’t discriminate. . Also while you are at it you should tell 54 % of straight couples who have anal sex your little story..

          • Tracy

            Which is why I said I would love some feedback ( maybe on another comment) as I am learning here like we all are. I am searching for truth in this like hopefully we all are with an open mind. I am quite happy with others opinions, and what you have said is fair enough. I wish people could comment about stuff without getting all ratty about it. Its ok to have a different opinion based on the knowledge I have so far of things.

          • Allen

            Well i guess i could have believed you if you hadn’t come in deliberately one sided without an open mind . I think it’s clear what your intentions were when you wrote what you wrote. You aren’t as ignorant as you claim that you are. You ignored other facts to put down a group of people. Your reference to gays dying of AIDS because their body wasn’t designed that way to have sex while ignoring straight people who die of AIDS was a dead giveaway. I guess when straight people get its an unfortunate event but when gays get it they did something wrong. Yeah good luck with trying to pretend like you are blissfully unaware.

          • Sheila Hamilton

            Tracy, I echo what others have said by way of response. And your remarks make no mention of condoms; whether we are gay or straight, safe sex is important. And gay men tend to know that better than anybody because (in the West, at least, not in Africa) it was that community that was ravaged by HIV and AIDS. As for the “abortion causes breast cancer” trope, no it doesn’t, that is a nasty piece of misinformation put about by so-called pro-life groups as a way of frightening women into going through with an unwanted pregnancy.

        • Bones

          Urine comes out of penises as well.

          That’s waste.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          I have never heard of the vagina protecting against diseases. Considering it can easily get a yeast infection, a bacterial infection, STDs…is a constantly open orifice, it leaks fluids, sometimes heavily, is in very close proximity to where waste products exit, its a disease entry point waiting to happen.

      • Tracy

        I did reply James, but obviously it wasn’t what some wanted to hear. Funny how facts offend. On the subject of Sola scripture, I think if you reject Sola scripture, then anything becomes just the ‘wisdom of man’. There are some things that God will give us revelation on, but we can always back them up within the scriptures in MHO. For example – abortion. I am unaware of it being spoken of in scripture, but God says ‘do not kill’ – so from that we can assume its wrong to take life.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          Tracy. first of all, you didn’t offer facts….well you did, but they were erroneous, to which I have already mentioned..We reject those “facts” on scientific and humane grounds.

          As for Sola Scriptura, for the first few hundred years of Christianity, we had no Bible, for the next thousand years after that, it existed but only a handful of people had access to it, much less be literate enough to read it. IF Sola Scriptura were true, you’d think that the book would have had much easier accessibility throughout time, AND everyone would have agreed on the theory behind Sola Scriptura.

          • Tracy

            Why are my facts erreneous, and yours are not? You actually haven’t really given any, apart from the anus being an errogenous zone. That area down there is full of nerve endings, and just because something feels good doing it, doesn’t make it the right thing to do. That’s crazy logic. Ask any pedophile why they do what they do, and they will tell you it feels good. Does that make it right, certainly hope not! As to Sola scripture – the Torah was around long before any bible was written. And mostly it was oral tradition before that. God’s authority and laws has been around since year dot, and his laws are written on mens hearts, as we see when we visit tribes that have never heard the Gospel. Its interesting to see a moral law existing in isolated tribes etc without the white man going and imposing his laws on them. Thing is Truth is truth weather we believe it or not. To me, truth is an absolute in a world of non absolutes. Its when we start to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil, that we become unstuck. We start making our own decisions of what is right and wrong. Life is only found in Christ, who is the author of Truth.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            That difference is you believe certain things about our anatomy based on opinion, and then tossing the pedophilia card in for emphasis, which is not about sex, but about control and power…For the record, girl children are six times more likely to be sexually assaulted than boys. And that is a completely different, unrelated topic.

            Your opinion on what religious texts are, is debatable, and purely a personal matter. While it is true, that some moral laws are universal, they have nothing to do with religion, or outside influence. To impose your religious views on all, is only going to be an exercise in frustration. You think its absolute, based on your understanding of one religious text. Others can see that same text and see the absence of absolutes. Still others see no reason to refer to it at all.

          • Bones

            “truth is an absolute in a world of non absolutes.”

            What is truth?

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            One of the great philosophical questions of the ages. Its unanswerable to only one conclusion.

          • Bones

            These are not true:

            Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden
            Cain and Abel
            Noah and the Flood
            The Tower of Babel
            The Exodus
            Joshua and the Conquest
            Jonah and the giant fish
            The biblical version of the kingdom of David
            The Ascension
            Paul gives us his opinions which we reject some of
            The rapture
            The Book of Revelation as depicting futuristic events

            The jury’s out on the gospels though.

            Thing is they were theological narratives, not historical.

            They may contain some truth but they are definitely not factual events.

            If the Bible was so important to people you think they would actually study it.

        • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

          I see scripture as man’s imperfect attempt to understand God’s perfect perfect Grace. I still believe in Sola Fide and Sola Gratis I just reject Sola Scriptura. The Bible is an inspired but imperfect thing. Only God is perfect.

          • Tracy

            And we agree on that. So somewhere, we are crossing over and not understanding each other. I believe the bible is inspired, but because of the human element involved, it has become flawed. Mis translations and errors have occured from the original as well. But i also think that the foundation of scripture is not to be ignored – things like the virgin birth, Jesus being both God and man, God as creator – where does it end if we pick and choose what we like. I guess that is what i am trying to say.

          • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

            First of all it is clear to me that not all scripture has the same authority. If we did there would be no throwing a couple of shrimp on the barbie and cheese burgers would be forbidden. But there are certain things that are foundational to being a Christian. The incarnation of God as flesh and blood. The Crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The belief that God is the creator. Secondly, scripture needs to interpreted within the time and culture in which it is written. The writers of the various books of the were human and their viewpoint often coloured what they wrote. Finally I would divide scripture into three parts the Gospels which reveals to us the nature of God’s relationship with us through the word made flesh. Commentary, in which writers like Paul and James explain the gospels and the early. And, finally allegorical works that point to a greater truth like the creation story or the story of Job. As for picking and choosing scripture we do it all the time. That is why I believe Grace is what saves us and that faith in God is not the samething as faith in scripture.

        • Bones

          It’s not Sola Scripture.

          That doesn’t exist. Words on a page are meaningless.

          It’s Sola my interpretation of Scripture.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          God says, don’t kill, and yet, God tells the Israelites to not only conquer a city, but to kill every living thing inside. In fact Saul, got into trouble for not doing that as ordered by the prophet Samuel. So if God says don’t kill, and orders people to kill, which one is right? Or are these stories and rules more earth bound than some would like to assume?

          That is why the Bible cannot contain the absolute rules for life. It was never intended to be so.

          • Bones

            Let’s be realistic for a couple of seconds.

            These guys had an ancient view of the world, the heavens and life and we’re looking to them for truth!

            They believed God lived above the clouds.

            What we have to look for are the principles that are universal in helping humanity.

          • Jill

            Oh yeah, I just loved the parts in the OT about God’s directives to slaughter every living thing, that it was the right of the ‘chosen ones’, who won the fight. Kill, or take the unsullied daughters and livestock for their ‘booty’.

  • DK13

    I am extremely introverted, and an adult convert. For several years even after gradually getting to the place where I would even call myself a “christian”, I practised my newfound faith only by private reflection and study, fancying myself a Simone Weil type of church outsider. Part of me knew it was lacking all along, but it didn’t change until I got married and we started thinking about kids. Like it does for so many others, that transformation made me start being more intentional about the kind of life I wanted to live. So, we decided to start “shopping” around, found a church we (I) could tolerate (the best type of match a true antisocial like me can hope to find), and went from there. Fast forward several years and we’re very involved, I’m teaching adult sunday school, chairing the church board, etc. After my family, it’s now the most meaningful association in my life.

    I’m still not sure how it changed so easily for me, when my resistance had been so strong. And it’s not like I stopped being an introvert, I still often times find church (or any gathering of people) annoying, boring, phony, and so on. I certainly can’t say I love all of the people all of the time. The thing I most like about church is that it allows me to enage people vastly different from myself in age, socio-economic status, political outlook, and especially theology, and it allows us to engage each other in a loving way. Differences lead us to greater understanding and mutual respect, rather than to division and conflict, and church is the only place I see that happening in a meaningful way. In the culture, even people who talk a lot about being tolerant are actually anything but. I’ve seen this change in my own life most clearly in my attitude toward Evangelical christians. In my life as an unchurched christian, I harbored a lot of hostility toward them — their theology was all wrong, they were hijacking the name of Jesus, and so on. I viewed them as the enemy, and I was more concerned with being AGAINST them than just about anything else. Being in fellowship with a few “fundies” has enriched my caircaturish picture of them. I still think many of them get many important things wrong, but I view them as brothers and sisters, as I believe we are called to do. The whole “love your neighbor” thing seemed like a vague platitude to me before I got “churched”.

    In any case, the bottom line (and the thing that nagged at me as an “unchurched christian”), is that the faith of Jesus is clearly not one to be lived out and practiced in isolation. It’s just completely incongruous with His entire message. He was all about calling us out of our comfort zones. And though we hesitate to step out, aren’t we always finally glad when we follow?

  • Psycho Gecko

    While I dislike the idea of a bunch of Christians having no idea what the bible says, it occurred to me that the ones going to church don’t have any better idea.

    So, considering that just by existing, churches have to be subsidized by everyone, I guess it’s actually pretty good that so many people aren’t going to churches. Plus, while going to a church won’t make someone any more knowledgeable about the bible, it often leads to people putting someone in a leadership position over their opinions who shouldn’t hold such a position for one reason or another. Not necessarily because they’re a con artist who wants them giving him all their spare cash, or a tyrant who wants to teach that gays are evil, but because some of them are just regular people who shouldn’t have any more say than any other person over the beliefs of their parishioners.

  • lymis

    I became unchurched when I came as gay and was summarily pitched out of the denomination I’d been a faithful part of my entire life.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      And as smart, eloquent and funny that you are, it is that denomination’s great loss. You are a real asset around here.

      • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

        Yes! SO glad Lymis is one of us. :)

    • nebbel

      Look for a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). GLBT-centric, welcoming all, emphasis on “We choose love” and “where you’re welcomed, not just accepted.” Lots of folks with painful church histories. It’s a wonderful option, and Eucharist every Sunday! Such a blessing. http://mcc.org/

    • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

      I wholeheartedly second what allegro said!

    • lymis

      I appreciate the sentiments, genuinely. And early on, I seriously considered looking for another church community, but at the time I was deeply conscious that doing so would simply reinforce the exile from what I still at that time considered my tradition.

      While I knew intellectually that God was present everywhere and that no one denomination has the monopoly, I would have felt deeply wrong, if that makes any sense, because instead of feeling embraced, it would have felt fake.

      Over time, that feeling faded, but my journey with God without church – but by no means not without community – went on steadily. I actually realized that God was presenting me with an option. I could follow church, or I could follow him, but at that point in my life, I could not do both.

      I don’t regret it, because it was an important chapter in my journey, and I’ve been able to go back, when my mom was still alive, as a guest and visitor who was unusually familiar with the tradition, and then for both my parents’ funerals, and to other churches for weddings and funerals without feeling out of place.

      But when my home church said, as clearly as possible, “We don’t care who you are, we don’t care what you’ve done for us, we don’t care what you’ve done with us, we don’t care what this means to you, you are not one of us and you are not welcome,” that created a permanent break I’ve never even had an interest in trying to heal.

      I don’t play the victim, so I rarely talk about my pain, but I honestly don’t think most people who haven’t been through something like that understand what it does to someone. I understand, “Go find a welcoming denomination” is meant in all sincerity, but really, it feels like, “Here, unlike some of the others, this woodchipper’s unplugged, stick your hand in here.”

      It wasn’t just the way I got pitched out, it’s also decades of being barraged by anti-gay messages from Christians of all flavors. I know it’s not true of everyone, and I know far too many wonderful Christians to think otherwise. My own experience in organized religion was too genuine to dismiss it in the lives of others.

      But home, to me, is not where you have to be constantly on guard. Home isn’t where you wonder which of the nice people around you will be the next one to stab you in the back. And for me, at least at this point, I would be constantly looking over my shoulder – and my husband had it even worse. If my church was callous, his was viscious.

      It sounds like I’m saying I miss it. I can’t honestly say how I would feel if it had never happened and my faith tradition had been welcoming and supportive. I don’t know how the last couple decades of media voices would have affected me. I don’t question the LGBT people who still find God through organized religion, but I’m not interested any more.

      I don’t need a church to find God, and I don’t need to put up with some of the other stuff I have found in church. I know that’s just me, but I won’t be surprised if that’s permanent.

      It’s one of the reasons it so saddens me when so many straight Christians don’t seem to get why so many LGBT people react so vehemently when people try to church at them, or when our fundamental humanity and rights are set aside so people can debate fine theological points about some Scriptural reference or another, when people are spiritually hemorrhaging right in front of them. When it seems to much more important to correctly translate Paul than keep the next LGBT kid from killing themselves.

      I know that this is one place where the good guys outnumber the bad guys, which is why I keep coming back here. But church isn’t that sort of place for me. At least not now, not yet, not the way most churches are, or at least, would feel to me.

      I remember when I was a child and was first taught about the symbolism of the Christian fish symbol and how cool I thought it was. And then how neat it was when they first started being available to be put on a car. Now, when I see one, my first reaction is “that car is being driven by someone who probably hates me.” I resent that. I resent that not only was I thrown out, but most of what I held dear was poisoned behind me.

      But in a lot of ways, that also took the training wheels off. When the old answers don’t work, and nobody has a handy and tidy set of new answers available, it means you have to take a far closer look at the questions if you want to have any hope of living with them. That process has been unquestionably the work of the Spirit in my life, and I know that because of it, I’ve also touched the lives of others who for various reasons would never have listened to someone with too strong a church connection.

      Who I am, I value and cherish, and wouldn’t trade it. I’m right with God, no matter what people whose opinions I didn’t ask seem to feel about it. And I touch the people that the Spirit puts in my path. I really couldn’t wish otherwise, and I don’t regret the choices I’ve made – because I did the best I could with what I was dealt. And continue to do so.

      • Jill

        I would love to simply sit in a deep, still forest with you one day, Lymis.

    • James Walker

      I can’t upvote this, Lymis, because it’s sad that you experienced this. but I love that you are here as part of this faith community.

  • reconstructorofworlds

    I really want to go back to church. I really need a community, and music, and worship. But I really don’t want to have to deal with people not knowing what to do with a unmarried, childless, single, woman. Apparently, if you’re over 25, much of the world doesn’t know what to do with you. I have enough stress elsewhere, I can’t deal with that denial of my worthiness as a person from the people who should be most welcoming anymore. I left the church not because I was angry at God, but because his “people” actively ignored me and made me feel like I wasn’t good enough for them. The only thing worse than being alone is being alone in a room full of a hundred people who dismiss your ideas and feelings, telling you that you should be happy you’re single, while making it clear you will never be on their same level until you’ve at least picked up a man, and even then, maybe not until you’ve had a few kids. *Clearly, the only thing Jesus ever talked about was marriage and his wife and kids…/sarcasm* Sheesh. It’s not supposed to be a fertility cult.

    I’ve tasted real, deep, Christian community at camp and on mission trips. I can’t settle for vacuous “duty” anymore.

    • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

      This is a stain on the Church. So many congregations idolize marriage. I wish I had better answers.

    • Jill

      If I, single, childless, unmarried too, ever figure this one out, I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops. Some communities are better at this than others, I can attest to personally.

    • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

      I have a close circle of friends–all married, but not tied to their husbands as if life revolved around them. They accept me completely and it’s a real gift. Maybe look for those individuals who really see you. They are out there. BTW, I’m 46, never married, single woman. There’s actually a ton of freedome in that. :)

      • reconstructorofworlds

        Freedom’s all fine and dandy, but sometimes you need a hug at the end of a rough week, or an encouraging word, or someone to sit with when attending a wedding. My friends are flung across the country, and I don’t get to see them much.

        I would really like to know how to “look for those individuals who really see you”. Most people I know seem to think I’m a weird duck.

        • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

          I just tend to click with certain people and I feel safe with them. I pray that you find a lovely faith community–it’s out there! *hug*

        • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

          Also, for the record, I only have two friends like that locally. And it took time to find them. I was active in theater and that’s how I met these friends.

          • reconstructorofworlds

            Yeah. I’m just in that transition phase yet again, where all my best communities have split up again. As they seem to do every 5 years, sigh.

            I just seem to be in a spot where lack of free time, money, and distance is separating me from all possibility of joining something new or meeting people I actually have things in common with. It’s frustrating.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          Wierd ducks are awesome. We need more in this world

  • Dave Christie

    My wife and I decided over the past couple years that it was time for us
    to leave the institutional church and go it on our own. Initially this
    had to do with the fact that I used to be an Associate Pastor in a very
    conservative, fundamental pentecostal church. In the end, we saw many people mistreated by the senior leadership, and we were also deeply wounded. We did go to a good church after that experience, but the wounds ran too deep. Additional reasons have to do with how I see the church as a whole responding to and treating members of the LGBT community. The church has become the modern day pharisees and does not show Christ-like love to this segment (and other segments) of the population.

    Lastly, as I have gone it alone and continued my studies, including looking at the original languages, etc. I have also come to believe in Universal Reconciliation. So, that alone makes it hard to find a church where I would be comfortable even if I wanted to. I also cannot deny the fact that reclaiming our Sundays allowed my wife and I to purchase a camper, and now we spend many weekends camping and going to festivals and meeting many wonderful people. Through all these things, I have come to experience such a deep love for all people. We still have our circle of friends from our church days, and we love them dearly, but we have many other circle of friends whom we also love, and we can appreciate them for who they are and share our lives with them.

    • David

      Thanks for your transparency and honesty….ironically our life stories are very similar , although I don’t have the camper! What I have discovered is that in the highways and by-ways there are many who have been wounded and discarded. However the glorious news is thta father has prepared a marvelous banquet, and those that should have responded to the invitation have made excuses. The invitation is now going out to those in the highways and bi-ways.

  • Richard

    I recently walked away from a church I loved for years, where I was married… when that marriage fell apart (she’s gay; I’m not female; that’s that, pretty much). I spent about 3 years desperately holding on to any evidence that love is real, but their embarrassed silence didn’t help at all, and was actively hurtful.

    Maybe divorce is, by its very nature, an excommunicating experience. I’m sure the clergy would deny that, but there wasn’t much help available in my time of need.

    Perhaps, one day, when I’m done with the grieving process, I can believe in love again, and associate with other Christians. In the meanwhile, I’m hoping that it doesn’t take two or three to gather together for Christ to be there. Because I’m really alone.

    • Jeanne2.0

      I am sorry for the pain you are going through. I think Christ is most “with us” when we are really alone.

    • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

      Ditto what Jeanne2.0 said. Jesus is always with us. He will show you the way. *tight hug*

    • irena mangone

      I hope you find healing in every way you need it

    • Richard

      Thanks, everybody.

    • Barbara Heller

      Well you’re here with us virtually, and that’s a lot… I’m really sorry about your pain and that your community didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t help you through it. I hope you find love (and support)!

    • Jill

      It’s that silence… you spent years and years of personal investment in your home church, your ‘home away from home’ in some cases, and their collective inability, including unwillingness, to simply sit with you in your grief. To witness your tears and your reality as it is. To honor your fortitude to piece your life together again. These are relatively simple, free things to give another human being, and yet.
      But we’re learning from and offering that to each other here. And that is far from nothing. Sometimes it is a solitary journey to find what we most seek. There are many of us walking a similar solitary path.

  • Lance Schmidt

    I love attending church. Sometimes I’m disappointed that the morning service is over so soon, and other times by mid-week I’m already excited about the next Sunday. The rich liturgy, bells, incense, colourful vestments, chants, swelling organ music, recitation of the Christian creeds & Lord’s Prayer, homilies based on modern and well reasoned interpretations of Scripture and tradition, and public common prayers and confession of a solemn high Anglican choral Eucharist fill me with a sense of awe, wonder and mystery and connect me with the tradition of ancient Christianity to “do church” not for personal fulfilment, positive psychology or to meet an obligation but rather to worship and adore God and realize the Real Presence through the sacraments.

    The church community loves, supports and surrounds me. They inspire me, move me and sometimes reprove me. We laugh together, we cry together, we rejoice together and sometimes we mourn together. Week after week as I attend services I grow and am spiritually re-centred and re-grounded as through our shared faith we seek to follow the example of Jesus and experience the mystery of an unknowable God as we endeavour to create a safe space that is without judgement or reservation to all seekers or those we encounter on our path.

    I also experience very powerful moments of quiet, personal devotion; but I can’t imagine a life without the church. I believe there are many paths to God and no one correct, right way; but I can’t help but wonder if the full richness and depth of Christian formation and experience can be achieved by walking the way alone.

    • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

      I think a lot of it is personality, too. Being with a lot of people is an energy drain on me, especially when I’ve been working with a lot of people all week. My sabbath day of rest is just that. Quiet with no requirements to be anywhere or do anything. It’s a gift from the Lord that I’m thankful for every week.

    • irena mangone

      I feel the same way re my Catholic faith Thank you for saying what you did far more eloquently than I ever could God bless all who are here at this blog

  • Rod Martin, Jr.

    If church were more about humility and love, rather than dogma, then I’d be going to church more than once a week. As it is, I go 2-3 times a year.

    Too many Christians and pastors have muddled and watered down the message.

    Protestantism is only a slight improvement over the treachery of Constantinian and Justinian Catholicism. Those two emperors sucked the life blood out of Christianity and left it a lifeless hulk. Protestantism created a shadow of that lifeless hulk with enough truth to keep it alive. But it is nothing like the ministry of early Christianity, full of miracles and the Holy Spirit.

    Today, some pastors preach that salvation is permanent, but the Bible doesn’t say this. Anyone can pay lip service to Christ, but secretly follow Ego. Anyone can change their mind and lust after mortal things, missing the train when it pulls out of the station.

    Some pastors say that the miracles of Christ cannot be done today by individuals. What Bible are they reading? I’ve seen miracles that would blister your eyeballs, so I know with a certainty that the Age of Miracles never ended.

    I’m “straight.” Gays are living a perverted lifestyle, but they should receive only our love. We “straights” are also living a perverted lifestyle, because we are still human. In heaven, no one is given in marriage. God created us in His image and likeness and He is not Homo sapiens. That says a lot about who we really are.

  • Jennifer Easlick Potter

    I struggle to attend church. I grew up in a fundamental conservative evangelical church and left it when I was in my mid-twenties for many reasons. The people there didn’t know how to relate to me because I was unmarried and childless in a small town where people usually were married by age 22 and on their second child by age 26. I didn’t fit into any of their groups. Also, I was outspoken, liberal, and interested in leadership roles. You can guess how that went over with the church board, none of whom were under the age of 50. So I began searching. I met my husband a few years later. He’s Episcopalian and so I converted upon marriage. There are a lot of great things about the Episcopal Church, but the first couple of churches we attended were not a good experience for me. Some things happened that scarred me and on top of the scars from my previous church (the one I grew up in), it was too much. We haven’t stopped attending completely but our attendance is sporadic at best. I can’t bring myself to get involved or create relationships with other church members because I feel incredibly wounded. I used to be so involved in church ministry. I loved it! I would sing in front of the congregation, both alone and as part of a choir. I play several different musical instruments and I enjoy working with children. I taught Sunday School and directed all kinds of children’s ministries. I was a youth sponsor/chaperone for the teens. It used to bring me such joy. Last summer, the choir director at our new church asked me to sing something for a church service and I couldn’t. I had a panic attack just thinking about it. There may come a day when I love church again as much as I did years ago but in the meantime, I need to heal.

    • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

      Jennifer. I’m so sorry for the pain. I share your belief that church should not be injurious. We the Church are so freakin addicted to moral superiority and control that we don’t care who gets hurt as we pursue these things.

      • Jennifer Easlick Potter

        Thank you. I will never understand why church is not about people as opposed to music or sermons or cool new Christian rock bands or narrow ideas of theology. Jesus was all about people. I’m tempted to come up with a new word to describe what I am. Can I just call myself a follower of Jesus instead of a Christian?

      • Jill

        That moral superiority thing is a big reason why this ‘re-churching’ project of mine fails to lift off.

        But throwing it all away again? I’ve done that, in a massive life-shifting way. It’s ***exhausting*** to remove yourself from the only thing you ever knew because it was poisoning your life, collect up your brokenness alone, do the heavy work of healing, take some quiet time (read: years) of spiritual reflection and then try, gently, a new direction. Start again and try to include others in your spiritual journey, when all you’ve done in nearly two decades is shut person after person out.

        Because I haven’t joined ‘my’ new church I don’t have a congregational vote. I frankly don’t care to have a vote just now. But as I left so they could have their vote, I received some looks questioning why I was leaving so soon. I’ll try not to take it personally and assume the worst.

        There are some hard conversations I believe churches just aren’t ready to engage, even the progressive, all-inclusive ones like I frequent. And so this necessary journey (for me) takes two steps forward and five steps back.

        • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

          Hi Jill –
          First, I think you are seeking God. Keep doing that. If we’re all making unique contributions, then I’m not sure any of us are completely at home anywhere. That seems normal to me. Are you maybe looking for a purple squirrel (that is to say, something that doesn’t exist in nature)?

          Second, take rest in the tabernacles where you find them – brick and mortar, online, looking over a still lake. I don’t know about you, but I’m great at finding reasons not to rest. If I rested, I might have to let go of some of my pain. God forbid.

    • David

      Jennifer,
      I was moved by your honesty…your yearning heart. Let me encourage you by saying that when I read your last sentence ….I felt it has already been re-written with the words…” There will come a day”….and finish withe the words…” I will heal”. It’s just a matter of time.

  • Bones

    Welcome to cyber church.

    Fair dinkum I get more out of blogs.

    That’s the church of the future.

  • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

    “And it’s exactly my kind of group, too: the kind that never gets together for anything.”

    Holy cow, John Shore! Sometimes I think you and I are kindred spirits. Someone recently asked me why I haven’t linked up with the gay Christian network. I said…well you see where that’s going.

    But I’m so grateful that you’ve assembled this group out here in the cyber wilderness. You’re not a joiner; you’re a community-maker.

    • Jill

      bingo

    • Jennifer Easlick Potter

      Yes. Exactly.

  • Adam Crowl

    Christians were encouraged to meet together for mutual encouragement and for things like the agape meal, to which the poor were invited, as well as other acts of group charity. I’m not sure when the whole weekly sermon thing became the ONLY thing churches were about, but it does seem a lot has fallen by the way-side in the “Urge to Purge” everything that smacked of “Popery” back when Protestants thought the Pope was the Anti-Christ and similar rubbish.

  • Jeanne2.0

    I totally identify with this. I was trained as a church pianist at age 10 and have spent almost all of the past 3 decades going to one church or another every single Sunday – because I work there. And for at least the past 10 years I’ve felt somewhat guilty because I know I have absolutely no other reason for being there. I am not part of the group. Rather, I play feel-good music so the group can keep feeling good. If I ever retire (long, boring story why I haven’t already) I will be right there with you, John, at home doing something more productive. (Thank you for posting about your independent personality type. I have one also and it seems like I’m the only one in my community who does – although I suspect it’s part of the personality to feel that way.)

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      I can relate. I was church pianist at three congregations back in the day. You really aren’t part of the group. You are background, only noticed if you hit a sour note. You can even play the wrong hymn, (if the lyrics fit) and no one will notice. I did that once, horrified when I noticed my error, but no one else did.

  • charlesmaynes

    after reading the comments in the thread this morning, I was reminded of a song we do at my church- its called “if we are the body” by the group Casting Crows- and it is really direct in speaking to the matter I think- the lyrics for it: “If We Are The Body”

    It’s crowded in worship today
    As she slips in trying to fade into the faces
    The girl’s teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
    Farther than they know

    But if we are the body
    Why aren’t His arms reaching?
    Why aren’t His hands healing?
    Why aren’t His words teaching?
    And if we are the body
    Why aren’t His feet going?
    Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
    There is a way

    A traveler is far away from home
    He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
    The weight of their judgemental glances
    Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

    Jesus payed much too high a price
    For us to pick and choose who should come
    And we are the body of Christ

    Jesus is the way

    • Jennifer Easlick Potter

      I love that song. I sang it once in my old church. Aside from comments that I did a good job, I think the message went right over their heads.

      • http://www.enesvy.com/ Enesvy

        It’s such a guilt song, though. I understand the attempt at showing the hypocrisy of the church, but the whole idea that God is helpless without us reaching, healing, teaching and going drives me crazy.

  • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

    These comments and stories are really affecting. Major stuff here.

    • Jennifer Easlick Potter

      Your blog was recommended to me by a woman who commented on my comment on another article about church. I’m so glad I looked you up. I very much enjoy your point of view.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lotharson

    Hello John.

    I would prefer reading “85 millions Christian reject the doctrine of eternal torment”.

    Given the psychological ordeal it causes, it has become dramatically necessary.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      There are those who have already rejected that doctrine, churched and unchurched.

    • Tracy

      It seems to me that if we don’t like what the bible says, human beings in their great wisdom, just want to either ignore it, or turf it out. I don’t think either of those two options is a wise choice. Each generation has to sort thru the ideas presented in the bible and find how it speaks to them in their generation. Each generation will see things differently. I don’t think we have all the facts and knowledge around eternal torment to make such a bold statement do you?

      • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

        I can read the Bible and reject the concept of eternal torment without hesitation, the reasons why are too complex for a simple comment here, as it takes a trip down history lane and how cultures tended to influence one another.

        Mostly, to me, the Bible doesn’t speak to this generation at all, but to people from a long ago past, in a culture and setting vastly different than ours. I can see elements that are beneficial and universal, because they are shared elsewhere, I can see how human behavior has changed little over the eons. I can see how an ancient people tried to grasp the concept of the divine. That to me is sufficient.

        • Jill

          You know what, Allegro? I would love to hear (if you have blogged it already, please link me) your take on what you use the Bible for, and specifically what you’ve stopped using the Bible for. I’ve been taking that behind the scenes Bible class for eight months. I still don’t find the value of the Bible in my life. Perhaps I still cannot see what I’m trying to find in it? Anyway I’d love your input.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            Hmmm. I haven’t written about it…yet. Its an excellent topical idea. I’ve got five paragraphs of a new short story down on notebook paper, that I wrote while eating dinner tonight, but I really like your idea…really really like your idea. You’ll be the first to know when its done.

    • Jill
  • Al Cruise

    I think the real critical thinking about theology is now found on the blogs and available to a much larger audience. People have moved forward Spiritually and the Church [brick and mortar] for the large part got left behind. Many people were born into a Church and only exposed to whatever teaching that Church followed. It’s like growing up thinking the only food to eat is macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. Not knowing that there are far healthy choices that produce a much healthier physical body. The same applies to the Spiritual body.

  • Paul Kadrmas

    It should go without saying that presence and participation in congregational worship are not required for salvation. And it is certainly worth considering that many people find God in other places, including nature. I think it’s absurd to tell someone, “No, that doesn’t work for you.”

    But I also find for myself and for many people I know that we have a need for community in our faith. Yes, we can find other kinds of groups which whom to serve, such as Habitat for Humanity or any number of other charities. But the church (assuming you’ve found a good, supportive church home) can be a source of spiritual nourishment like no other.

    I would offer the example of when my father passed away. There were times when my personal, individual faith was crumbling. I could not have made it through those times without the collective faith of my church community surrounding me. I have also found that the sacrament of Holy Communion (which I wouldn’t get on my own) gives me a life-sustaining connection not only to those around me in the church pews, but even to my dad who is very much alive in Christ.

    You know the old “Footprints” story where the writer looks back and sometimes sees only one set of footprints where Jesus carried him/her? From my own experience, I would say Christ uses our brothers and sisters to help carry us. I’m sure if I were the person in the “Footprints” story, I would have seen the sand full of footprints of those who were walking with me – and sometimes carrying me.

  • Allen

    Can someone tell me why it is appropriate to teach the Bible in the first place when there are ideologies such as secular morality that are better at teaching weak people who apparently lack empathy or can’t decide how to help their follow man how to act? Why keep breaking out the Bible with all the pain it has caused to gay folks and others and all the baggage that it brings? Now one answers this question. Also I hear people saying that God isn’t needed to make a good decision or be a good person or live a good life yet what is the purpose then. Why not drop out the middle man? Unless you believe this God has some other purpose like idk to punish the people u claim can make good decisions without him because they haven’t accept him. hmm

    • James Walker

      You’re still confusing the tool with the people who have misused and abused the tool. Your argument is very much like saying that because you’ve seen a lot of people use screwdrivers to beat in nails or have used butter knives in place of screwdrivers that we should somehow abandon the use of those implements.

      All the hurts and abuses you describe were caused by human beings, not by the Bible and not by Christianity in particular or by religion in general. Continuing to assert that religion is to blame will not make it so.

      We here in this community use the Bible to re-affirm our commitment to be loving and kind to all our fellow people. That’s what we study in its pages and what we learn from the examples of the heroes and villians portrayed in its stories. It is distinctly unfair to try and lay all the ills other people have done (falsely) in the name of religion at our feet merely because this is primarily a religious based community.

      • Allen

        No I’m not confusing the two. You got it half right. The Bible does say some good things but it also has some bad things. What you want to do is blame all the bad stuff on people while ignoring the parts of the text that are bad. If you are not going to be honest about it then i really don’t care what you have to say. You just want me to play dumb and just put it all on people. People are to blame for some of it because i’ve seen them twist certain things from the Bible to support their side but they aren’t twisting everything. Some of its just hateful. If you wish to live in lala land to feel better then fine but others aren’t. Stop making excuses and maybe people would listen to u more. Be genuine address the elephant in the room. You and i know that there is a big pink elephant and it sitting right next to us but you want to me pretend it’s not there. You didn’t even go the route of the tired argument of “people wrote the bible so they could have gotten wrong” which if that is the case then the person making that statement is just choosing what they like and aren’t really worried about the truth or accuracy of the text. Not only that that person would be taking the document and revising it on what that feel these people should have said or should have felt. Not genuine…These arguments are really tired and they do nothing but hurt you. These are about the same as the conservative tired arguments of” hate the sin love the sinner.” They are just excuses for not addressing anything.Try addressing the problem head on stop making excuses. Only then can we move forward.

        • James Walker

          Based on your argument, philosophy students today should not study Plato and Aristotle because they had some ideas we now know don’t work and were terrible science. Modern mathematics and science students should not study Newton or Copernicus because there were things they got wrong.

          We should not discard the Bible altogether or Christianity altogether just because the key players in the stories did some things that from their Bronze Age perspective were the right and moral thing to do but from our modern perspective were terrible, immoral atrocities.

          We don’t stop studying American history just because those in power when the US was founded practiced slavery and oppression of women. Likewise, we don’t throw away the Bible just because the writers were very, very human.

          • Allen

            Who said anything about not studying anything? We were talking about the fact that the Bible has things in there that are not moral . You said that people used Christianity/Bible the wrong way and the tool itself is not flawed just the people. I agreed with you that people have twisted the bible and used it for something else but the Bible itself is also flawed. You didn’t want to admit that before but now with your previous comment you finally did. Good for being honest. Now to address the fact that “we don’t throw away the Bible because the writers were very very human” While I dont feel like typing out a drawn out response that will be
            overlooked about how science and math are different than religion and
            government i will say that i find it funny when people say this. Why then do you devote your life to following or an have an emotional attahcment to these people if you felt the were very very human? What is stopping you from putting that same emotions into someone who give moral advice of this day? Do you worship Dalai Lama like you worship or have an emotional attachment to this God? What about MLK? Lady Gaga? I’m not say you have to worship anyone i don’t because worshiping someone is stupid but i just dont understand why go that far back. You make it seem like you devote the same amount of emotion to different people an ideas but that’s a lie most comes from this book. So if they are very human why the strong emotional attachment to these people more so than leaders of our time who can give better advice about “our” time? Why go back to these books where the people were homophobic, misogynist and racist to get guidance when their are modern folks that can do the same but better? Do u get what im saying? Also for example what if a person like MLK said gays should burn and be hung up in the 50′? would you follow or think he was good then? no but you are willing to give these Bible folks a pass and just follow them . You write it off as they were ignorant and move on. Seems very fishy… But it’s your life and you can worship or draw inspiration from whom ever you want i just find it fishy you draw it from folks that had no idea about how to live in our time when there better examples in our day. Just seems like you are going out of your way to keep a tradition going that is obsolete just for emotional feeling instead of actually wanting to find solutions to today’s problems. For instance we can still use typewriters but why when we have computers?

          • James Walker

            why do you suppose the Dalai Lama is a good teacher of wisdom?

            where do you suppose Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got the foundation that allowed him to be such a great leader for the civil rights movement in the US?

            the great philosophers and teachers of today who write so profoundly and help us to understand today what is moral and what is right for us to do in our society, to promote equality, to foster diversity.. where do you suppose they acquired the ability to write about and teach us those things?

            i’ll tell you. they studied the literature and history from those who went before them, despite the human flaws of those people who wrote about and acted in the dramas of the past, they and we are able to learn much of value that helps us in the present.

            you keep claiming that I and others like me are lying either to you or to ourselves. you keep claiming that no matter what we tell you about ourselves and about how we live our lives, that we are merely blindly following the words in the Bible. well, if you steadfastly refuse to accept what I tell you about myself, if you absolutely will not believe that I am not who you say I am and that I am not doing what you insist that I am doing… you are no better than my parents and all the horrible people in my youth who kept telling me over and over and over that it was not possible for me to be gay because no one is ever born gay and no one ever truly feels happy with someone of the same sex and that what I feel for my partner absolutely is not love.

            if you won’t take my word for it, and keep putting your ideas and your “truth” on me, then YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN THEM!

            YOU are the one who is doing the same evil that others have done to you. when you learn to recognize that, then maybe you will finally be on the path to healing. until then, I can’t help you.

          • Allen

            I just can’t take you seriously. Yes MLK and others have drawn from the Bible just as the people who were against them did. This is where the problem lies. Their is more than enough modern morals and things to drawn from then the Bible with its baggage. I can only imagine what is to come of us if this religion has to be included even when it isnt needed . I just don’t see any growth. That means regardless of the time or technology or place we would always have to draw from the bible to think or get anything done. that useless. i dont mean draw as in reference i mean seriously draw from it like our decision depend on what the bible says.Also you seem to have no idea what you are doing. On one hand you pretend that you draw quotes from the Bible on how to live yet its more serious than that you live by it but i can’t take you seriously if you pick and choose because you aren’t being authentic. It’s impossible to live by what the Bible say but you wont even acknowledged the things you are failing to do. I do respect conservatives because the do acknowledge yet know that they can’t do it. They are upfront about it half of the time the other times they are doing shit behind closed doors. Liberals just change it by using the word “interpretation” which isnt the way to go. There is so much that one can interrupt before you have to completely change it . You are like poser to a extent. Conservatives are too but they at least acknowledge it instead of changing it. If i was a Christian i would be a conservative one because i don’t want to fit the Bible to my views. That is not what it is for. I am an atheist because i know the religion is based on a lie. It doesn’t provide facts just emotions. There are things i can draw from it just as anything in this world but i would never call myself a Christian because one i think that Gods are sick and a terrible concept . Now if they are proven real later i would believe it but i would be an anti theist . two i think Christianity is more terrible than it is good so i would not be willing to commit to following and i would not change the text to suit a modern view. The Bible and these religious text aren’t suppose to be changing books even tho people change them left and right and pretend they don’t. That includes conservatives too even when they say they don’t they do it too sometimes. That’s why i have no idea what progressive Christian even means? To continue to change a book to suit your needs for today? Why not just drop it for something useful that could actually address everything that’s happening today? Just let the seriousness of it die off and take those little quotes you like from it but if you are saying that you accept Jesus and you believe in the Christian God i can’t take you seriously if you are going to change the stuff to suit your needs. Either you going to try to do what it says or just leave it behind. Stop with this modern interpretation stuff. let it die like it should have centuries ago

          • Bones

            It won’t die off that’s pure fantasy. And even if there’s a sniff of persecution you’ll have thousands of martyrs lined up to die for their faith.

            The books of the Bible are purely people’s opinions and interpretations of events. Some of which they got wrong.

            We all pick and choose what to believe out of the Bible.

            Everyone.

            Some pick more bits than others. Like the couple of verses about gays yet ignore the hundreds of verses about caring for the poor.

            There are still people campaigning that Copernicus and Galileo were wrong cos the Bible says. Some use it to support the death penalty, others use it against it.

            Some study it at a university level and work out which bits are true and which aren’t and which are irrelevant.

            There are some good principles found in the bible which are found in all religions such as love your enemies, love your neighbour as yourself, act justly, love mercy. do to others what you want them to do to you.

            Ultimately if your religion isn’t making you a better person and providing peace and helping to improve society, it’s most probably a detriment to yourself and others and better to leave it and do something more fulfilling and worthwhile.

          • Allen

            Also i want to make this very clear. I have nothing inherently against you but when i see Christian i think Bible and i think hate… The Christian tradition has a terrible moral record and little to no credibility to be looked at as something that could improve lives of people let only people in society. If i met you in life i would could be your friend but if you told me your were a christian i would look at you sideways

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            The Bible is inert. Its just a thing, lacking any power to do anything to anyone, As with many things, people can use it for good purposes or for bad ones. Like some people can use a hammer to drive in nails to build a birdhouse. Others can use that same hammer to murder.

          • Allen

            Yes but because it’s a religious document it is given more power than any other thing when it is used. Too much power is given to religious views and because it’s based on emotion anything can happen. It’s not based on scientist or logic its based on how you feel. This why i brought up the fact of worshiping and the fact that more seriousness is given to a religious book or document then other things. This not good in my opinion. drawing from it is one thing but that’s not at all what people do they take it another level. With worship and Gods etc so when it gets bad it gets real bad and it usually get real bad. There is no reality check on this…

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            What about the Koran, or the Smruti and the Sruti of the Hindu faith, the writings of Buddha? Do you consider them similar?

          • Allen

            Yes if too much seriousness is given to them. People want to pretend they draw from these books or religious figures but its more than that. When too much seriousness is given people get crazy. Logic is already thrown out the window with most known religion like Judiam Christianity and Islam. Buddhism is an atheist ideology but they pretty worship Budda. When you start worshiping things you are taking further than just quoting scripture to help you . that’s something more. This goes along with the atheist worshiping the state like a religion like in North Korea worshiping the dead previous leader like a God. It makes people crazy. I don’t like worship thinking…

          • Allen

            but anyways i gotta stop posting to this site for awhile. Just need a break Christian stuff even tho i have to ask Christians on what i can do, where i can work, and who i can marry. I can’t do to much of anything without a Christian saying or trying to do something negative but it’s all a power game anyways. Christians rule the world. I just live in it so i guess Christians pretty much control much of how my life will go. I guess hell is real.. Hell is the emotional state of being the outsider of what Christians want being ridiculed and hated. Heaven is being a Christian and not having to worry about if you will have rights tomorrow because you are the majority ,ruling party.

          • billwald

            My pastor and I believe that truth is where you find it. There is such a thing as objective good and objective evil which are recognized most all civilized and sane humans. Any person can do an objective good no matter what he may believe.

            If I needed brain surgery I would want the best available brain surgeon and I would not ask his religious preference. On the other hand, as a Christian I make a point to avoid business people who make a big deal out of their Christianity.

  • fiona

    I haven’t been to church regularly in 5 years, not for lack of trying to find a.church that fits me. I have concluded that for the time being I just wasn’t meant to be in church. I just hate that when I say something like “I will pray for you” and a christian asks if I am a Christian and then I say yes usually the next question is what church do I go to. When I say I am not currently going to a church oh boy do they make me feel illigitmate. I hate that. One time I was interested in volunteering at a pregnancy care clinic and they had a form that was all about what church you go to and wanted a pastor recommendation, wow.

  • Andy

    I see no problem with it. I haven’t been to church in a long time and I’m fine with it. Church isn’t for everybody.

  • http://limpingtowardsgrace.com/ James_Jarvis

    A little theological humour. I do not remember where I came across this joke so apologies to the the original author.

    Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann are taking a break together, fishing on Lake Geneva. They are having a lovely time, smoking their pipes and chatting idly. It’s a hot afternoon and they are getting thirsty. So Barth gets up, steps out of the boat, and walks across the water to the shore, where he gets a few beers and returns. It’s really quite hot and the beer doesn’t last long. Barth tells Tillich, “Your turn, Paul.” Tillich gets up, steps outside the boat, walks across the water and fetches more beer. The theologians are thirsty and soon the beer is finished once again. Bultmann is beginning to sweat profusely. Barth duly asks him, too: “Come on, Rudolf, your turn now.” With a tremor in his knees, Bultmann gets up, steps out of the boat, and sinks like a stone. Fortunately he is a good swimmer; he drags himself back into the boat and sulks at the far end. Tillich turns to Barth and says: “Do you think we should have told him where the stepping stones are?” Barth looks at him in astonishment and replies: “What stones?”

  • Kenny Pierce

    This is really thought provoking stuff. I am actually introverted and shy to the point that I’m paralyzed in new situations where I know no one (I usually have my “prop” person with me). I can “act” my way through the small talk where no one knows, but it’s a true phobia that I’ve struggled with most of my life. I know how much the Catholic parish of my and my parents’ youth helped me, prior to coming out (I’m not one of those who lived a horror story – until “I am gay” came out of my mouth at 21). Anyways, that void within me has existed since I walked away. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found it in online discussions, friendships that I’ve made among Christians, blogs and podcasts like John’s, RHE’s, McLaren’s, and the bevy of books beyond the Bible. This is one of the earliest blogs that really helped ease me into an online comfort zone.

    I’ll go to a new Anglican (Episcopal) church tomorrow morning here in Toronto. Not knowing anyone. Most of my secular friends knew me in my pre-”back to God” days and they’ve pulled away (slowly and politely) as I’ve written more and more about my own experiences with church, with regard to LGBT rights, that I post. There is too much baggage and hurt from my generation, and I understand that completely. So I’m in a big city far from home floating out there, and “going out and making friends” is pretty much a non-starter for me. I’m as nervous as all get out, but I’ve committed to myself to go, because I know what pastors, community, the liturgy and sacraments meant to my family, and to me as an awkward, bullied kid, and the Anglican/Episcopal church isn’t far from those elements in the Catholic tradition that are familiar to me.

    It’s funny. I was just googling “new in a church” trying to find something that would help me find a way to fit in, facing a new situation alone. I hope that at sometime I find my local “prop” friend who will help ease me into it all. I know for a fact that the pastor and community near me is beyond affirming and welcoming, so much like dinner, movie, hangout invites that I avoid, this is another struggle in my social anxiety realm. I’ve wanted it for a long time but paradoxically, the barrier is within me.

    Thanks for this John. Blessings.

    • Lance Schmidt

      Hi Kenny – thanks so much for posting. I relate to your story, especially the parts about introversion and social anxiety. The way your introversion shows up for me is how wonderfully well you express yourself in writing. The online world can be a great voice for people like us who are intimately familiar with the tidal wave of crushing anxiety that can arise at the mere thought of public attention. Sometimes the loneliest and most frustrating feeling is to know that you have a light to share with the world but are crippled from doing so. I used to be right where you are at, but I’m also here as a witness that it can get better….much better. :-)

      I’m excited to hear that you are attending an Anglican service and wanted to wish you the best. I’m also a member of the Anglican Church of Canada, but on the other side of the country on the West Coast in a fully inclusive and affirming parish in Vancouver. I’m relatively new to Anglicanism, but I hope your experience is just like mine because if it is you will be welcomed by some of the warmest and most kind people you can ever hope to meet. I’m so proud of you for venturing out of your comfort zone and would love to hear how it goes.

      • Kenny Pierce

        Lance, thank you. That is incredibly kind. 1/3 of my family in the States is in the Seattle area, and I’m there several times per year so if this goes well, I may venture forward and visit a parish in Van when I’m out west next. We’ll see.

        I have what has become a very close friend who I met through John’s NALT project, who has also found a wonderful Episcopal congregation in Louisville, KY. I know that the denomination is right (their family love it). It’s that leap of faith (no pun intended), and it sounds as if you know it well. I never understand how people can “church shop” and weave in and out of congregations as they do, seemingly easily. Perhaps the same way that I never can get how people speak effortlessly in public.

        Also, people who are good with not attending church have my full respect. It’s about walking the talk (ultimately) on a day to day basis. For me, the liturgy and community is more about reclaiming a sanctuary that nurtured me when I was young, but I know that sitting in the pew every week and calling it good won’t necessarily feed a hungry man 1/2 a city away.

        Your words are very heartening and I sincerely appreciate them. Again, thank you. Blessings.

        • Jill

          Kenny, I mean it– I will get back to the Pacific NW again and come out to meet you. You are just the coolest, and I adore all your facebook posts. I want to go to church with you one day. :)

  • Religion Suckz

    Awesome!

  • JenellYB

    There’s a different angle to this to consider, from what most suggested in the article and comments so far touch upon. We here of course tend to see and think about this from our own perspective, people that feel a deeply spiritual need, despite having found organized religion and churches uncomfortable or us. Not that what any have said here s wrong, but…. there is an entirely different, very large category, probably larger than our own, of “unchurched and self-identifying Christians.” At least down here deep in the heart of the Bible Belt, EVERYONE, with rare and rebellious exception, is a self-identified, self-professed Christian. Many may have had a smattering of exposure to church as children, they live in this Bible Belt, se Texas culture, here, where the common daily language is pervaded by snippets of bible verses punctuating opinions and attitudes and world-view steeped in evangelical dogma and doctrine and tradition, so that “Christian” is just part of their ethnic cultural conditioning. Even if the only times they’ve entered a church since childhood had been for weddings and funerals. Some may have been baptized, some not, as kids. For the most part they live lifestyles not even vaguely in accord to their Baptist, or Pentecostal, or AoG, or whatever, family roots are, yet still, “Christian” is for them part of how they self-identify. They have NO basis in actual teaching or bible study, at any adult level, knowledge of the bible is limited to commonly bandied about snippets of text commonly tossed about, and well versed in the common judgmental and often bigoted stereotypes. For those reasons they are also, I think, the “audience” MOST vulnerable to and likely to fall in under the off the wall garbage flowing out of the TV celebrity preachers, having NO real grounding in either basic theology, even Evangelical theology and doctrine, or actual bible reading and study. I think these ‘nominal cultural Christians’ make up the largest part of the “unchurched” self-identifying Christians. I am not exaggerating to say MOST “Christians” I encounter down here in se Texas, out in the community and in doing daily business, are this sort of nominal Christians. And quite honestly, I find them very scary, because they will literally fall for anything, even the most crazy stuff, spewed out by the TV religious entertainment industry, and now, scarier, the joined forces of the religious right and political agendas.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Good analysis, and somewhat similar here in SC. Most identify as Christians, because most have had some connection with a church at some point in their life, plus you can’t go a mile without seeing some reference to Christianity in some form. Critical thinking about The bible or religion in general is fairly rare, and often considered to be wrong.

      Most of us who don’t fit the pattern, are in the minority and even though we may somewhat conform, or just don’t make waves, know we don’t fit. That is why places like this site, UC’s site and others are so needed.

  • Bones

    I think of church as more like this.

  • billwald

    A young man can obtain a Boy Scout Handbook and Boy Scout Field book, Boy Scout merit badge manuals and do all the stuff, agree to all their content, “believe in” the Boy Scout Law and Boy Scout Promise but he is not a Boy Scout unless he joins a Boy Scout Troop.

    In the same way, a person can “believe in Jesus,” whatever that means, but as far as I am concerned he is not a Christian unless he has been baptized into and is a member of a Christian Church. I’m NOT saying that this person is banned from heaven but that such a person has done nothing to claim his being a Christian on this earth. My pastor says this person is like one who says he loves his wife but can’t tolerate being near her.

    • Bones

      So members of the Salvation Army are out then?

      They don’t subscribe to baptism therefore are not Christian.

      I’m starting to see a flaw in your rules about who is a Christian.

      • Steve Bailey

        Yes “baptism” as a shibboleth for who’s in and who’s out is a human invention. Lack of baptism does not exclude one from salvation in Christ. As for the Salvation Army, as my boyhood Free Methodist pastor used to say, “some of us are sprinkled, some of us are poured upon, and some of us are dunked – and some like the Salvation Army folk join God’s family dry cleaned.”

        • billwald

          The Holy Spirit can regenerate any person “in Christ Jesus.” It is Jesus’ faith that saves us. This includes Islamic and atheists. The Christian Reformed Church teaches that predestination to salvation is NOT because God’s foreknowledge permits God to see who will “believe in Jesus” or whatever.

          Further, there is no objective test for the
          spiritual state of being regenerate/saved. We only judge people in this life by what people say and do. The next life is God’s problem, not our responsibility.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          I like that.

      • billwald

        Jesus taught that his apostles/disciples should baptize and participate in the communion rite thus the Salvation Army members would not be considered as Christians by my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church. http://Www.crcna.org

        • Bones

          That’s OK.

          There are Christians who would consider that your church isn’t Christian either.

    • James Walker

      joining a church is not the only way one can publicly live one’s faith in God and one’s acceptance of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. it’s just the “traditional” way, and it may very well be dying.

      some will say it’s past time.

      • billwald

        True. We can not judge or predict God’s reaction to other methods of attempting these things. The traditional way is only a requirement for joining a Christian Church in this life.

        • Bones

          The internet has made a massive change to church life and theology.

          When I trained for ministry in the early days of the internet, theological books could cost over $100 and were only available to those undertaking theological training.

          Now that information is more or less available freely to the lay person at the click of a button including the scriptures in their original languages.

          More and more Christians are going to be using their cyber communities as churches rather than turn up to hear the opinions of one person in the pulpit.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            I can honestly say, that I’ve gotten more out of just this type of setting than all the decades of sitting in a pew, folding chair, or piano bench.

    • buzzdixon

      Actually, no: The BSA provides a by-mail membership for youngsters in remote rural areas or w/disabilities that prevent them from traveling to participate w/o having to attend meetings or group events.

      • billwald

        Your distraction is correct but begs the question of the youngster who knows this but doesn’t bother to apply for BSA membership by mail.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    As of a few weeks ago, it’s 85 million plus two. My husband and I need a break.

  • Robert McHenry

    I suppose it depends on which “church” they aren’t attending…

    It is pretty obvious to a non-believer that there are not “quality controls” regarding the term “christian” or even “christian church”… In LA… we have Agape (very liberal, multicultural and cool), Mosaic (fake liberal, very hipster and a closeted southern baptist church)… and then lots of corner store holy rollers… they are all christians and they all deny the others are christians… it is a mish mash of BS… but decent money makers for the ministers. (Like this thing call ACCD… which calls itself a church… but seemingly only for tax purposes in that it has no church, no congregation, no nothing except the parsonage right-off).

    But the number of christians that don’t attend church only reinforces the cultural fact that atheists and agnostics know more about the christian religion than christians do…

    My brother-in-law is an Episcopalian Priest… with him and the Lutherans, Catholics and even Southern Baptists… we non-believers at least have a fair chance of understanding their beliefs… but with christians… there is simply no way to know… so I basically assume the worst…

    lastly… a couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine told me that even though his minster preached against “gays”, he himself didn’t believe it. I paused… and asked him if he gave money to his church. He said yes… I told him that he was essentially supporting bigotry… and hate.


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