Is God to Blame for the “Nones” Leaving Our Churches?

Brian McLaren thinks that may be the case. In this provocative new video update, McLaren asks (as only he can) whether the Holy Spirit may be moving in the hearts and lives of the religiously “unaffiliated” (the so-called “nones”) and moving them out of our churches, in part because of our sin of practicing “religious supremacy”:

What do you think of Brian’s suggestion? Agree? Disagree? What are the implications of this for missional communities?

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  • Rebecca Trotter

    I do believe that this is a lot of what is happening. I think that those on the right are correct that the left doesn’t take sexual sin seriously enough – I would challenge those who think that sexual ethics are old and repressive to sit up at night with a middle aged man sobbing over his lack of a father. Or boys in prison who have no fathers. Or girls in a homeless shelter who single moms who had no fathers. I’ve done all of them myself. We don’t have a right to inflict the pain and destruction of fatherlessness on other human beings which is exactly what our current sexual ethic is doing to people.

    HOWEVER, I think that McLaren is correct about the problems of religion on the right. I do think that there is a sorting out of goats from sheep going on right now. And just like Jesus said – the standard for judgment isn’t purity or righteousness. It’s love. He specifically said that his disciples will be known by their love. That we would be judged by what we did for and how we treated the least – the most despised, outcast, broken. That we can’t put qualifications on our love – that it’s supposed to be perfect like God’s love which causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the evil alike.

    Contrary to what many on the right like to tell themselves, most people aren’t leaving church so they can “do whatever they want” or not have to follow God’s rules. Quite often they are walking away because they’ve decided that love is the better way. And if they have to leave the church to follow the better way, that’s an act of faithfulness to the God who identifies himself as love itself.

    • Jeff Straka

      Rebecca – I might push back just a bit on the father thing. Just having a biological father at home does not guarantee he will provide much guidance and support (I speak from personal experience here) – “sperm donors” don’t always make a good role model. Some of these fathers are verbally and physically abusive (I’ve talked to many women in recovery shelters where this was a big issue). I’m lucky that I have a wonderful father-in-law that is my better father-figure and mentor. So I don’t see it as much of a “sexual sin” issue as I do a role model/mentoring issue. Where the “right” fails miserably is that they don’t want to have contraception talked about or offered in the schools (to PREVENT unwanted pregnancies!) and they don’t want federal monies to fund such educational or medical support (they want to cut funds to Planned Parenthood).

      • Rebecca Trotter

        No – having a father at home is no guarantee. My own father was rejecting and abusive, so I am well aware of the damage that fathers can do with their presence. But if you look at the research, there is absolutely nothing – not even sexual abuse – which is so strongly associated with poor outcomes. I really see combating fatherlessness as an issue of social justice.

        But, that’s not to say that I’m on board with the right’s agenda either. Although ways to address the problem is another, very long conversation. But I do think Christians (and by that I mean intentional, not cultural Christians) do have an obligation to avoid sex outside of marriage. It’s part of our religious traditions going back to the beginning and I believe it’s a sacrifice we are called to make – but not our right to impose on others. Instead, I think our actions are supposed to be like salt or yeast – it only takes a little to season the dish or make the dough rise.

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  • Jeff Straka

    Interesting. But maybe it’s just common sense telling the “nones” these churches are ignorant and irrelevant. It’s not JUST this hostile treatment of the “other” that has driven people (myself included) out – it’s the continued use of pre-modern language and theology (like Holy Spirit, like heaven and hell when you die) that no longer makes sense to a scientifically-connected post-modernist. I went to Brian’s talk in North Georgia this weekend and one of the things I think he (and others, like Diana Butler Bass) don’t seem to want to acknowledge is that this growing “none” community probably ain’t coming back. Chris Stedman’s new book, Faitheist, does a good job pointing this out.

    • Barb McRae

      I agree that they’re probably not coming back. But some still hunger for community with others who love, follow or want to know Jesus. I’d like to see more ‘non-traditional’ communities: house gatherings, library meeting room discussions, meditation in the park, talking after doing a service activity with others, etc. They’re not coming back so why aren’t we going to them? Jesus went out and ate with all kinds of people. Another thing is language. Christian buzz words are not attractive and are meaningless to some. Let’s think of everyday ways of communicating about Jesus and the Way. Glad for this topic.

  • Mick
    • Steve Knight

      Interesting link. Thanks, Mick!

  • Lorece Aitken

    OF COURSE it’s the Divine Spirit, Source of Life and Love that is driving people in search of a place where they can nurture their connection. If the place(s) they try are not a good fit, then the Spirit prompts them to go elsewhere. It IS sad that Nowhere may be a better place to connect with God than an existing church.

  • Hilary

    I’ve been thinking about this, and one thing I would like to know is what the Nones walked away from. What percentage were raised with no religion? What percentage were Catholic? Jewish? Liberal or Conservative Protestant? But for an age group between 20-3- years old, looking back ten years two things stand out to me that would influence people’s perception of religion, and Christianity in general. Fair disclosure, I’m 33, and Jewish with extended Christian family, both Catholic and Protestant.

    The Catholic Church’s Sex Scandal. For those of us in our 20′s and 30′s, ten years ago we were just starting adolescence, puberty, in late adolescence or the beinging of adulthood when this became front page public news. We learned that the Catholic Church considered it morally acceptable to protect men who raped children until driven to exposure and total public humiliation by a secular media. They’ve had to pay out millions in settlements over this, and then spend millions more denegrating gay men who share consentual sex between adults. To those inside the Church it was soul-rendering, but to those outside the Church it just hypocrasy. Combine this with the fact that the past ten years have seen the general acceptance of gay people increase, and there is a perfect storm to hold the Catholic Church in total contempt. ‘You protected men who rape boys, then demonize my child/sibling/cousin/aunt/uncle/grandchild, or my neighbor/friend/coworker/boss for having sex with another adult they love. F*ck off” This attitude can easily extend to all religions, not just Catholicism.

    Harry Potter. I know that reading the HP books doesn’t make you an athiest, but think about it for a minute. This was a cultural phenonminon like nothing else, hitting a peak about ten years ago and a lot of Christians went nuts over it, claiming a lighting scar was the mark of the beast and this will teach children occult satanism. Over seven books about an orphaned boy who grew up in an abusive family, then then went to a magical school where he got two best friends who stood by him no matter what he faced, dragons, huge spiders, bullys and bullying teachers, a psychotically evil wizard out to kill him, or asking a girl he had a crush on out for a date. And in the end the whole plot turned on an act of love, that his mother loved him so much she chose to die rather then step aside, and from beyond death her love continued to protect him. Considering how Christian this story really is, I mean his parents graves quote Mathew 6:21 for crying out loud, the protests against it make no sense. For a kid outside Christianity, or just barely on the edges of going to church for Christmas and Easter, this makes the Christian people speaking out against HP look really stupid. And by association, Christianity look stupid.

    And consider my own mixed family. I know how Jews get upset about mixed marriages, and I know they are a small overal number of families, but Jews and Christians are literally family like we haven’t been in our entire shared history. So to read “His blood is on us and on our children” – what does that mean when my child converted to Judaism, and my grandchildren are Jewish? “You belong to your father, the devil, . . . you do not belong to God” – but what about my Jewish cousin, I went to her house for a birthday party?

    Growing up I couldn’t understand why Christians thought that God loved only other Christians, and every body else went to hell. After all, I could love both my Catholic and my Jewish grandparents equally, and I wouldn’t Catholic grandparents to hell for not being Jewish any more then I’d send my Jewish grandparents to hell for not being Catholic. Since I knew that God’s love was bigger then mine, duh, obviously God was able to love people no matter what religion they were.

    And I think that’s the crux of it, for a lot of people. When Christian ‘love’ is conditional on the reciever being straight, Christian or potentially becoming Christian, more and more it falls short in this diverse society. “Let’s think of everyday ways of communicating about Jesus and the Way.” Is a great idea Barb, but what about when someone outside of ‘the Way’ is just as loving, just as willing to sacrifice, just as willing to be kind, reach out and help but is Pagan, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Athiest, whatever, but uncompromisingly Not Christian? Do you then tell the person you are communicating about Jesus and the Way that their friends and family are going to hell? When a person *will*not*compromise* on an identity that is not founded in Christ, what happenes when your missional patience to model for us the Way runs out?

    I’ll leave the issues with science for another post. I have to go make dinner.


    • Kevin

      Gods love is unconditional and this is demonstrated in the life of Jesus. As followers of Jesus we are called to do the same. Sadly, we i.e. christians get it wrong. We are not perfect, but through the power of the Holy Spirit we seek to be transformed, to be more like Him. Part of the understanding of being a christian is the acknowledgement that the relationship between God and humanity has been broken (by humanity) and because of Jesus it can be restored. If a person chooses not to have a renewed/restored relationship with God, through Jesus, that is their choice.

      All choices have consequences to a greater or lesser extent and to reject Jesus is to reject God with all its attendant consequences – Jesus appears to make some pretty strong claims about the way to God and the outcomes for those who rejected him and by implication the one who had sent Him. For me the implications of these claims are unavoidable. For me this is as much a part of the message of Jesus as his love/mercy.

      Just because a person rejects ‘The Way’, it does not mean that as christians we should love them any less or reject them. However, they are excluding themselves from Gods mercy and His love. If you disagree with me on this point, I would ask that you have patience with me and point out how I have misunderstood Jesus on this matter.

  • Hilary

    I’m not sure how I feel about what I just wrote. It was honest, but as someone who has stayed with my religion, who am I to judge the reasons other people have for leaving theirs? So I’ll say this instead:

    I’m glad this is an issue. I’m glad people are struggling with or leaving Christianity because they don’t want being hostile to Others as a core part of their faith. Speaking as an outsider that really is the worst part of Christianity: I’m right, you’re different therefore you’re wrong and you’re going to hell unless you change. It can taint everything, no matter how nice you are about it. Until I know a specific Christian person I’m dealing with doesn’t feel that way, that is a barrier to full trust, respect and friendship.

    So I hope you can figure it out. I hope you can figure out a way to walk with Christ, and comepletely decouple that from thinking anyone who isn’t walking with you in lockstep is walking off a cliff you have to save them from at all costs, when there is no cliff there. It will make it that much easier for the rest of us to walk with you, to the beat of our own drum.

    Good luck.

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  • Gerald

    To day , the word “Nones” was added to my vocabulary . Interesting since my walk or journey has span some 70 odd years now, a journey that I know I am a nones too in so many ways. Brought up from a close Catholic family , my journey started when I was a young teenager. Since then a lot has happened , read a lot on histories and religions saw the good and the ugliness of it all in every country , why ? The ugliness covers a lot too much to mentioned. One question needed an answer to why all religions are based or believe that there is an afterlife. As humans are we so blinded by our individual religion that they say there is a heaven or afterlife? And each religion has a different paradise description. Or how about, if it is our personal spirit that we leave behind to family and friends when we die

  • Janice

    Beautiful. The Holy Spirit is up to truth and love, for ALL – sounds like that to me.
    Jesus was not a bigot.

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