Tone-deaf with perfect pitch: A new plan to chase young people away from the church, one-by-one

So last week I posted a link to a terrific Open Letter to the Church by Dannika Nash.

Nash warned that her generation of young people were leaving the church in droves because the church was pushing them out the door with an ultimatum in which they were forced to choose between staying with the church or loving their LGBT friends:

The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70 percent of 23-to-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave. … My generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment. It’s my generation who is overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, and Church, as a young person and as a theologian, it is not in your best interest to give them that ultimatum.

And how was this open letter received? With the church doubling-down on its ultimatum, as Jill Callison reports for the Sioux Falls Business Journal:

That stance also cost Nash her summer job as a counselor at a church camp.

She was sitting in a coffee shop with her boyfriend when the camp director called to politely, regretfully dismiss her.

“I just cried in public,” Nash says. “People probably thought (my boyfriend) was breaking up with me. The place and the people are really, really important to me, and even though I knew I was risking that a bit with the blog post, it hurt to have it taken away.”

If you’re going to be a moronic asshat, I suppose it’s better to do so “politely” and “regretfully,” but that doesn’t change the fact that the director of this church camp is a moronic asshat.

His first reaction to reading Nash’s explanation of why so many young people no longer feel welcome in the church was to pick up the telephone and personally inform a young person that she was no longer welcome in the church. Faced with Nash’s eloquent complaint that young people were figuratively being forced out of the church, his first reaction was to actually force a young person out of the church.

Maybe this church camp director just couldn’t resist the rare opportunity for a moment of sheer perfection. We’re often given a chance to do the wrong thing, but how often is any of us given such a golden opportunity to do something so precisely and so utterly wrong? There’s almost a kind of beauty in how exactly wrong this particular response was to this particular open letter. It’s like his tone-deafness has perfect pitch.

Or maybe this the some new church-growth strategy. Instead of sitting idly by and watching the Millennials drift away from the church en masse, the new plan is to call them all one-by-one in order to “politely, regretfully” inform each young person in America, individually, that he or she is no longer welcome in our congregations.

Or maybe the plan isn’t to push away every young person personally. Chase enough young people away publicly like this and the rest will get the message.

But whatever their strategy, the end goal is clear. These folks will not be satisfied until every single young person leaves the church and vows never to return.

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  • Magic_Cracker

    Indeed — it was too perfect. I think this camp director is an agent for the KGB (Kissy Girl-Boys) doing his part to heighten the contradictions and bring down fundamentalist Christianity.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    But whatever their strategy, the end goal is clear. These folks will not be satisfied until every single young person leaves the church and vows never to return.

    It’s the corollary to the Clarence Jordan story that Fred has shared many times, only with no second act:

    In the 1950s, an old hillbilly preacher invited Jordan to come and speak at his church in rural South Carolina. Jordan arrived to find, to his surprise, a large, thriving and racially integrated congregation — a remarkable thing in that time and place. (Sadly, it’s actually a remarkable thing in any time or place.) So Clarence asked the man how this came about.

    When he first got there as a substitute preacher, the old man said, it was a small, all-white congregation of a few dozen families.

    “Once I found out what bothered them people, I preached the same message every Sunday. It didn’t take much time before I had that church preached down to four.”

  • LL

    I think it’s about time some of you acknowledged that you’re in an abusive relationship. When the people who supposedly love you hurt you and make you cry and blame YOU for your unhappiness (or their unhappiness), it’s time to leave. Not sure what more they have to do for you to see this.

  • Jay in Oregon

    But whatever their strategy, the end goal is clear. These folks will not
    be satisfied until every single young person leaves the church and vows
    never to return.

    And they’ll insist that it was the temptations of the sinful, secular world that destroyed their church; not their own un-Christian behavior.

    Maybe once thier stunted, timid idea of a church has died out then something better will take its place.

  • Define “young people.” I’m 43, I only attend church on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and after my mother and father pass away, it is my intention to never set foot in a church again except for weddings or funerals.

  • c2t2

    I want that welcome mat.

    That is all.

  • JustoneK

    There’s that emotion-driven intent thing again. They’re totes sincere about the regrets but by God it had to be done. I mean, what other choice did they have?

  • I think it says a lot that the one place that people are most afraid to speak out in favour of marriage equality is church.

  • The people trying to keep church membership high might as well have been hand-picked by Satan to fail at this job.

  • My guess is that they were terrified about what would happen if word got out that a counselor at their camp didn’t loathe gays.

  • Jennifer Thorson

    Oh, Dannika Nash, The Episcopal Church (and several other denominations) Welcomes You. There is room for you in the church. There is room in my pew. Come sit by me.

  • I have long wanted one with the familiar English two-fingered salute, accompanied by “BUGGER OFF” in large text. (The bird and equivalent Americanism is too crude for my tastes.)

  • In fact, quite a few of the comments on Dannika’s blog post were from self-declared Christians informing her that the problem with young people today was them expecting the Church to suit them and their sinful, secular world-infected values.

  • MartiansAteMyCat

    It’s just not young people who are being politely asked to leave. Once my mother became fully embracing of me as her only gay son, she didn’t hesitate to speak up in defense of the GLBT community whenever someone said something disparaging against gay people in a Bible study group or Christian ladies’ meeting. The “friends” she would make in those groups would eventually stop calling her, stop inviting her to social events, and whenever she needed a ride to the church, no one was ever available to take her, even though her apartment complex was on one of the main thoroughfares in the area (she was older and didn’t drive).

    Eventually, my mother became unable to make it to any church in her local area, and not for lack of asking. I remember she had so much guilt about it, feeling that she was not fulfilling her obligation to “gather together” with other believers. But it’s hard to make it to church when no one will take you.

    I can’t believe I didn’t finally put two and two together until reading this article just now.

  • I think it might be too little, too late. The young have been leaving the church in droves for a long, long time. It’s just getting noticeable now because the church has already lost a huge number of people, and the loss of a sizable percentage of the people they have now sticks out. I left the church when I was 20, not because of gay rights (although that helped), and not because of the hostility to other religions (that helped too), but because it was made clear to me that being able to think and reason for myself simply was not acceptable. Reading the Bible with a critical eye, and trying to figure out what it was saying in the context of the age in which it was written in, was looked at with suspicion. I was kicked out of the church I grew up in, and kicked out of two more before I got the message: non-conformity was not welcome.

    When I was 18, I was attending an Assemblies of God church. I was on a youth retreat, where we drove six hours out into the middle of nowhere in northern Michigan. On this particular retreat, the pastor wanted to introduce the kids to “speaking in tongues”, and how it was an integral (and necessary) part of our growth as Christians. Eventually, all the kids joined the pastor up on the stage, babbling in their made-up languages. When I didn’t join them, the pastor very pointedly asked me why (into a microphone, from the stage). I pointed out some scripture that said that what he (and the children were doing) was wrong; I remember using Matthew 6:5-8 and a couple of others. Before I knew what was going on, one of the chaperones took me aside, and told me to gather my belongings. At 11 o’clock at night, and without letting me say anything to my friends or the pastor, the chaperone drove the six hours to get me home. The next day the church called me to let me know I would not be welcome back into their youth group. I wish I would have been smart enough to leave the church then, but it took me a couple more years.

    The only reason why the church is noticing the lost of the youth is because it is accelerating, not because it wasn’t happening before.

  • Reading the Bible with a critical eye, and trying to figure out what it was saying in the context of the age in which it was written in, was looked at with suspicion. I was kicked out of the church I grew up in, and kicked out of two more before I got the message: non-conformity was not welcome.

    Altemeyer had this to say on young people who eventually leave very authoritarian churches:

    Their families will say it was Satan. But we thought, after interviewing dozens of “amazing apostates,” that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.

    Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.

  • Do we have a name of this camp? A name of the camp director? Something from which we can derive an address? I get the feeling that they are in for a wash of negative feedback regarding this if it was publicly known.

  • This! A thousand times, this! Thank you for that, I had never read that before.

  • konrad_arflane

    My cousin gave me a welcome mat (for Christmas, years ago) with the text “Oh shit, not you again”.

  • No, she refused to identify the camp. I wish she had, but I can understand the reasons why she didn’t.

    “It’s a beautiful camp, and I want people to go there,” she says. “If they offered me my job back right now, I’d think about taking it even though I’m hurt.”

  • Trixie_Belden

    Wow, I’m sorry your mother had to deal with that. All the churches in her area? I hope there’s some sort of tolerant local denomination she can find. It’s hard to lose connections like that when you’re older. I hope she can make some better friends.

  • To me, at least, that’s just sad :/

  • guest

    I spoke with a nun last month about how we as Catholics are supposed to respond to what the Church has become, and she flat out said ‘the Church is dying. Watch the young people, they’re the seed.’

  • MartiansAteMyCat

    All the evangelical ones, yes. She’s since passed away, so it’s a moot point now, but it really made me angry. She was a wonderful, kind, and deeply spiritual person.

  • Trixie_Belden

    I’m sorry to hear your mom passed away. Losing her must have hurt.

  • Dave Jones
  • It might just be one of the folks in charge who has a problem with her, and everyone else is lovely. Worked for a college LRC like that; director was the most high-strung, perfectionistic stepford-wife type ever but my co-workers were all pretty awesome.

  • Trixie_Belden

    That reminds me of LL’s comment up thread about this situation resembling being in a an abusive relationship. What the hell is it about that camp that’s so “beautiful” that it couldn’t be found in a dozen, other, better camps? When the camp director is the kind of person who fires a counselor pretty much on the spot, hurts them enough to make them cry, for writing a thoughtful, respectful article about what she sees as a serious flaw in their church, we know the camp director is a jerk. The “politely”, “regretfully” stuff is just so much BS. If he’s the director, and he’s one of the ones who hires people, it’s a pretty safe bet he’s not the only jerk in a position of authority at that camp. I know I don’t want anyone to go to that camp, and I’m at a loss to see why she does.

  • Well, if they think they need a leaner, meaner church, who we are to argue? I wonder what the end result of it all will be. Conservative churches are composed of bigoted asshats, liberal churches aren’t, but they sacrifice doctrinal rigidity and self-assurance, which has its own set of problems. Is it possible to have a doctrinally rigid, self-assured liberal church?

  • Markuze!

  • lowtechcyclist

    Speaking as a liberal Christian, the last thing I’d want is a doctrinally rigid church. The Nicene Creed is enough non-negotiable doctrine for me; the rest we can talk about.

    And I don’t think doctrinal rigidity is a precondition of a self-assured faith; it’s a precondition of a brittle faith that will shatter once the rigid doctrine doesn’t make sense, but, being rigid, can’t bend so it breaks.

  • I only wish I had more than one upvote to give to this comment.

  • Fusina

    I am so, so sorry this happened to your Mom. It stinks. I drive older people, from my church mostly, but others too, those without cars, to where they need to go and I don’t hold them hostage to their religious or political views. Your story hurts because it is such a simple thing to do to help people.

    To put it another way, “Jesus Wept.”

  • Fusina

    I used to attend an AG church. I was a member, and left. After six months of never hearing from anyone from the church, I went in and told the head pastor to remove me from the membership roll. He wanted to know why I was leaving.

    Leaving? I left six months earlier and NO ONE noticed. Why would I want to continue to attend a church that didn’t care whether I was there or not. And to make matters worse, a few weeks before I left, they started an attendance sheet–sign in to services, if you didn’t sign in for a couple weeks, someone was supposed to call you to see how you were. I didn’t attend for six fucking months. And no one called.

    Damn, I had no idea I has so much anger still left from this incident.

  • Fusina

    “Speaking as a liberal Christian, the last thing I’d want is a doctrinally rigid church.”

    Yes! It is scary to live as an adult. But better all around that remaining a child all my life. And that is what they are, children. We give children rules that cannot be broken without consequences. And we need to teach them how to be free–how to choose rightly–to love and welcome all–oh hell, I like what Paul allegedly said on this subject, so here it is,

    1 Corinthians 13.11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

  • Baby_Raptor

    People who either don’t want to think or are afraid to hide behind rigid doctrine.

    And what with the myriad of ways the world has changed in the ~2000 years since Jesus was here, I would think that the Christian god would want a “living document” type of guidance. it makes more sense for his followers…Some rules just need to be thrown out as society and technology evolve.

  • Fusina

    My Mum-in-law was Catholic all her life. In her opinion, and I was shocked and delighted when she said it, the best thing the Catholic church could do, and the only thing that would save it from oblivion, was to elect as Pope a woman. This was some fifteen years ago she said this, and she has been gone for three, so it didn’t happen in her lifetime. We will see if it does in mine.

  • guest

    Agreed, absolutely. Though to be fair…I didn’t go to Catholic school, but have heard some horror stories of brutal nuns. I didn’t remember this until after I’d spoken with this sister; I’d gone to see her because I’d thought ‘I can trust a woman’.

  • Rigid doctrine can also give you conviction.

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  • The_L1985

    I’m 27 and I already decided that I wasn’t going to darken the door of a church unless said occasions take place.

    I decided Christmas was too often.

  • The_L1985

    Not to mention, speaking in tongues is supposed to be like that story in Acts 1. “Are not all of these men Galileans? Then why does each of us hear them in his own native language?”

    The very first time I heard someone’s babbling described as “speaking in tongues,” I decided on the spot that I would never become a Protestant of any denomination.

  • The_L1985

    I would recommend The Authoritarians to anyone. It’s about 150 pages, so it’s not something you can easily read in one sitting, but it’s still shorter than the average novel.

  • Hexep

    The first female pope’s most important accomplishment will be paving the way for future female popes. In all likelihood, she herself with be a total Margaret Thatcher-type – it’s that sort of stone-hearted bravado that really pushes people to achieve power in adversity.

    In fact, I predict that this first female pope will actually be remembered, on her own merits, as a bad one. It’s the second female pope that will make things better.

  • Fusina

    I am convinced that all people, whatever their beliefs, should be treated with respect. I am convinced that all people should be allowed the same freedom that the bible states is given to man by god, that of totally free will, to do what they want. I am convinced that other belief systems have truths in them–for instance, I adore the Wiccan doctrine of “An it harm none, please yourself.” Succinct restating of the ten commandments there, even more so than Jesus’ restatement.

    Conviction + passionate intensity is a neutral thing–can be used for both good and evil. and IMO, anything that leaves people with more freedom is a good thing–except when they use it to harm others. This world is a tricky one isn’t it.

    Oh, and I have a sis that lives in Cambridge Mass. Am a bit worried as that is right near to Watertown, where everything is pretty much, last I heard, shut down while they search for one of the Marathon bombers. Nice thoughts/prayers/whatever your religion or non allows/encourages would be appreciated.

  • Hexep

    Hey, yo, the KGB was serious, evil shit. They may as well call themselves the Gay-stapo or the Tontons Ma-cutes or the… the… I can’t think of a good pun on ‘Ustaše’ but I’m sure there is one.

  • JustoneK

    the heck? this reads a little like the Time Cube page. thankfully less font changes.

  • And how. I’m 31 and I’ve been out of the church for six years. Before I left I was planning on going to Seminary. Admittedly, my reasons were far more involved and complicated than, “Wow, what a bunch of jerks, I’m out of here.” But it’s the realization that I can’t intellectually assent to the whole thing and I can’t fathom going back to an abusive place like the church for any reason that will keep me outside the doors now.

  • Fusina

    And just heard from her, Cambridge is also on lockdown. So the above def. applies to her. Bit worried about them. Yeah, Cam. is pretty biggish, but they live near a park–with trees–as in, good hiding place for fugitives.

  • Lori

    The very first time I heard someone’s babbling described as “speaking in
    tongues,” I decided on the spot that I would never become a Protestant
    of any denomination.

    You do realize that the vast majority of Protestants have nothing to do with speaking in tongues, right? I’m obviously not arguing in favor of being a Protestant, or a member of any other religion, but that doesn’t mean that tarring with such a broad brush is in any way fair.

  • Lori

    It is an actual thing (not photoshopped) and can be yours for roughly $30.