I’m going to start out by saying that I actually go to a church, and I actually enjoy it very much. This church does all kinds of social justice work in their community. It’s filled with kick ass people, and the sermons actually teach me something (which I never got in the “just read the Bible! Only liberals need theology. All you need to know is that you’re going to hell unless you say this little prayer” brand of Christianity). They put up with me even though I’m definitely not a United Methodist (UU Christians, yay!), and half the time I feel like I’m just pretending to be a Christian at all.
With that being said, I’m going to talk about all these damn “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church” posts, as someone who has left “the church,” despite the fact that I’ve wound up in “a church.”
Because, you all know what they mean when they say “the church,” right? It’s like when I moved back home and my parents told me I needed to start going to church. I told them I had a church in Toledo, and at the time I was attending a UU church in Detroit. My dad’s response was, “I mean a REAL church.”
They mean “their kind” of church. So first of all, I’m not convinced that as many millennials are leaving as the evangelicals writing these posts think are leaving. Maybe we’re just leaving “their kind” of church. Maybe the definition of “church” is becoming more subjective–I certainly learn more about Jesus from blogging and feel more at-communion-with-the-saints on Twitter than I ever did back at my old fundamentalist church. Sure, not as many of us kids-these-days attend a traditional church service as we did in days gone by, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still out “doing church” in one way or another.
So, I go to A Church, but I don’t go to the kind that evangelicals want me to go to. I used to, but they’re right. I left, and a lot of other Millennials are leaving too.
I can’t say why. I am not ALL Millennials. Even in my own life there are so many reasons that I can’t single out just one, and my reasons are all pretty diverse. Here’s a short list of SOME of them:
- I’ve worked until 6 am on Saturdays and can’t get up for early services (my current church has a night service which was, I’ll be honest, the sole reason I started going there)
- I was sexually assaulted in a church nursery as a kid and have PTSD that makes it emotionally tough to go
- One of my former pastors was an abusive, manipulative, power-hungry, womanizing asshole
- I can’t sit through a sermon without wondering ‘Would they cover up abuse like SGM did?”
- I got sick of being lied to about science, and I stopped believing in hell
Some of my reasons are simply matters of convenience and scheduling. Others are matters of personal health, a bad experience with an individual church or pastor, or changes in my belief system. I’m sure other Millennials can relate.
Those are legit reasons. These bloggers/journalists who say those reasons are selfish or bitter need to take advice from an old cliche. Here are my Chuck Taylors, take ‘um for a 5,280 ft walk. Better yet, here’s my old Burger King uniform. You scrub floors until 6 am and then try to wake up bright and early for Sunday School 2 hours later.
Then there are reasons that go beyond individual churches or individual scheduling conflicts. There are reasons that are structural. Harmful theologies. Spiritual abuse. Abuse cover-ups. Churches promoting white male supremacy, militarism, and homophobia/transphobia.
These are also legitimate reasons for leaving the church, and the responses I’m seeing from so many evangelical churches to Millennials leaving is convincing me that these churches aren’t willing to tackle these structural problems.
The attack on Millennials coming from so many blog posts and articles is just a way to cover up and ignore these structural problems. Never mind the fact that it’s not even just Millennials calling out these problems.
What I hear from the responses to my various legitimate reasons for leaving the kind of church the authors of these responses want me to go to is that I’m not a part of the church but a problem to be solved. These responses come up with ridiculous pieces of “evidence” for how horrible my generation is:
The REAL problem with the church isn’t abuse scandals. It’s Millennials who say “YOLO.” What does that even mean? It sounds silly, so Millennials must be stupid.
The REAL problem with the church isn’t systematic oppression. I mean, have you seen how many “selfies” Millennials take [this coming from the generation who brought us Carlos Danger, of course]? They must be full of themselves.
The REAL problem is always the kids-these-days and their video games and their not-getting-married-younger and their Twitters and their skinny jeans and their Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
The REAL problem is those Millennials who are so stupid and selfish and unimportant. They’re too narcissistic to admit that the older generations have handled the church flawlessly! NOW WHY DON’T THEY LOVE US?
I can’t tell you why all Millennials are leaving the church. But I can say this–A string of posts saying “We’re not going to address these serious problems with the church if Millennials can’t stop playing video games” is a surefire way to guarantee that your churches aren’t going to be around in the generations to come.
And good riddance. If your response to abuse cover ups and structural oppression is “Well you take too many selfies!” your churches can go to the hell that they want us to believe in.