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

Tone-deaf with perfect pitch: A new plan to chase young people away from the church, one-by-one April 18, 2013

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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  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t think nuns are clergy.

  • (eyeroll) Hysterics aside, ‘Fred Clark’ simply doesn’t like it when people disagree with him.

  • Lorehead

    I’m not Catholic, so please pardon me if I used the incorrect word.

  • That is so. Mess up

  • So by your logic we should never call out injustice, because that’s judging someone? We shouldn’t try to make the world a better place, because the being who decides what “better” means is inaccessible or possibly non-existent? We should just sit on our thumbs and not do anything except pray and make vague warm-fuzzy gestures towards everyone in general?

    You can sit on the sidelines and do nothing but shake your finger at us if you like. Don’t speak for the rest of us.

  • Pot. Kettle. Black.

  • Carstonio

    The organization probably still believes in the twin myths of orientation being a choice and of young people being recruited into homosexuality. Even more heinous is the claim that gay Scotmasters would prey upon boys, just as straight males leading Girl Scout troops would allegedly prey upon girls. Sounds more like an argument for keeping all men in solitary confinement.

  • Lorehead

    The Girl Scouts do allow men to volunteer, although I believe that a woman must be present whenever they’re with the girls themselves.

  • You have it right, it is a mind game, a social and psychological thing. Being in a church helps bring happiness by the knowledge than one is in a wonderful company of like-minded faithful, and everything is rose-colored and beautiful. But that happiness comes all from perspective, you have to maintain the belief that the community is as great as you think it is to get that happiness. When the image starts to crack, when details do not add up, the construct you have in your head begins to fall apart, and the happiness shatters with it.

    This is why they celebrate new congregants, it shows the community is vital, growing and reaching out and expending the breadth of the Good News to all fellow travelers. That is why people who leave go unremarked, it undermines that imagine of expansion and perfect unity of faith, reminds people things are not as ideal as they think that they are. The imagine they want to send only works if enough people believe in it, and doubt begets doubt, so the vocal doubters are silenced and the quiet doubters are ignored.

    I do not mean to say this as an attack on religion, by no means am I implying that, but it is a pattern I have seen not only in second-hand experience of people in churches but also first-hand in sales. I worked, very briefly, for that Vector marketing company that recruits college students (and I doubt I am the only one here who can say that.) They do the same thing. Rush people through the recruitment process, tell them about all the success they can have if they stick with it and have a positive attitude, silence anyone who questions or doubts this (especially if they do so in front of more junior sales clerks.) People quietly drop out of the company usually in a few weeks on average. This attrition rate never goes remarked upon, ever, and there are always a new crop of recruits who come through every week to take their place. A few people find success there and stay for months or years, but the vast majority are just sifted through to find the few with the personal ambition, inability to take no for an answer from customers, and the fortitude to endure shilling products onto people who are not in the market for them. The company needs the mind-game to maintain that, just as the church does.

  • Trixie_Belden

    Oh, I’m against naming the camp or the director: my comment had more to do with the idea that I think it’s better for someone in an abusive situation to be able to identify and acknowledge that something is abusive. I wouldn’t judge her for caring about the camp, but it’s good to acknowledge there are better camps out there.

  • Carstonio

    True. The difference is that the Girl Scouts don’t ban lesbian leaders and try to justify the policy by making broad and unjustified assertions about females’ sexual impulses.

  • My apologies, I was unaware that such a distinct identifier already had a particular inferred meaning.

  • banancat

    As a youth over a decade ago, I felt unwelcome in my church for many reasons, and the lack of support for LGBT equality was only one of those things, and didn’t even register as a specific from what I remember.

    There were tons of issues that I just couldn’t agree on with the most vocal adults of my church. Evolution, genetic engineering, a young woman aspiring to go into a STEM field. But mostly I just felt that youths weren’t appreciated or valued in any way. As I was becoming an adult and looking for a community, I felt that I had to hide my true self and pretend to be something I wasn’t just to fit in at church, which seemed to me to be the place I should feel most comfortable and accepted.

    The way it seems to me is that young people always have a decent amount of power and influence in the “real world”. Every generation has to take over at some point. And the older people have had to accept e-mails as professionalism, the switch to business casual, and professionals addressing their “superiors” on a first-name basis. They’ve had to accept ubiquitous cell phone use and changing language and different social cause changes like wearing seatbelts or not smoking in restaurants. Things have changed so much in their professional and social worlds, and they feel like they have no control over it. And I’d bet that every generation feels this way.

    But in my church, they dealt with this by ruling over the church and trying to keep it as the one little place where newness couldn’t take over. Because they only viewed us as potential usurpers, they never listened to or valued our ideas and opinions. They never outright told us to sit down and shut up, but any time we tried to participate we were immediately shot down or talked over.

    Now the church is hurting. They are near bankruptcy. And it doesn’t surprise me at all. I was there recently for Easter and one woman, not old but late middle age, tut-tutted about how she doesn’t trust the current youth and suspects some of them of being thieves. This remark was unprompted and I realized nothing had changed. They’re not getting new members because they don’t want them. They don’t reach out to young people and make them feel welcome. When younger people, now counted as pretty much anyone under 30, starts visiting, the church regulars try to convince them to become members out of obligation.

    I suspect many churches are like this. They are full of people who no longer have control over everything and want to hold tight to the control they wield in the church. And in some churches, marriage equality is the thing they make the biggest fuss about, but a similar attitude shows up even in places that don’t a strong stance against the currently controversial issues. It’s a symptom of just not valuing younger people.

  • Persia

    I hope she’ll get to that point, but it’s pretty recent for her.

  • banancat

    Choosing to be neutral just means siding with the more powerful party. I’m sure girlie234 thinks she’s being profound and above it all, but she’s really just taking the easy route and siding with the oppressors. It’s quite unfortunate.

  • llamapower

    I have to admit to being one of those people. I’d love to put that equal sign on my facebook page, but am honestly not emotionally steeled to deal with the awful back-and-forth it would cause between my secular friends and my uber-conservative religious friends. I have fellow Christian friends in the same boat; we all sit and silently fume through certain sermons, but can’t say anything because absolutely nothing will change.

  • I guess for some people, their solution to seeing things like this is to double down and consolidate. They may drive away a lot of people, but those who are left will have often been asked to sever ties to nonbelievers (that is, anyone outside of that one congregation) and will increasingly be pressured to adopt non-mainstream views such as speaking in tongues that will isolate them further. The congregation will shrink, but the leaders of the remnant will have more power over the part of that group that is afraid to leave because they don’t think they will fit in anywhere else.

  • It was just a corny sight gag mocking his fly-by hate rants. :-(
    (Randy shuffles his feet…)

  • Valancy Jane

    It’s okay to attack that which deserves attack. Religion is not a sacred cow any more than MLMs are. I hadn’t noticed how similar they are, but you are absolutely correct–new blood’s the only way they can both say in business. I also got involved briefly with one (Amway, no less, post-lawsuit but pre-Quixtar) and it was just eye-opening how entwined it was with evangelical Christianity and how similar its leaders’ daily/weekly exhortations were to sermons.

    It’s probably no coincidence that my very Christian-heavy state is also one of the bigger ones for MLM involvement–a shockingly high percentage of my county was involved in one or another of these a couple years ago according to an article about tax reporting I read. Not a single one of these “businesses” reported a profit, however. Not a single one! But you know how the “survivors” look at those who quit MLMs, right? They did something wrong. They didn’t work hard enough. Didn’t talk to prospects the right way. Didn’t do enough presentations, buy enough tapes, go to enough events, didn’t BELIEVE enough. The message was always pure and unassailable; the person who left was just doing something horribly wrong that the remainder were all positive they were doing right (which they could tell because they were still in the “business”). And neither religion nor MLMs are truly ethical with regard to their product. So well said, well said, an excellent point, and thank you for making it. Definite food for thought.

  • Valancy Jane

    I hope you find the courage to speak out one day. I’m sure Jesus found it difficult to overturn the tables of the money-lenders too! Christianity was originally about social justice, and it’s going to have to re-find those roots if it hopes to survive. The more people claw their way to progress, the less power the toxic Christians will have. I genuinely think they depend upon people staying silent for the same reasons that sexual harassers do! Even so, I know it’s hard to cause waves; please know that I don’t judge you for doing what you must to preserve your health, safety, sanity, or family. You definitely sound like you’re in enemy territory. I just still hope you find a way to be authentic to yourself. This is the only life we get that we know for sure about, and at the end of mine, I want to look back and know I did everything I could to help humanity progress. Don’t you?

  • It is amazing what actually reading the message of the bible reveals…. and what pointing that message out to those who are unwilling to hear it may cost you. (Luther is a prime example of this nearly 500 years ago.)

    I am fortunate enough to have found a congregation that has for at least 20 years been called to be a refuge for the LGBT community. I myself am straight, but I take great joy in knowing that there are (growing) pockets of Christians that are trying to follow Christ’s simple (yet often so hard to follow) commandment to love one another as ourselves.

    For all of those of you who have given up on the church, but feel a void in your life because of this decision (to leave the church), I pray that you might find a congregation like mine that will take you as you are. More importantly, a congregation that will not simply tolerate you despite who/what you are, but will accept you with open arms as an equal and where the question of sexual orientation is irrelevant.

  • Thanks for the link! I’m reading it now, and, even though I’m only 10 pages in, I’m amazed at a lot of this stuff. It’s been very eye-opening.

  • You saw speaking in tongues at at CoG church? If you don’t mind me asking, which CoG? I was raised in the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), and speaking in tongues was viewed with suspicion, if not outright declared to be heresy. When I left the CoG, one of the reasons why I joined the Assemblies of God was because a lot of their teachings were “forbidden” when compared with my upbringing.

  • Hexep

    Oh, very likely that will be the case. But once the door is opened, there will be no closing it again.

    But this is not a suggestion, it’s a prediction. How do you wager it will come about?

  • MartiansAteMyCat

    Thank you to you, Fusina, and all the others who posted such kind words. My Mom was an amazing person and a real loving Christian who cared about people.

    I normally wouldn’t have mentioned this, but it seems to be appropriate, given what everyone has expressed. Before my Mom passed away late last year from cancer, I had saved almost 175 of her voicemails to me over the period just before her diagnosis, all the way through her treatment (which didn’t work) and up until the end. I want to honor her life by helping others who may be going through the same journey.

    It’s at if anyone is curious to know more. Thanks again.

  • I went to volunteer at my local Scout group. The very last question on the paperwork was Religion. When I told them my answer: “None”, they politely showed me the door.

  • The_L1985

    I don’t remember the name of the church, but it was in Enterprise, AL.

    The woman who did it may have been a visitor from the local AoG, but either way, it was creepy to watch.

  • normandyso

    When hell freezes over. -:)

  • normandyso

    Shades of Joan!

  • normandyso

    Some people never know when to get out. It’s mostly a girl thing. (Go ahead, call me sexist. But, this has been my lifetime experience. Sad to say.)

  • normandyso

    You’ve already done enough damage! -:)

  • squashed

    This sort of sideshow is really getting distracting for those of us who have found welcoming homes in truly inclusive churches. We know it’s important not to spend too much time on how dumb some of the other churches have been. Because criticizing other churches is not *technically* one of the great ends of the church. That said, if there’s an accident on the highway involving multiple firetrucks and a crane, I’m not above gawking. I wish I was–but I’m not.

  • Tapetum

    Not exactly surprising, given how carefully we go about training our girls to put up with anything and everything.

  • Not quite sure that is accurate. Pot. Ocean. Black. ?

  • Look at how the first Black female Senator worked out. (I’m from Illinois, so I can say that)

  • “… it’s like trying to eat food that you got a bad batch of and got sick from the first time you tried it.”

  • See the comment from The_L1985 on the previous post:

    … the only other Protestant church I had for reference (other than the CoG where the aforementioned “speaking in tongues” happened) was the Baptist church my aunt went to at the time. I didn’t like that church either, because it felt like the pastor was yelling at me the whole time, and I have an extreme phobia of being yelled at.

    I’m not saying I made a smart choice evaluating Protestants on the basis of 2 denominations, but sometimes some of the knee-jerk decisions you make as a kid tend to stick around long after you’ve learned better. Even when I left the Catholic church, even though there are numerous churches nearby in every denomination under the sun, it never once occurred to me to go to any of them.

    I know now that there are some Christian denominations that might have fit me OK (Fred’s pretty cool, and everything I’ve heard about Episcopalians and the liberal branch of the Lutherans has been pretty good), but it’s like trying to eat food that you got a bad batch of and got sick from the first time you tried it. Intellectually, you know there’s nothing wrong with it. You see other people enjoying it, and you’re very happy for them, and part of you also wishes you could enjoy it. But the thought of actually doing so in a non-hypothetical way feels very, very wrong.

  • The_L1985

    That sounds like the most awkward job ever.

  • The_L1985

    But in some areas, the only churches around are those conservative, right wing, evangelical ones, so they are, in effect, being forced out of The Church.

    My childhood home was in the middle of nowhere, with nothing even remotely liberal, or even moderate, nearby.

  • We got one for my mother, years ago. She was a night nurse and felt it expressed her general sentiments to anyone coming to her door by day.

  • I’m 45 and 2012 was the first time I’d set foot in a Christian church in about six years (prior to that it had been a special choir concert). There was some confusion among my 4 pagan children as to whether we were supposed to take communion and we did a Keystone cops routine trying to gt out of the pew, to my father’s chagrin. I whispered “Cakes and ale” and it passed down the line.

  • twhite6878

    Left the church when I was 30. Best thing I ever did.

  • Original Lee

    This very succinctly describes a church I attended 10 years ago. Most of the Founding Families had things set up the way they liked them to be and actively resisted any change that didn’t occur to them. Some of the Founding Families did try for some minor changes, and one or two of them did eventually trickle in. But anything related to the youth and young adults tended to get short shrift – if any (relative) newcomer pointed out that having the youth meet in a dusty basement furnished with random castoffs was problematic from several different perspectives, they were ignored. If someone with small children pointed out that the wiring in the Sunday School wing was getting old enough that maybe it should be replaced, they were ignored. If someone tried to set up a youth band to play contemporary music during the service, nobody wanted to be in charge or people complained about the song selections. Not exactly inviting or welcoming!

  • Don’t forget the gaslighting.

  • Second most. “Official Pope Sexer” is second to “Duck Fluffer”