Husband and I spent three days in D.C. with the sole purpose of the trip being to visit with our nieces and nephew. The kids belong to one of my husband's brothers and wife who live a two days drive away so when they announced that they would be taking a family vacation only a few hours from us, we jumped at the opportunity to visit. I've known my husband for over five years now, but this is only the second time we have met. They are also the family members who have adopted before and are huge adoption & foster care advocates. It is nice to have someone to ask questions of and who understands this whole process, even if they lived in another state when they did it.
But these people are also super Christians with a very different idea of what adoption should look like than us. For example: They recently took in a nineteen-year-old they had worked with while working in a group home many years ago. He was welcomed with open arms...although their home and love were contingent on two things: He needed to get a job and he had to attend church with them. That's right, in order to move in with a family and receive the love that you so desperately crave, he is required to go to church with them. This is all kinds of messed up to me, but for them it was a no-brainer. They didn't even think twice about it. Any kid of theirs has to attend church with them. This was the requirement when I was a kid living with my parents too. Skipping church simply wasn't an option.
While touring one of the D.C. museums by brother-in-law and sister-in-law were approached by a man who recognized them through their various work with foster care and adoption. I thought it was super cool that they have earned a bit of celebrity status and were actually recognized on "the street" by one of their fans. As they talked, I entertained some of the littler ones with Snapchat...as you do. But my ears perked up when I heard my SIL say, "I am just so glad you are here and doing this work. We need more Christians in this. There just aren't enough of us advocating for these kids."
What the fuck are you talking about? The adoption community is FULL of Christians. Full. There isn't a single adoption or foster care support group in my immediate area that isn't Christian based. Some are basically Bible studied veiled as a support group. Every single conference I have been to has been chock-full of language like, "God blessed us" and "We are blessed" and "We prayed and..." All of them. Even though our adoption agency is not religious, I have yet to meet a single other foster or adoptive parent who doesn't profess to believe in a god.
I mentioned it to my husband later and he scoffed at this too. I know I have had some complaints concerning my husband's faith, but really, most of the time we are on the same page. He agrees that not only is it stupid to think there aren't enough Christians in the adoption/foster care world, but also thinks it is insufferable that something that shouldn't be so wrapped up in religion--is. For example: After a county run adoption conference where God was praised throughout the day by social workers who work for the state, my husband was quite annoyed. "It's just inappropriate." Nevermind that we both believe that such an environment will deter people who are not religious or Christian from doing foster care or adopting.
No sister-in-law, we do not need more religious people in adoption. What we need are more people of many different kinds of backgrounds because, contrary to their beliefs, not every kid should be dragged to church. And not every kid is religious or Christian.
Side note: BIL & SIL have had a rocky relationship over the past few years due to stress, starting a new business, the belief that porn is the equivalent to cheating, and six kids under the age of 10. When husband and his brother were alone, BIL kind of assumed that husband and I were having marital problems because why else would we want to hang out with them besides to get advice. Husband's family is dysfunctional, but seriously? I don't think BIL understands at all how important family is to me and how important it is that our nieces and nephews know us and hang out with us. I honestly don't give a shit about the adults. I mean, it would be nice to have a good relationship with my brother-in-laws and sister-in-laws, but I am perfectly okay with the children being the buffer of the relationship. Also, our marriage is fine thank you very much. The one major issue we have had has been sorted and we wouldn't tell them about it anyway. I am pleased to report that we are four years in and although marriage is certainly a careful balance of two individuals, we are very happy and comfortable.
One of the things that my future son does that annoys me is that he tells people (and us) that he sees visions of the future. This is usually tied directly into his belief in ghosts and the supernatural. Almost every vision has to do with something he wants and dreams of having. Last night he mentions another "vision" he had and then asks if I believe in visions. This is a hard one to answer, I told him. Because I don't want to downplay what you believe, but I also think that there are rational explanations to visions. So I told him about how I used to experience dreams and visions, some about the future. And I believed that God must have sent those dreams and visions to me. I lied to people about how they were from god when a part of me always knew that I had just come up with it in my imagination or that it was just a dream. Yet, when I began to analyze them, even when I was still a Christian, I began to question them. I was surrounded by religion as a child, we talked about heaven and hell all the time. Is it any wonder that I would have dreams about heaven? I also have a very active imagination and my church talked about the end times all the time. Is it any wonder that I would imagine scenarios about the end times? No. In fact, I wouldn't expect anything less.
My biggest issue with visions, I told him, is that I have never seen one come true. My mom prays all the time and tells me about things she saw that she believes God showed her. Her "visions" always seem to align with what she wants and most of the time they don't come true. You would think someone with a low batting average for correctly prophesying would stop after a while, but the rationale simply isn't there. "My mom and her friend told everyone that the other woman's cheating husband was going to come back to her. They prayed for three days and believed that this is what God told them. And they were wrong. Really wrong. He ended up marrying the lady he cheated with, had another child with her, and has been happily married for almost twenty years now." This, I finally told him, is when I began to question people having visions and talking to God. They can't all be talking to God, because everyone is coming up with completely different things. Catholics. Protestants. Jews. Evangelicals. The people who claim to see visions of the end times have been wrong. Every. Single. Time. In the end, there are many mysteries in this world and I would love to know the answers to them and will continually seek out an answer. Maybe that answer will lead me to a god, but I will only accept that answer based on evidence. I am no longer filling in the blank of a mystery with GOD.
I encouraged him to write down his visions in as much detail as possible and date them. Convoluted Confuscisms are not good enough. Evidence that his visions are real will show itself in time. If he believes that he is actually having visions and that it isn't a product of wishful thinking, an active imagination, or a desire to impress other people; this could be the evidence the world needs. But, I reminded him, so far there is no such evidence. Not a single person among the billions of people on this planet have been able to prove that human beings can have regular true visions from a deity. And even if you can prove that you are having visions of the future, that does not prove the existence of any one god. All it proves is that somehow you are seeing visions of the future. "And I must warn you," I told him. "This is how new religions and cults start. One leader claiming they can do something that no one else can. Convincing others. And then shaping religion to match whatever crazy notions of enlightenment they have come up with."
I'm not sure how this kid got so caught up in all this supernatural beliefs as it seems rather contrary to what his bio mom taught him, but he is obsessed. To the point where we won't allow him to watch horror films or shows. Don't want to provide him with more imagination fodder. Frankly, it's like he is a small child. Sure, there are plenty of adults who believe in ghosts, but most don't have a panic attack when they hear a noise they don't recognize.
Last night he sat down on the couch and the light flickered. He immediately freaked out. Jumped up, came running into our bedroom with fear in his eyes. My husband gave him a withering look and said, "Dude, your powers of deductions are terrible. You should look for natural explanations before immediately jumping to supernatural." He then showed him that there was a power strip that sits against the back of the couch. (I hate that it is there as it IS a fire hazard) When he sat down hard, the plug connected to the lamp moved a bit, which made the light flicker. "It also could have been a bulb going bad, a criss-crossed wire, the power strip failing or being shut off, or the lamp breaking since it was only $5. You need to analyze these things better." Coming from my god-believing husband, this was accepted. We have assured this kid multiple times that our apartment really really isn't haunted. My husband absolutely believes in ghosts and even he is like...kid, this place is unbelievably supernatural free. But this kid has an imagination and he will not be deterred.
I just hope that we have given him some things to think about. That he begins to really analyze the things he believes and quits jumping on the supernatural bandwagon every time a light flickers or he starts daydreaming.
When I tell people that I grew up in a very conservative Evangelical fundamentalist Christian home, I don't think people really understand what that means. "Imagine the Duggers," I say, "but without the clothing restrictions." Which isn't entirely true, because my mother had long hair and only wore dresses for a good decade. Yesterday, during Easter my dad reminded me of something that I should start telling people instead.
My parents believe that Adam & Eve were real people who fathered an entire race of people. Because young earth creationism does not have enough time to allow for adaptation or evolution within our species, my dad believes that Eve was popping out babies that were of different ethnicities. "Don't you think Eve was a bit surprised by that?" he asked yesterday while sitting on the porch. "I mean, first she has an Asian baby and then she has a black baby. And none of them looked anything like their parents because God gave them all extremely unique genetic codes in order to not have inbreeding." He knows that I don't believe this. My response was simply, "That's an interesting way of looking at it." It's not like I haven't heard this before folks. I used to believe it too. Additionally, my parents also believe that animals used to be able to talk. The evidence? Well, Adam & Eve weren't surprised that the snake talked to them, which means it must have been normal...therefore animals used to talk. Yeah.
It's crazy. There is absolutely no evidence of either of these things being true. The only reason these things are even considered is because, if you believe in a literalist interpretation of the Bible, you have to do these mental gymnastics in order to make everything line up to the world as we know it. My dad thinks that in the times of Noah the people were actually an advanced civilization, which is how Noah was able to build that giant ark. He had power tools. Seriously.
And you think that you can reason with these people? You think that by putting out evidence they will change their minds? These people live in a world that uses science only when necessary and explains the world only through the narrow lens of a literalist interpretation of the Bible. And some of you wonder why I don't tell them I am an atheist.
"Was church just silly to you?"
Of all the comments I have received on this blog, this is one that really stuck out to me. There is an assumption here, that by me having issues with the church, Christians, Christianity, or the Bible, that church was somehow just a game to me. That I never took it seriously. It straddles the fence of heading towards a 'No-True-Scotsman' fallacy, where the questioner wonders if you were ever very serious about it. Because if you weren't, then that would explain your lack of faith.
For the record, church, Christianity, and God were my life for a very long time. As a child I attended church three days a week (more if there was a revival on), went to a private Christian school, volunteered, helped my parents with children's church, sang on the children's choir, and in the church theater group. I had no friends who weren't Christians. The only people I knew who weren't were relatives who we prayed for every single evening at the dinner table. My family also did a daily devotional at dinner time and we were expected to pray at night when we went to bed and in the morning when we sent my dad off to work. On the regular my mother anointed our house with oil. We listened to only Christian radio and music and didn't own a television. I didn't like the no television bit, but I understood it all. And I took all of it very seriously and believed in all of it too.
As a teenager I attended not one but two youth groups. I continued to volunteer at a local soup kitchen with my church and started going on short-term mission trips. I graduated as an 'Honor Star' after a rigorous program and then did another program right after so that I could teach at my church. I taught my first Sunday School class at sixteen. I witnessed to people, attended protests, and was quite fearful of wordly outside influences. My parents discouraged anything in the STEM field because they didn't believe Christians could be scientists and still have their faith intact by the end. At seventeen I left my parents church because I wanted to be taken more seriously and treated as an adult. Within a year I was on the intercessory prayer group before church and was teaching a children's Sunday School class. I took this responsibility and devotion to God very seriously.
In my early twenties I moved churches because I was lonely. All the people my age were gone, there were no small groups, no young person's group, and the pastor kept forgetting my name...even though his daughter was in my class. So I moved short-term to a big friendly church in a converted warehouse. This church taught me that flashing lights and fancy chairs don't make up for a pastor with no seminary training and people who were more worried about appearing holy than being loving. Luckily that church was short-lived as I moved far away to Boston. There I sought out what I thought a church should be: diverse, community-oriented, generous, with trained pastors, and full of people who want to deal with some of the hard stuff of life. I found a wonderful church that met all of that. Despite going to school full-time and working full-time, I still found time to volunteer, help with sound on Sundays, and join a small group. I made some wonderful lasting friendships and visit with those people even now. I took all of this very seriously.
When I returned to the south after graduating, I was dismayed to find that my church in Boston was rather unique. I could find churches with trained pastors, but no outreach. Churches that focused on outreach, but weren't diverse. At all. Churches that were generous, but never tackled the hard stuff. Community-oriented, but without trained pastors. I settled for a church that said they were interested in getting into missions and outreach, even though they weren't currently doing so. I joined both teams and help organize a mission trip to the Dominican Republic as well as serving food to the homeless. This ministry still exists and my mother now volunteers with them every Monday. These things mattered to me. I spent a lot of time and effort helping form these groups and leading these groups. Oh and money, don't forget the money. No, this was very serious to me.
In my late-twenties, I moved to another city. Time to church shop again. I found a little church that partnered with people in the community, the pastor was trained, and the people were generous. No missions trips, but I was okay with that. I was starting to have some mixed feelings about short-term missions anyway. I sang on the worship team, was in two small groups, and when I met my husband, began dragging him to small groups too. One of my small group leaders wrote our reference for our adoption paperwork. It was here that I began to really investigate and confront my doubts. It wasn't because of the church that I had these doubts either, although I certainly began examining the sermons in a way I never had before. As I have stated before, despite all my issues with the church, my problem had to do with the Bible itself. And here's the thing, even when I finally admitted to myself that I no longer believed, I continued to go to that church for several more months because of the commitments that I had made. Because I took it seriously.
Church for me, was never silly. It was a place where I could be silly, but the institution itself never was. The church was where I made friends, how I volunteered, where I sought recharges to my faith, a source of enlightenment and soul-searching. I have spent a great deal of time within the walls of a church, believing in what was being taught and bettering myself within a community of believers. One of the hardest things about not being in the church now is that I am having to learn how to make friends. Before, my friends were people in the various groups I was a part of. Many were friends of convenience, but I enjoyed spending time with them. Now, I have to find friends in places that feel rather unnatural. Talking to a stranger at a friend's birthday party, at a community event, at a writing group. To most people who weren't so wrapped up in the church, this may be a duh, but for me, it's a whole different world.
And I still think the church is a pretty serious place. I take them seriously, because they seem to have a lot of sway over people. More and more they are having a sway on our government. I attended a lot of churches that told people to love out of one side of their mouths, while degrading divorcees, feminists, the promiscuous, homosexuals, and anything or anyone else they deemed sinful. One of my good friends still attends a church that states that only a chosen elect will get into to heaven, even amongst Christians. Another posts quotes from her pastor that state that the end times are coming and has quite literally begun a stockpile of canned goods for her heathen neighbors for after the rapture, because they are going to need it. Another believes her mental illness was magically cured by a weekend retreat, because the woman at the retreat told her she was healed. I DO have some issues with the church, but I had these issues with the church even when I was a believer. These issues didn't appear when I started to doubt, nor did they bring on the doubt.
This past weekend I got into an interesting discussion with my brother and sister-in-law regarding counseling and specifically Christian counseling. I'm not entirely sure how we got on the topic only that my suggestion that one of my good friends needed to do some marriage counseling was met with a harumph and a "I'm not convinced that marriage counseling actually works." After all, they have several anecdotal experiences in which people they know went to marriage counseling and they still ended up divorced. This, of course, made me want to know the actual statistics because anecdotal evidence is not exactly the most reliable source of information. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, families and couples who have attended family or couples counseling have indicated high levels of patient satisfaction. Over 98% report that they received good or excellent therapy and over 97% believe they got the help they needed. Counseling is not an indicator of whether a marriage will hold together though. Of the couples who go to counseling, almost a third will end up divorced. This does not mean the counseling didn't work. Most couples go into marriage counseling/couples therapy because they are having relational issues already, some bordering on collapse. I would say that the fact that two thirds of couples end up staying together after seeking therapy tells me that it works.
Their argument went further than this though. Try to follow me on this logic. If you are going to go to a therapist it should be a Christian one. Non-Christian/secular psychologists and therapists don't care if your marriage stays together. They are more concerned about the individual and meeting the needs of the individual within a relationship. Therefore, they encourage divorce. Christian counselors at least understand the sanctity of marriage and will encourage couples to stay together. And if the person isn't a Christian, why do they care anyway? Why even bother getting married? Marriage is a gift from God and is holy. If you are already sleeping and living with someone, what is the point of getting married? And if it isn't working out, why would you bother to salvage that relationship? Without God, marriage is pointless, which is probably why marriage counseling doesn't work (according to them).
I did at this point try to point out that marriage existed long before Christianity or even Judaism. Job of the Bible-fame is described as being married and it is believed that this story was written before Abraham. Nevermind that people of all religions and philosophies have gotten married for a long time. "But it was just a contract," my brother said. "They're only getting married for the tax benefits and a piece of paper." I wanted to reply with something like, well if all marriage is is a holy exchange with a god, then why did you get a marriage certificate? Shouldn't your vows in front of a pastor have been enough for you? But I held my tongue. As for people living together and then getting married...well, we live in a western society in which the way that we show our love for someone is to eventually make a lifelong commitment to them through something called marriage. Not everyone does this and in my mind, that is fine, but marriage is usually seen as the goal in a relationship, healthy or not. Why would someone who is Buddhist not want to make that commitment too? I was a Christian when I got married, but even if I hadn't been, I would have married my husband because I loved him and wanted to spend my life with him.
The conversation then deviated from coupes counseling to therapy in general. Sister-in-law has two cousins who are currently seeing the same therapist and have both declared that they are gay. Since sister-in-law and brother believe being gay is unnatural and a sin, they are automatically assuming that it is the therapist who has somehow convinced them of this deviant lifestyle. They don't actually know anything about the therapists religion, but have assumed that if she encourages homosexuality, she must not be a Christian. Also, oldest cousin is now admitting that she likes guys too and is very confused about this since she believed herself to be a lesbian. There are several explanations for this revelation in my mind though. 1) Both girls are gay. The fact that they have the same therapist and both came out as lesbians is purely coincidental. 2) Oldest cousin is bisexual and being sixteen is still trying to sort it all out as she ages and matures. 3) Both girls are seeing a bad therapist who has planted ideas into their heads about sexuality that they aren't really struggling with. 4) Both girls are gay, but are seeing a bad therapist who isn't helping them walk through this minefield of sexuality.
I know there are bad therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists/counselors out there. We all do. They are humans and some bring way too much of their personal opinions into the job, rather than approaching it in a clinical and scientific way. My son's bio mother had a therapist write a note to the court stating that she shouldn't have any contact with her son for her emotional well-being. Who writes a letter like that? I know bio mom lies. A lot. And it is possible she has lied out her ass to her unsuspecting therapist. It is also possible she has a crappy therapist who actually encouraged the idea of a mother and son (a minor mind you, who had no say in it) never talking to each other again. It was with this knowledge that I challenged my brother and sister-in-law with the notion that Christians make better counselors. What about pastors? Ones who took one course in college and are now doing marriage counseling? Or a psychologist who firmly believes divorce is a sin and so she would encourage someone in an abusive relationship to stay married, just because she has such an issue with it? (coincidentally, this is the kind of advice that brother and SIL give all the time) "Well," my brother huffs. "Abuse is different. We're not talking about such extremes here." I mentioned Marc Driscoll, the ex-pastor of Mars Hill church and best-selling author, who used to give marriage counseling. He is such a misogynist though that the "counseling" turned into him telling the woman that everything wrong with their marriage was her fault and that she was demon-possessed. He also accused her of having an "affair of the heart" because she was having a hard time having sex with her husband. All of this while her husband sat in the room with a smug expression on his face. In the end, she got a divorce. It wasn't because she didn't go to a Christian counselor. It wasn't because her pastor didn't believe. It was because her pastor had such strong opinions that ended up making him a fucking awful counselor. Christian does not equal good counseling. All it means is that they may share your values. That's it.
What I wanted them to understand is that marriage is marriage. Some people take it more seriously then others. Some Christians take it more seriously than others. It's also super tricky. This is all purely subjective. What works for one person may not work for another. And just because you are a Christian does mean you are qualified to offer advice or counseling nor does it mean that your counsel will be good. They are living proof of good Christian people with good intentions who are offering terrible advice. There are therapists and counselors out there who are just like them. This is not the movie War Room. Prayer is not going to magically make your marriage better or stop your husband/wife from cheating on you. Believing in a god isn't going to stop your significant other from hitting you or being a narcissist. And just because you believe divorce is wrong, doesn't mean it is.
Yesterday I found out that one of my friends died unexpedtedly of a drug overdose. I learned this through a text while just sitting down to dinner at a restaurant. Needless to say I wasn't good dinner company for the rest of the meal, just barely keeping it together, tears just barely held back. I still don't know about funeral arrangements or whether he overdosed on prescription medication (he was HIV+) or if it was something more insidious. He had had problems with substance abuse, mostly alcohol, for a long time. Despite this, it was unexpected and devastating.
Death is something I am intimately familiar with. I have lost so many people over the years that I no longer fear death. Everyone dies. Obviously the best way is quietly in ones sleep at 95, but rest assured, you cannot escape it. This is not meant to frighten anyone, but more just one of the sad aspects of reality on planet Earth. One can certainly try to create better odds of making it to 95, but there is absolutely no guarantee. As someone who has now attended twenty-five funerals, with an additional one coming up in my near future, I can also tell you that not all deaths are created equal. Losing someone who is old has often made me feel complete. I am sad they are gone, but the fact that they lived such a long life and did so many interesting things throughout it, make their death feel natural. It becomes a celebration of their life. Illness is it's own animal. Long drawn-out illnesses like cancer or althzeimer's comes with its own relief, but more because you are glad they are no longer suffering. That the pain that marked the last portion of their life is over. Losing someone to something like substance abuse or suicide is its own special hell, because you wonder if you could have done something more, something different. You wonder if you were a good enough friend. There is a world full of what ifs. Accidents, like someone being killed by a drunk driver or hit while riding their bike on the road, are jarring and rarely happen to the old. They come out of nowhere and often feel unfair. Their suddenness brings with it waves of grief that could swamp even the most steadfast people. Is there a worse way to die? Sure. But the sudden deaths, I have found, bring with them a level of grief that is difficult to describe.
Of course, being in a religious world, we are surrounded by the sentiments of the religious. You'll see them again in heaven. My prayers are with you. They went to a better place. God was calling them home. Even when I was a Christian I found these sentiments to be little comfort in the actual grieving process. Who cares if I see them again in the afterlife? They aren't here now and this is the place and time where I would actually miss them. There's a movie called The War that stars Elijah Wood and Kevin Costner. A fantastic film in which one of the characters passes away. Elijah Wood's character goes outside and yells, "Who cares about the stupid Lord. I needed him more than you did God. I needed him more."
As an agnostic atheist, I think death itself is probably a lot like it was before I was born. It didn't bother me to be pre-born and it doesn't bother me to be post-life. What does concern me is how I life this one life I have. That my funeral be full of people who, no matter how I died, will feel like it wasn't enough time. I wish people wouldn't believe in fairy tales in order to try and make sense of this very natural phenomenon. I wish they could celebrate the life that was lived rather than focusing on the mythical reunion they will have post-life. And I know that for some, this fairy tale is the only way they could survive the death of someone they love. It is what keeps them going. For me, my friend's life was well-lived because he was loved deeply. He may not be remembered a hundred years from now, but that is okay. It doesn't make his life any less important or impactful. His memory will live on as long as those who love him live on and then one day he will just be a part of someone's family tree. A distant relative with no children. And that's okay. Because while he was on this earth he mattered to someone and people mattered to him. I will never get used to losing the people I love and I will give myself time to mourn, but I am not frightened of death nor do I wish to assign meaning to it.
For the first time since I have deconverted and quit going to church, one of my Christian friends finally asked me how church was going. When I told her that I haven't been going, she seemed to not be surprised. I see this as good because I have been slowly trying to introduce these friends to the idea of me not being a Christian anymore.
The first thing she said that brought us to the question was when I told her our future son is Jewish. I've written about this before, but apparently this is the first she heard of it. So I explained to her what a Messianic Jew was and some of the controversy surrounding gentiles converting to it. "Well, at least he has a foundation," she said. For those who don't know, this is alluding to the fact that he has a foundation of faith in which my husband and I could eventually convert him to Christianity. "We aren't missionary adopting," I reminded her as I have reminded everyone who mentions this topic. "He can believe whatever he wants. I have some questions for him regarding his faith, but more because I don't think he even knows what he believes and is using the religion as a way to stay connected to his bio mom." There was a pause. And then it came. "So how is church then?" When I told her I haven't been going she asked if it was because I needed a break or just didn't like the church or what. I told her as honestly as I could that I needed a break and when life gets super busy, it is really nice to spend a leisure Sunday morning eating brunch with my loved ones. I know she doesn't agree. At all. But she didn't say anything more about it and the conversation moved on.
Baby steps. Let her wrap her mind around the fact that I am no longer attending church. If she is interested in knowing more, she can always ask. I probably won't tell her the whole truth right up front, but then I can let her know I am having some doubts. That my problem isn't with the church, but rather the actual foundations of Christianity. It may be another two years before any of that happens.
The most interesting part of all of this to me is that when it comes to these kinds of Christians, the idea that you wouldn't try to convert a child to Christianity is what would make you question if someone was still going to church. My sister-in-law just took in a teenager that they used to take care of in foster care years ago. One of the conditions of him moving in was that he attend church with them. He is a nineteen-year-old grown person who is being told that in order to have a home with a loving family, he must subject himself to their brand of religion. And that is expected. My Christian friends and family do not question this at all. So the fact that we will get a child of any age and won't attempt to indoctrinate them, is almost unconscionable. Don't we care about their soul? Don't we care about their moral compass? How are we going to build a community of support without a church?
I kind of look forward to the day when they finally put it all together.
Last weekend I had to spend Saturday in a mandatory foster parent training where we were reminded once again that we aren't allowed to spank and there are reasons these kids are misbehaving. The class wasn't horrible, just pointless. Before the class began I was speaking with another couple who we know from our Foster Parent training classes. As part of all of our licenses we have to receive an additional 24 hours of training in two years. Six of these hours can be webinar, but the rest have to be done in person. This is not a problem. My husband and I will hit 24 hours in April because we have attended two adoption conferences, two medical training classes, one 'don't spank' class, and one teen parenting class. It is highly possible we will have double the amount of training hours because we think it is important to learn everything we can and build our adoption community.
So back to this couple. They have completed 2 hours of training. That's it. Where do we get these hours? they asked. We told them about the upcoming conference on connecting with children. Another woman near us chimed in about how awesome it was and I quickly forwarded them the email for signing up. "I should let you know," I said. "The material is straight psychology, but it is religious in nature as there is a prayer and worship service at the beginning of each day. " That didn't matter to them, but the woman who had chimed in asked me why that matters? "Because not everyone is religious and some people may be uncomfortable with it," I said. She looked a bit confused, but agreed that there was no mention of the prayer and worship in any of the material. She then tells me that she actually knows the organizers and perhaps that should be added. "Yes. They should probably let people know that. Give people an option of coming later if it makes them uncomfortable or just acknowledging that not everyone who is invited is religious." She nodded before turning around and writing something in her notebook.
Let's be honest here. There are only a few reasons why a Christian psychologist who writes material that is purely evidence based would not tell people that their yearly conference has a Christian prayer and worship service.
1. They are attempting a weak (and lazy) form of prothelitizing.
2. They assume that everyone who is coming to their conference is Christian and their particular brand of Christianity at that.
3. They know that not everyone attending will be Christian, but can't imaging not worshipping their deity in some way and other people be damned.
4. They see the worship and prayer as an act of defiance against perceived persecution.
Now, having grown up around these people and I think it is probably a combination of all four. They can't imagine not having a worship service, but do assume that people who are attending are more than likely Christian. And if they aren't, then they should just get over it because they will not be silences. If a bit of prothelitizing happens while they are there, then that is seen as good thing. Of course, all the scenarios are also incredibly presumptive and self-serving. They don't respect other people, not even other Christians. Based on last year I would say these people probably attend some kind of non-denominational Evangelical mega-church. They are therefore not being very welcoming of Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Quakers, Episcopalians, etc. It's rude and presumptive and yes, something that should be somewhere in the literature about the event.
Better yet...just stop. Stop with the prayer and worship service. Focus on the evidence based approaches that have been shown to work. Don't assume who your audience is. Make it more inclusive so that you can help more kids.
In an article published on Faith it, the author (obviously still a Christian) talks to the church as a whole about why Millennials (aka young people under the age of 35) are leaving the church in such drastic numbers. At no point in the article does he address faith or loss of faith, theology, or denominations. His whole shtick is that young adults today want clarity, outreach focus, genuine relationships, and mentorship. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Of course, if you scroll down to the comments section it is full of Christians saying that the church doesn't have to change, that the church has always been the same and that it shouldn't conform to "the world", which misses the point of the article completely. These young adults aren't asking for the religion to change. There isn't even mention of things like homosexuality, sex before marriage, or divorce. It is asking the church to hold to the values and tenants of the faith they adhere to. Of course, none of the things he listed would have kept me in the church once I lost my faith, but this author makes a lot of really good points. Points that the older generation really doesn't understand and they are losing an entire generation of people. In my mind, this is good. It also causes problems because people aren't being challenged in their faith and so you end up in this weird world where people believe in a god, but in a non-defined way that allows for "spirituality". I have a number of these so-called spiritual friends and it really isn't any better than organized religion, except they are usually less judgmental and aren't picketing Planned Parenthood. They are still illogical and still think you are nuts for not believing in a god.
This made me think though. The author of the article clearly states what the church needs to do in order to draw in younger people. And obviously the older people aren't getting it. So here's a list of my own. One for the older crowd.
Ten things the church should keep doing in order to lose more young people and hopefully create more agnostics and atheists:
1. Keep the leadership older. One of the churches I used to attend stated that you had to be 35 and married in order to be on the church board and it was fairly common for couples to be on the board together. Single and 24? Forget about ever being invited to a board meeting. Your voice didn't matter. Many of these dying churches seem to be run by pastors who have been doing this for forty years and refuse to step down and even if they do, the older generation complains about everything the new pastor does. There are horribly vicious stories out there of old people ruining the lives of their young pastors simply because they want to be in control. You walk into the building and it is a sea of white and gray hair, and from their dentured mouths they spew their hatred of "modern culture", young people, and leggings. Who wants to attend a church where you are being judged the minute you walk through the door?
2. Keep finances opaque. I have attended churches that have been the full spectrum of open and closed when it came to finances. One church had a monthly meeting and quite literally broke everything down to the dollar. I knew how much our electricity bill was. Another church I went to though became angry when I asked at a members meeting if some of our resources were going into an account to be used by members who may be struggling financially. The Pauline believers in the New Testament clearly believed that taking care of those within their own community was very important. I was told that it was none of my business and they did not discuss such things with members. Also, I should trust that the board and pastor had integrity and would allocate money properly. As you can imagine...I didn't stay there long. As much as the older generation thinks we should just trust these pastors and church board members, the truth is young people read and we know that these people need to be held accountable. Pastors steal money. People get paid far more or less than they should. One church I went to paid all their musicians, people hired from outside the church, but if you were a member who volunteered for the worship team...you didn't get paid. That bothers me. It bothers a lot of people. I do my research when giving to charities to make sure that my money is actually going to the cause I am donating too. Why shouldn't people get that from their church? And why would you go to a church that is obviously not allocating their funds in any good way. Waterfalls in the foyer, coffee bars in the lobby, strobe lights and a fog machine...meanwhile some of your own members are struggling to pay rent this month. Not to mention, there are children starving in your city.
3. Keep ministries and outreach insular. "So what kind of outreach does your church have?" I asked a new church that I was visiting. They had a fancy building, a room dedicated to greeting visitors, and a bookshop. "Oh we have children's church, a young adult Bible study, a women's group called Tulips..." You get the picture. None. None of these things were actually outreach. Everything was geared towards the people who were already in the church and no energy was spent on helping those outside. Sure, they probably did a fundraiser once a year around Christmas, but that seems to be the extent of it. Young people aren't idiots. They read their Bibles too. And their Bible says they should be helping "the least of these". Well-fed kids in children's church and college students struggling with group think don't really fit the bill. Why join a church that's doing nothing? Might as well spend your Sunday mornings volunteering somewhere, mentoring a kid, visiting the elderly, helping the disenfranchised learn about something you are experienced in. It's a far better use of their time and dare I say, it makes them more Christian.
4. Keep groups segregated. Gender and age are the biggest divides in the church. Instead of matching people up with similar interests, instead we divide them into to the different "life stages" and genders. Youth group, college group, 20's group, 30's group, parents of young children, mommy groups, women's ministry, men's early morning prayer. For years I was stuck in these groups and can tell you that I made absolutely zero lasting friendships. I was interested in volunteering and traveling, but instead I would end up in a Bible study with other twenty somethings who had decided to read whatever the newest Christian bestseller was. Nevermind that those groups were so stereotypically tied into gender roles and societal expectations about age. Women's group activities centered around princesses, nails, hair, and being good wives/future wives. In my twenties, most of the groups felt like a bad version of Christian mingle. They were even separated out, single twenties and married twenties, at one church. Outside the church, the world doesn't work that way. I have friends older than my parents. I am friends with people still in college. Some of my friendships are with those of the opposite sex. I like it that way. Those friendships have more depth and weight than anything built behind church walls. Other young people are noticing that too.
5. Ignore science. Young earth creationism is still a thing, but with the advent of the internet, more and more young people are beginning to abandon their literal interpretations of the Bible. Not all, of course. My brother and sister-in-law are fully indoctrinated and attempting to fully indoctrinate my nieces and nephews. However, these students are studying science in school and then going to church and being told that all of it is a conspiracy theory sent by the devil to turn them away from God. And those young people are asking themselves why they can't understand science and also believe in a god. Some of those young people are in STEM programs. Would you continue to attend church when you are being told by the church that you, this good Godly person, are actually secretly undermining god and withholding the cure for cancer?
6. Blame young people for the coming apocalypse. Everyone likes to shit on the younger generation. It's a national pastime. Kids these days are just fucking it up for everybody. In the church, they take it a step further by suggesting that the apocalypse is coming faster and you can tell because...yoga pants and Harry Potter? Obviously, this younger generation has fallen so far from god that they are the reason things have gotten so bad. Of course, in their minds the apocalypse is inevitable, but it doesn't matter. Each generation is ushering in the end times with whatever new thing the older generation disproves of. And young people are tired of it. They are tired of being told about the end times that never comes. They are tired of being told that it's because of the way they dress, the craft beers they drink, the music they listen to, or the fact that they read other things besides the Bible. Keep telling them they are the reason the world will end...and watch them walk out the door and not come back.
7. Don't be a part of your community. I live in the Bible belt. There are quite literally 27 churches within 1 square mile of where I am sitting right now. There are four within walking distance of my apartment complex. Yet, I have never seen any kind of community event at any of those churches nor have they ever come to my neighborhood. And I don't mean to prothelitize. No community service, no active involvement, no neighborhood clean ups, nothing. If those churches shuttered their doors tomorrow, I don't think anyone from the community would notice or care. If you can shut the doors of your church and the only people it impacts are those who regularly attended, that's a problem. But don't you change church. Not one bit. Those Millennials will just have to deal with your lack of involvement or get out.
8. Don't listen. A thirty-year-old is a grown adult. Some have a spouse and children by then. Many are just starting their careers, buying homes, starting to travel. Others are single, but have begun saving for retirement. Some are immature and are just beginning to find their footing in the world of adulthood, after partying it up in their twenties. But all of them are adults, with voices, ideas, and opinions. And most are ignored by those running things in the church. I was twenty-eight when I traveled on a missions trip to the Dominican Republic. Before the trip, I told my group leaders that I spoke conversational Spanish and could help out sometimes with translating. I was never taken up on this offer. During the trip, during daily debriefings, I told my group numerous conversations I had with the locals (in Spanish) about daily life, food, marriage, and books. It wasn't until the last day of our trip, when our waitress spoke not a lick of English and I ended up ordering everyone's food for them, that someone said, "I didn't realize you spoke Spanish." That someone was an older gentleman and also the leader of our group. I was flabbergasted. This was the ultimate in feeling like you don't have a voice. Why had no one listened to me? Then I thought back over my decade of being an adult in the church and I realized that no one had ever really listened to me. And they weren't listening to my friends either. And I never dealt with that level of disrespect outside of the church. It was eye opening. I'm not the only one who has noticed either.
9. Continue to be a source of hypocrisy. I used to be so offended at being called a hypocrite, because I was super Christian. Pious to the core. Yet, I wasn't blind to the fact that we had religious leaders doing the very opposite of what they preached. As time went on I also began to suspect that due to the nature of non-denominational churches and a reluctance to speak against churches, there were probably a ton of cases that were just swept under the rug. As the writer of the article states, young people want genuine connection and genuine people. No, it isn't enough to say things like "everyone is a sinner" and "I'm not perfect. Only perfect in Christ". The problem isn't that anyone expects Christians to be perfect, but if your faith says that you are supposed to love your neighbor as yourself and then you preach from the pulpit about how much you hate homosexuals, or worse get caught in a homosexual relationship after preaching against it, people notice. My mother almost aborted me when she first discovered she was pregnant. Honestly, I would on an intellectual level, have understood if she had gone through with it. I'm glad I am here, but I certainly wouldn't have blamed her. Despite being in that desperate situation though, my mother is now so anti-abortion as to believe any woman who has had an abortion deserves to be jailed and executed for first-degree murder. That's a hypocrite and it is disgusting. There is no compassion or understanding, just a twisted sense of righteousness and pure hatred.
10. Don't give them a place to doubt or question. In the church I grew up in, studying Biblical archaeology and understanding apologetics were seen as extremely important parts of your Christian walk. But these were things to boost your knowledge of the Bible. Doubting it was a big no no. Questioning why God condoned slavery or whether David was really a Godly man were not tolerated. Questioning certain tenants of doctrine were also condemned, like wondering if there really was a hell. Those who strayed were preached about from the pulpit and prayed for in gossip prayer circles. Now, I was the kind of person who just kept going to church amidst my doubts because I had been reassured through years of indoctrination that if you felt far from God and just stuck it out, eventually you would have some divine revelation and all would be right with the world. Most young people I know left though. One of the more freeing experiences I had was in an apologetics class taught by a philosophy PhD student at MIT who admitted that on a good day he believed in a god about 90% and on a bad day, about 10%. I was twenty-five and this was the first person who admitted out loud in a church that not only did they have doubts, but they had them all the time, to the point where they could never say they believed 100%. This was the first Christian I met who I felt was being intellectually honest about it, in a way that none of the fervent believers of the past ever had. He is an anomaly.
I know what you are thinking. Why give these pointers? Why tell the church what they are doing wrong? Because it doesn't matter. They aren't listening. The minority of churches out there who are getting it right just aren't popular or big enough to rejuvenate the faith of an entire generation. All the flashing lights in the world won't replace genuine relationships and honesty. Most Christians want an easy religion, not one that actually requires them to go outside the safe comforts of their church walls and homes and actually do the things their religion asks of them. The baby boomers and Gen X'ers have no interest in changing the church. At this point they are just hoping that once the Millennials have settled down a bit, built families, get older, they will come running back to the church. I hope that never happens. I hope, just like in many European countries, our churches begin to shutter their doors and the beautiful cathedrals become nothing more than museums.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.