American teenagers and young adults are leaving churches in droves, and more and more of them are identifying as "non-religious." It's inescapable. A few days ago, for example, I watched this clip on Daily of the Day...
...and it got me almost-crying as I envisioned a world where all of the sudden, the hate just stopped.
But then I saw the following comment below that video...
"If there were no hate there wouldn't be a Nobel Price for peace (no need), Al-Qaeda, bullying, nor any question about LGBT equality. There also wouldn't be (sorry for this) religion of any kind"
...and it got me thinking about the words of Lennon's song, in which he imagined an end to hate in conjunction with an end to religion -- perhaps most specifically the Christian religion.
It made me sad. Not because I don't like the song (I do) and not because people haven't done a lot of ugly things in the name of Christ (they have), but because when I hear people talking like that, I can't help but see the Christ-Baby go whooshing out with the bathwater.
I know I write a lot on here about problems I see with the way the Christian Church in North America conducts itself -- things like this list I found today on Jen Hatmaker's Blog:
- Emphasis on morality and voting records to the exclusion of weightier matters like justice and transformation
- A suspicious amalgamation of the American Dream and Armed Forces
- A me-and-mine stance as opposed to you-and-yours
- Persistent defensive posture, treating unchurched or dechurched people like enemies instead of future brothers and sisters in Christ
- Narrow talking points that slice and wound and slash; principles over people
- A boring religion of behaving instead of an adventurous life of true discipleship
- An unreasonable opposition to science
- Arrogance over humility, using the Bible as a bludgeon instead of a balm
Hopefully, they know that this is not my intention. Hopefully, they know that I write the things I do because I love them, and believe the Christian Church could be something so much more than it has historically been.
I think they do know this.
In fact, it has been my experience that most Christians are not usually the sort of people who circle the wagons and start shooting napalm the moment they feel threatened. They may re-post obnoxious, ill-considered links on Facebook, but they're more likely to be saddened than angered by perceived attacks on their faith. They're not the sort of people who'll come after you with baseball bats and highly-trained swarms of bees.
Most Christian people that I have known want to love, and love well. And they do, a lot of the time.
(Like most I've known who aren't Christians -- but that's another story)
They also screw up, listen to the wrong people, and allow ugly lies to go un-challenged. Because they're human. And humans live confusing, difficult lives. How's that quote from Plato go?
"Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
And in this hard battle, it is always tempting to take short cuts. To do what's convenient. To strip complicated issues of nuance, draw battle lines, and allow fear to drive the conversation.
My writing is, I hope, an attempt to fight against that with the people I've been raised among -- the people who, as exasperating as I may sometimes find some of their points of view, are still my people. So today, I want to take a moment to affirm what I have experienced so many times from so many who have carried the banner of Jesus, and that is LOVE. Imperfect love, but love nonetheless.
Yes, people calling themselves Christians have time and time again participated in violence, racism, sexism, and the oppression of the weak.
But these are just the noisy ones -- the ones who've succumbed a little too much to the awful allure of the Ring of Power.
The work of Love is usually much quieter... often even a whisper. It is Mother Theresa and Bishop Romero and Dorothy Day, yes, but it is also a pot of soup to a sick friend. It is a kind word, a gentle prayer, a cheek turned.
While I deplore the narrative that attempts to paint Protestant, North American Christians as a beleaguered and oppressed minority, fighting for its life against the Evil-Bad Gay-Liberal-Aborting-Communist-Muslim Menace, I am also just as upset and saddened by those who would paint Christians with the ridiculously-broad strokes of their own sort of bigotry.
Religion is not the problem.
Religion is just one more system that people have invented to try to make sense of their often nonsensical lives, and of the Big Questions that no one ever really fully answers. The scary battle of life is only understandable through some sort of lens, and religion offers a lens rich with beauty and significance. As such, religion has power... the sort of power that is oh-so-compelling to the ugliest and worst in human nature. The sort of power that will always seduce the evil in human hearts to rise up and crush the powerless.
Fight the Power!
Fight it with your bare, bleeding knuckles. Fight it with your teeth. Fight it with Grace and the Humility to recognize that you, too, are often in its thrall.
But in doing so, never forget that somewhere deep down inside of your own anger and fear and power-lust and hatred is a still, small voice, calling out for Love.
And guess what...?