Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dating Jesus (part three)

At the Christan Scholars conference I heard a very interesting presentation from Pat Keifert about the strengths, weaknesses, and trends in the churches of Christ. Keifert, a professor Luther Seminary in St. Paul, is the president of Church Innovations, an organization that provides research and consulting tools, products and processes that increase your church’s capacities to experience God’s renewal and transformation.

Keifert's presentation was really interesting on a number of fronts, but one of the things he discussed was what factors contributed to people leaving the church of Christ in the past 10 years. He divided people who leave the church into 2 groups- people who leave for another religious group and people who leave and no longer attend church at all. Among those that left the church of Christ in the past 10 years and no longer attend church anywhere, 90% say that among their top 3 reasons for leaving was the restrictions placed on women's role in the church.

Susan Campbell, author of Dating Jesus, was in that number. She writes extensively about her decision to leave the church because of the blatant sexism prevalent in the tradition and how much it pains her to give up the traditions of her childhood faith.

Many years after she stopped attending church, Campbell attended a Christian Church while visiting her brother and his family on vacation. She describes her realization about how much her fundamentalist roots have affected her. She writes:

This is an alternate universe, and the thing that is killing me is that so many of these casually dressed people seem so sure of themselves and their faith and their God. They look happy... They have this giddy joy about them that I don't recognize, and as soon as I realize that, I feel like a bat in a butterfly box. Like a tongue goes to a sore tooth, I can't stop worrying the thought. I know I am mean and judgmental, but that religion doesn't seem real to me if they all feel so damn happy about it. I don't feel happiness. My God is not smiling. My God is pissed.

Ah Christ, I'm going to cry during yet another song service,only I'm not crying because I'm moved by the possibility and the unrealized potential of my own faith. I'm crying because it's hopeless- isn't it?- to regain something you never had. My brother leans in again and says something that makes me sit down, fast:

"Fundamentalism broke off in us, didn't it?"

She goes on to describe how fundamentalism broke of on her and her brothers like a sword, and she fears that she may never heal from the wound. This part of the book made me so grateful for the church family I grew up in, who is less legalistic (at least in comparison to some), and tries to live life by the Spirit. But I thought of my sweet mother, who grew up in a very fundamentalist church and home. Over the years she has stood out in her family as the liberal, and part of her delights in that, but part of her is scared to death. My mother is a great woman. She loves God, she loves her husband and her family, she loves the children she teaches (yes, every single one in the past 32 years- roughly 750 children). She lives a generous life, constantly giving of herself. I just don't care if she isn't right all the time when it comes to interpreting scriptures or making the exact right choices. She is far more dedicated to doing right than being right. I pray that the church would learn to be more like that. Maybe then we wouldn't leave our children feeling as if they have been fatally wounded but rather eternally loved.

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