Christians, I understand your panic. As you see numbers drop in church attendance and fewer and fewer people self-identify as Christian, you fear the flames of Christ are being snuffed out by idolatry and ignorance and you frantically search for reasons as to why anyone would leave the church and its savior. There has been no shortage of articles trying to explain why people are leaving:
You’ve got to stop this; you’ve got to stop trying to explain away why people are leaving the church in droves.
First of all, every single article is presumptive. They assume that the growing “Nones” and “Dones” are leaving for superficial reasons like bad church music or just not understanding Christian Lingo. Frankly, there’s no easy way to explain why people are leaving because everyone leaves for different, deeply personal reasons. These assumptions portray millennials as entertainment junkies willing to abandon a church if it doesn’t have three guitars and at least two fog machines, that or woefully ignorant people who won’t take ten minutes to learn the terminology of the church.
Please, for the love of God, stop assuming you know why the Nones or Dones leave the church better than they do. Stop assuming it has something to do with the superficial. Stop assuming these leavers have never delved into scripture. Many are well read in scripture and church history, I know I am. I’ve personally read the Bible no fewer than eight times, each time with the fervor of a devout woman trying desperately to know her creator, and I still left.
Unfortunately, these assumptions and articles treat non-believers and former Christians as goalposts, not human beings. When one leaves Christianity, it often feels like we’re no longer people to our friends and family who still believe. After we leave the faith, people often act like we’ve met out creator and savior, spat in his face, and walked away to pursue something sinful and dirty. I don’t think people who try to reconvert former Christians are evil, far from it. I understand that their attempts to save me are truly kind; they believe in eternity and want me to join them in the happy half of forever. However this completely ignores the non-believers choices, and the evangelist assumes that we haven’t thought our unbelief out. We’re often treated like we’re wandering aimlessly and just need redirecting to the cross.
I saw the cross, I saw what it stood for, I saw the religion and the relationship, and I still rejected it. I live a moral life, give to charity, and attempt to live a life of kindness and love, but all of those things are ignored since I don’t have Jesus. In many ways, that terrifies me. It makes me feel like I would be considered better as a child molester who is saved than a decent person without Jesus.
Ex-Christians face the special criticism from our former brethren. We’re often told we never truly believed and were never truly saved. On the other side, some say that we were saved once, so our unbelief is a temporary distraction (which, admittedly, it sometimes is) and we are incapable of escaping Christ’s love.
Articles upon articles take it upon themselves to explain how anyone could possibly walk away from religion, but they rarely go deep. They rarely address the problems individuals have with theology, they rarely address the issues of church politics and corruption in the church. They don’t address the people who leave because they see evil in the church and can’t allow themselves to be associated with it.
Unfortunately, these criticisms are often met with: “Oh, you can’t leave because of bad people! People are flawed but Christ is perfect!” or “If the theology challenges your belief system, perhaps you should take a sharper look at your belief system.” These completely ignore the fact that people are actually struggling, people actually have strong issues. The church is nothing without its people; if a person looks at the church and sees almost exclusively bad people, why would they want to stay? Why would they want to be part of the body of Christ if that body is filled with people who do horrible things? I’ve been told Christ is bigger than that, better than that, but I can’t force myself to believe Christ’s all-redemptive, all-transformative power is at work when I look at the people who represent Christianity.
Church leaders who actively try and suppress gay rights, evangelists who go abroad and encourage legislation that punishes homosexuality with the death penalty, Christians who bomb abortion clinics, Christians who protest funerals, Christians who openly mock transgender individuals.
No more. No “those aren’t RealChristians™.” They accept and worship the same Christ as any other Christian.
The reasons to leave the church are innumerable and reasons to leave can’t be narrowed down to a list. We can’t be narrowed down to an easily explained list with easily fixable problems. Many leave because of things that can’t change: doctrine, church culture, problems with scripture. As Neil Carter explains, “It’s Not Just the Messengers, It’s the Message, Too”
I hope that those in a panic can find some peace and coexistence with those who’ve left the church, but until the relationship moves beyond a hunter-prey situation with evangelicals on the hunt for potential converts, peace and reconciliation will be difficult.