Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 2
I’m in a bar with a friend who says with a detached resignation, “I wish I still had the faith of a child.” She had spent the last hour detailing a legacy of church hurt simultaneously heart wrenching and banal. Her story is one of hundreds I’ve heard. Being a queer Christian has forced me into these conversations regularly.
Christian Nationalists want to convince you that the reason the world is broken, the reason so many people are devoid of Christ’s influence and authority is because of what curriculum schools are indoctrinating children with. They want to convince you that a certain political party, news media, or TV show are brainwashing goodhearted children to leave the faith. As a person who is friends predominately with atheists and agnostics, the vast majority of whom grew up in the church, I have heard more stories than I can fit in my memory about people’s reasons for leaving the church. I can think of only two or three of those that left because they found Christian virtues boring and restrictive.
Here’s a drop in the bucket of the other stories I’ve heard of why people left the faith:
A woman who told me her last day in church was two days after she had an abortion. Her priest told her that because she went through with the appointment, she was no longer welcome.
A woman who came out as a lesbian and could attend church but could no longer come up and receive communion.
A girl who relapsed on cocaine and, when she asked her youth pastor for help, he told her youth group friends they could no longer hang out with her because bad company corrupts good.
A girl who told her youth group friends and youth group leader that she had doubts about the authenticity of the Bible who said they would “pray for her to stop asking questions.”
A man fired from his job as a worship pastor because he said he thought the story of Noah on the Arc was an allegory instead of a historical event.
A boy who was sexually assaulted by a worship pastor.
A girl who heard the story of a Holocaust prisoner writing on the jail wall, “If there is a God, He will have to beg for my forgiveness.”
Do these stories sound like people who were lured away from religion by the evils of the world? Depending on your political and theological dispositions, I can see an argument forming. They got an abortion, chose to be gay, gave into temptation towards an addiction, heard and believed the devil’s lies about scripture. I can go there with you if that’s a more comfortable space to inhabit. Okay, the world corrupted these people so we need to legislate against abortions, homosexuality, drugs in order to protect and strengthen the faith. Let’s revisit what our original question was though: why did these people leave the church?
My friend who had an abortion came to church on Sunday. My friend who broke her sober streak came to Wednesday night youth group. My friend who had questions about how to reconcile scripture with what she knew about the world raised the question to her religious friends.
It was not the decision or the doubt that broke their faith; it was the response of the Church to their humanity that caused them to flee.
Christian Nationalists want you to believe that the biggest and most fervent danger to the continuation of the faith is outside the church. They certainly have a bulk of evidence on their side. The first chapters of the Bible extoll the evils of the world (Genesis 6:5) and both Paul and John the Evangelist caution against the temptation of the world (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:16). The world is full of danger and falsehoods and I, a sinner, am not going to pretend like it isn’t.
But let us be clear on who killed Jesus the Christ: the Romans may have nailed him to the cross, but the religious leaders were the ones who funded his execution by paying Judas. The religious leaders found Jesus crass and dangerous; the government found him threatening. Christian Nationalists only want you to focus on the dangers of the world, but they have no interest in protecting Jesus either.
Let’s revisit my friend in the bar mourning the loss of her childhood faith. Immediately, I was reminded of the children who run to Jesus for healing in Mark 10 who are stopped by the group of people who should have known deepest the desires of Christ: his disciples. How does Jesus respond to them? He rebukes them: “Don’t keep them away. God’s kingdom belongs to people like them.”
If the voices you are listening to are more concerned with the limits of grace and the enforcement of legalism, and are not concerned with throwing up the arms of Jesus, don’t listen to or believe them.