A lament

For the most part, I try to avoid politics in my journal. It isn’t that I don’t participate in politics. I do. I have political opinions and I vote. I comment privately about the lives of politicians and those who are close to me are well aware of my political preferences. However, I see my role in the community as one who brings people together and politics can be so divisive. It is difficult in our contemporary situation to engage in honest conversation without alienating those who disagree. There is such a rampant rush to the extremes that people struggle to be civil to one another. Friends who have a lot in common will come to shouting matches over topics such as the role of the NRA or the appropriate role of government in health care. I’m not one to promote shouting and division. I don’t want to alienate those who have different opinions than mine.

So in advance, please note that today’s journal entry is not advice on how you should vote or what you should believe. It is a lament. It does, as do the historic laments in the Bible, mention leaders by name. We all share in the actions of our leaders. In a representative democracy, even though we might not have voted for those who hold office, they represent all of us and we all participate in the society that sometimes brings grief. Please don’t take offense at my words. They are not intended to wound or attack, only to express grief.

I am sad that church leaders are contributing so heavily to the exodus of people from churches. It has been well documented that fewer and fewer people are participating in churches. This is especially true of adults under the age of 30. Roughly 40 percent of those people claim no connection to a religious congregation. The pollsters call them “nones.” If you have noticed a distinct lack of young adults in your church, you are not alone. We are all suffering from this phenomenon.

The problem is, in part, due to the words and behaviors of religious leaders. Much publicity has been given to sexual scandals and the abuse of power by religious leaders. Whenever a new scandal erupts it results in less faith in the church and more people who disassociate from religious institutions. It must bring a tear to the eye of God when religious leaders behave in such a despicable manner. But there is more to the story than these highly visible scandals.

Robert Putnam and David Campbell, in their landmark 2010 book, “American Grace,” found that the rise of the nones was driven by the increasing association of organized religion with conservative politics and a lean toward the right in culture wars. They see the church as right wing, judgmental, homophobic, and hypercritical. Those who have more tolerant and open views on homosexuality are more than twice as likely to be religious nones as their statistically similar peers with conservative or traditionalist views on homosexuality according the Putnam and Campbell.

Not all congregations are homophobic. However, we share the same bible, the same Christ and many of the same words with other congregations. And, when young adults reject one congregation they have a tendency to reject religion in general and shun all congregations. It isn’t just that young people are leaving the church. Religious leaders are driving them away.

Recently a young adult, who has no religious affiliation of which I know and who was speaking with me in a context removed from the church, commented to me about the behavior and the words of the President of the United States. He spoke of the President’s claim to be a born again Christian and his close ties with Christian evangelical leaders. The young man referred directly to the President’s words at a recent prayer breakfast about the power of religion. That same day, the President quoted Billy Graham in a tweet. I don’t follow the President’s twitter feed, so I missed it. My young companion noted that this show of religion was made on the same day that the President was forced to admit his lies on the Stormy Daniels payoff. He made a direct connection between the scandal and lies that surround the President and his participation in religious services. He sees such behavior as hypocritical and associates hypocrisy with everyone in the church. He did, graciously, say to me that I was different, which I appreciated.

Had he grown up in the church and studied the stories of our church, he would know that we have all kinds of hypocrisy in our heritage. He would have heard stories of leaders who abused their power and were embroiled in sexual scandal. King David stories are sufficient to make on blush. King Solomon was enough to make the people of God question the concept of having kings at all. The prophets pointed out the failures of human leaders and inspired centuries of movements for justice. the voices of Micah, Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah and Jesus ring through the centuries with direct attacks on those who possess political power. The church can be, and should be a place for those who seek justice.

Church and political leaders, however, have not been patient teachers of the whole of scripture. They have picked and chosen a few verses and proclaimed them as if they presented the whole truth. The words homosexual or homosexuality never appear in the bible. Not once. There is no word in Biblical Hebrew that refers to the concept. Some contemporary translations that are very loose do mention the word. Contemporary usage has connected the people of Sodom (Sodomites) with male homosexuality even those those people were condemned for a lack of hospitality. At best there might be a half dozen references to homosexual behavior in the bible. But there are those both within the church and without who think that the condemnation of homosexuality is a major biblical theme. And this is just one example of how church leaders misrepresent the faith in ways that drive people out of the church.

We need to confess our sins. We need to repent from our ways. We need to develop ways of reflecting the extravagant welcome that Jesus showed with his life where he reached out directly to those whom the society condemned. God must weep at the way some religious leaders twist the Gospel of love and acceptance into hypocritical rants that drive people away.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!