Every two years, Mennonite Church USA holds a convention; a week of workshops, worship, and conferences. While I was in high school, I attended Convention in both Phoenix and Kansas City. I can recall both weeks vividly, and I still have my notes from the services and seminars. I remember thinking to myself, “This is the hope I have for the church.”
But leaving Convention at the end of the week meant leaving the bubble of hopeful religion, to confront the reality that has been slowly entering my awareness over the past few years. The church is broken. And no one is really sure what to do about it.
Harmful Christianity has been a hot topic recently, with more and more discussion about hidden abuse in the church, harmful fundamentalist teachings, and blatant hypocrisy. Christianity has a pretty bad rap right now in a lot of contexts, and it’s enough for me, and for a lot of other young people who have been raised in the church, to ask: What do we really believe? And if we believe what Christianity is teaching, what do we do when those teachings aren’t being put into action?
I read an interesting article from this site a few weeks ago, and this quote stuck out to me:
“The purveyors of religion insist that their product is so powerful it can transform a life, but somehow, magically, it has no risks. In reality, when a medicine is powerful, it usually has the potential to be toxic, especially in the wrong combination or at the wrong dose. And religion is powerful medicine!”
It’s become very important to me to examine Christianity from both an insider and outsider perspective. I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately and even googled direct questions such as, “how is Christianity harmful?” That gave me a lot of interesting results. I’ve also engaged in conversations with followers of Islam, Buddhism, and those who do not follow a religion. All religion, and institutions in general can be corrupted, and can become harmful under the wrong circumstances so my intent is not to bash religion, but to be honest with myself and with others.
The Christian church has a lot of work to do. Not just in the world, but within itself.
I have said it before, and I will say it again, that the encounters I have had with God have been more numerous outside of the church than within. And I think there is something profound in that for me; that being a Christian is all about human connection. Isaiah 58 is a really awesome Biblical passage about tradition versus action. There is a lot to be said for the sacredness of tradition, for the weight it carries. But if Christians believe that the Bible is a living and relevant literary work, then there has to be space for change, for the context our world has now. For grace. For open conversation.
I flip back and forth between deep despair, and peculiarly strong hope for the church. I am in a place where God and I are good, but religion and I are not. For the past 2 years, I have been actively trying to figure this out for myself, to try and decide what happens next. My greatest consolation is that I am not alone in this. Even within my uncertainty and cynicism, I find hope in knowing that others are grappling with these questions too. And I find hope in that fact that I care. I care very much about the church. I am not willing to walk away without a fight.
Perhaps the conversation in churches should not be so much about defining what is right and what is wrong, but rather how we can receive each other, wherever we may be coming from. To practice being less defensive. To be more willing to open our clenched fists and release the tense breaths we have been collectively holding. To encourage questions, and encourage doubt because that eventually creates Christians who know what they believe and why they believe it.
I don’t want my blog to become an exclusive conversation. I try to be very mindful of this. An unwillingness to listen to other people rarely discriminates based on the beliefs. This applies to both liberals and conservatives. And so, I am trying hard to make sure that my personal convictions do not crowd out space for other people to talk.
This is my prayer for the church as well. I want the church to engage in the hard conversations. I want people to be conflicted, and confused, but willing to listen. We can’t shout at each other from our comfort zone convictions and expect good reception. We shouldn’t shut down the voices we aren’t comfortable hearing. And that’s all I’m asking for right now. For people to listen. Myself included. To really listen. Not to listen with the intent to reply, to advise, to argue, or to counsel. But to just listen.
I am sending my prayers to MCUSA Convention in Orlando, Florida this week. I am diligently hoping for open hearts and the willingness for people to listen.
And in our never ending quest to seek answers, perhaps that is the universal one.