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Discovering Inclusivity Outside the Church

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Note: Feel free to skip ahead to the last section if you're short on time. Thanks a bunch for reading!

Searching for Community

For years, I grappled with the search for a church that truly resonated with me—a quest often referred to as "church shopping." This practice involves exploring different churches and religious communities until one discovers the perfect fit, driven by a variety of factors such as worship style, sermon quality, theological alignment, or geographical convenience.

 

Critics, often pastors, tend to dismiss this endeavor, viewing it as an attempt to shape the church to align with personal values. I understand their perspective, rooted in the belief that the church's principles should supersede individual and cultural values, promoting a conservative approach to worship—where one either conforms or doesn't, with no middle ground.

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The Great Exodus

Younger Christians, in particular, might find it challenging to connect with the churches attended by their parents. This is not surprising given that the median age of all Protestant churchgoers in the USA is 47, and the average age of pastors is 57. Alongside this older demographic, there often comes a set of conservative social views that newer generations may find difficult to accept and tolerate.

 

Consequently, younger individuals are increasingly opting for what has been termed the "great exodus" from traditional churches. Seeking acceptance and community elsewhere, some are turning away from religious institutions. While certain churches attempt to adjust their messaging to appeal to marginalized populations, these efforts can sometimes feel more like marketing ploys and image makeovers rather than genuine transformations.

 

To be clear, there are progressive Christians sincerely working to foster acceptance. Despite their earnest efforts, they face challenges in altering the fundamental message of the Bible, only adapting its interpretation. Unfortunately, these progressive churches often encounter scrutiny and criticism from more traditional counterparts, creating an environment that feels exclusive when compared to the broader Christian community.

 

Ironically, the departure of younger generations from the church bears a resemblance to the biblical exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Just as the Israelites' journey stemmed from disobedience and a lack of belief in God's promises, the younger generation's departure may be attributed to a sense of alienation and a disconnect from the church community. In both instances, there exists a deep-seated desire to belong to a community, hindered by various factors.

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Can The Church Be Progressive?

The question of whether the church can be progressive is a complex issue. Some argue that the fundamental principles of Christianity, such as forgiveness, redemption, and love, are compatible with a more progressive and restorative approach to justice. For example, there is a growing movement within Christianity that advocates for prison abolition and restorative justice.

 

On the other hand, some scholars have pointed out that certain interpretations of Christian theology, particularly those that emphasize punitive retribution, can be at odds with a more progressive approach to justice. For example, some have argued that the emphasis on punishment and retribution in certain Christian traditions may contribute to a more punitive attitude towards criminal justice.

 

Progressive interpretations of Christianity often clash with the foundational dichotomy of heaven and hell. While some progressive Christians perceive hell as a metaphor, others espouse a range of beliefs, including the concept of annihilationism. The persistence of the idea of hell, in any form, creates an inherent contradiction for progressive interpretations of Christianity, remaining at odds with the core tenets of the faith. Until there is a complete departure from the notion of hell, the progressive interpretation of Christianity will continue to diverge from the essential principles of the religion.

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Christians of Color Exiting Traditional Churches

The departure from institutionalized churches is not exclusive to white Christians; Christians of color are also disengaging from these establishments, but their narrative involves a resistance against racism and the far-right. Recent political events have empowered the evangelical right to express their racism more openly.

 

Despite leaving traditional churches, Christians of color often continue their faith journey in smaller congregations or more diverse groups. These tighter-knit communities play a crucial role for marginalized groups, offering a form of social capital that proves indispensable. The economic support and sense of community provided by these smaller groups outweigh the reasons to abandon them.

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The Urgency of Building Resilient Communities

As a social worker, I cannot overlook the vital role churches play in connecting people to various resources, including employment. Churches often act as a crucial safety net, preventing individuals from experiencing hunger or succumbing to social isolation. Working in a community resource center, I frequently rely on churches to go above and beyond to assist individuals.

 

However, what options are available outside of this framework? Apart from government and non-profit social services, the alternatives are limited. If you find yourself in desperate need of assistance but identify as agnostic or have had traumatic experiences with the church, you might feel trapped in a catch-22. While churches claim to be open to everyone, implicit biases and certain expectations persist when seeking support.

 

This underscores the importance of cultivating robust communities beyond the church. Whether through hobbyist groups or sports leagues, we need to establish inclusive communities that lack significant financial barriers or expectations to participate in tithing. These communities should be free from arbitrary moral policing, allowing individuals to thrive without judgment.

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Navigating the Path Ahead

In the moments just before my departure from Christianity, I found myself breaking down in my car, overwhelmed by the uncertainty of where to turn. The exclusive nature and cliquish dynamics in some churches, marked by social stratification based on class and race, added to the challenges. While leaving the church brought a sense of freedom, the quest for a supportive community persisted.

 

I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all my friends, volunteering groups, and other communities that have offered support and kind words to me throughout this year. You know who you are, and I hope this blog provides some context to my journey and underscores how much each of you means to me. If there's anything I can do to reciprocate the kindness and support you've shown me, please don't hesitate to let me know.

 

Let's actively contribute to the creation of a community characterized by nonjudgment and unconditional love. Building such communities is a gradual process, and what we initiate today will set in motion ripple effects, fostering lasting and positive change.

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