Passenger planes are inhumane.
It begins when you are queued, ticketed, inspected, and partially undressed while making your way to the gate. Then you are herded single-file into a tube where everything you hold dear is squeezed and belted into a numbered space. Eventually you’re hermetically sealed inside the plane with an unnaturally high density of complete strangers.
Sitting there, it feels like you’re in a documentary – one of those exposés about the horrors of meat-packing plants. Except in this case the vegans aren’t filming the terrible conditions, they are sitting beside you wearing headphones.
At this point a reassuring voice fills the cabin with flight details and important safety information “…in the unlikely event there is an emergency”. The only words I actually pay attention to are, “There are six emergency exits on this aircraft. Take a minute to locate the exit closest to you.” You bet I will.
Emergency exits are for emergency exiting
People have been shuffling to the exits for years now – church exits, that is. According to multiple polls in recent years (Gallup, Barna, PEW) the exiting has become a fervent, immutable stream.
For the first time since records have been kept (80+ years), the number (of Americans) who identify with a religious tradition has dipped below 50%. It was 70% as recently as 1999. These days, 47% identify with a faith group, meaning 53% are ‘nones’ – not even a distant religious connection.¹ These numbers are descending in every age category.
The general population is increasingly distanced from christianity largely because they don’t like what they see and hear. But evangelicals themselves are walking away too.
Self-identified evangelicals who rarely or never attend church has increased to 26.7%.
There are a variety of reasons for this – shifting lifestyles and demographics – but a common theme is that good people are becoming exhausted with the business, politics, and dogma of evangelicalism. The shallowness of many church communities is slowly wearing down the faithful, pushing them toward the exits.
we aren’t family
Someone told me recently that she had been sharing coffee with christian friends when the conversation came around to Covid-19 vaccinations. To her surprise she realized she was the only one in the group planning to be vaccinated. One of the others was undecided but the rest began to share their skepticism by repeating conspiracy theories.
As I listened to her, it was evident that ‘the lone vaccinator’ was both frustrated and confused. She even began to doubt herself since she seemed to be the outsider in this unusual thinking. How could otherwise nice, christian people believe such bizarre information and share it so shamelessly? (According to PEW Research, 45% of evangelicals say they will not get the Covid-19 vaccine.) ²
The experience left her a bit isolated and uncertain. Something about the christianity she witnessed that day didn’t sit right; it didn’t feel like the christianity she knew in her heart.
She’s not alone.
Evangelicals have been leading the charge against lots more issues than vaccines, however. Catholic and mainline churches have their share of crusaders too, but it’s evangelicals who have raised the stakes with their larger platform and their shrill feud with science and secularism.
The radicals show an alarming tendency to be gullible and narrow, which speaks to a lack of spiritual intuition and vibrancy in their lives. They are a minority, but they are so relentless and shameless that their nonsense is driving rational people away.
But that is not the full answer. The ugly truth is that many evangelicals aren’t fooled, they simply prefer false teaching over good doctrine. It is the age-old problem, really – the selfish desires of our hearts are more palatable than the hard truths of Jesus.
Let’s be honest, evangelicalism has a problem. Many outsiders aren’t attracted and many insiders are searching for the exits.
warning: may contain a true statement
I have been hearing more and more from others like The Lone Vaccinator who are surprised and discouraged at the gall of their whiny, uptight brothers and sisters. There are other factors too: marketing, busyness, politics, and cheap theology in churches have served to drain people rather than fill them. It would be tolerable if it didn’t matter, but it does.
Here is a true statement: there are christian people who love Jesus too much to continue to be associated with evangelicalism.
Perhaps you are one of them, and the quarrelling, uncharitable voices are pushing you toward an exit. That’s fine, who could blame you for your ‘righteous anger’? Of course we feel frustration when our faith is being brutalized. Just don’t become like those you are looking to escape from; don’t let them poison the purity of your relationships with Jesus or the ones he loves.
But guess what? This is also where we find hope. As it turns out, people are interested in the story of Jesus because it is so new to those with no religious affiliation. And they are especially receptive when it comes from someone who is a good, loving friend. That’s where you and I come in.
The message of the gospel has never been for the affluent, judgemental, or religious, and it has never been about rules, issues, or getting it right. Instead, we are reminded again that christianity has always been for the innocent, the hurting, the hungry; for anyone humble enough to embrace the freedom of a patient, loving God.
the section where I trick you into doing some homework
Take a moment to find a bible and read the parable Jesus told about the Lost/Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
Perhaps you have always thought of yourself as that wayward, sinful child who left and them returned home to the father. That’s good. But the story is equally about the older child who stays home and judges everyone else with his own standards.
Consider the opposing themes:
One is open to change. The other refuses to change.
One is uncertain and realizes he is helpless. The other is confident and believes he is safe.
One thankfully accepts forgiveness. The other angrily demands justice.
One is found by embracing grace. The other is lost by avoiding grace.
The story ends without resolution and we are left with the strong impression that the older son continued to live in a prison of expectation and judgement.
Do you see it? Jesus turns the tables on what we assume about God. This story is about the orientation of our hearts, but it is also about the orientation of the church. One of these characters is joyful and represents the hope of the church, the other character is sour and represents the death of it.
Whether you choose to exit or don’t choose to exit, just follow Jesus. There is a big world out there that needs us to be loving and true.
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² Interesting sidelight: you know how evangelicals love Israel? Well, increasing numbers of them want to travel there because pandemics, gun control, vaccine passports (Mark of the Beast), and liberal-leaning governments, mean the Rapture is almost here. Problem is, Israel has tightened their borders during the pandemic and its citizens are nearly 100% vaccinated. So, what will all these christian tourist/pilgrims do?