I’ve probably contributed to this column a dozen or more times since I’ve been a pastor in the St. Croix Valley. My target market has usually been the religious folk, for who else would read a column that commonly focuses on God, faith, 16th-century music, potluck suppers, and stale coffee?
But this week, I hope I’m wrong.This week, I hope that my readers include some of the “nones” in our midst.
Recent research from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has found that 20 percent of Americans, when asked their religious preference, respond “none.” And among the Millennials (those between 19 and 30 years of age) the nones comprise 32 percent. Curiously, a majority of the religiously unaffiliated both believe in God and think of themselves as religious or spiritual.
So where is the disconnect? Is it the church? That’s what I’m wondering about today.
There is no question that the reputation and authority of the church in America has been in decline in recent decades. We have come to be seen as hypocritical, power-hungry, judgmental, exclusive and too focused on money. We have all heard stories of people who have been wounded or disillusioned by what they have experienced in the church. For some, the rules are oppressive, for others, the expectations to be financially generous offends them. And for still others, mistreatment and even rejection has scarred them. Add to this a sentiment that the message of the church in the 21st century is irrelevant, the worship services are inconvenient and the music, unsingable. The conclusion to which they have come is this: “Who needs it? I’ll go it on my own.”
I get that. It seems to matter not that the role the church has played in this nation’s fabric is enormous. Christians are credited with creating the first hospitals, opening the earliest colleges and universities and advocating for the powerless and the poor in this country and the world.
All of these worthy endeavors have distinguished the Christian Church as being other-centered, empathetic and compassionate. We have done this, not because we are extraordinary people (we’re not), but because we are common people who have an extraordinary God. We believe that collectively we can accomplish more in the world than individually. Further, we recognize our own vulnerability, and believe that our sense of community helps us weather the storms that come.
However, our most telling quality is that we are broken people who have been given hope by the God of grace. That is the ultimate message of the church, and it is every bit as relevant today as any point in human history.
So, in my opinion, dear “Nones,” I think that’s what you’re missing. And I think we’re missing you; your presence, your ideas, your open eyes and open minds. You might be right about the warts and flaws you have observed in our practice and our imperfection. We’ve seen them too. But grace is a powerful antidote to selfishness.
So here is our hand, extended to you in hospitality. Bring your questions and your doubts and your critical observations; we promise to welcome you home.
The Rev. Steve Molin is pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Stillwater