Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"15 Reasons I Left Church", and My Musings on My Own Church and Evangelical Experience

Rachel Held Evans has a good post this morning, 15 Reasons I Left Church. In this post, I will comment on each of her fifteen reasons. My purpose is not to tell people that they should go to church or not go to church. Rather, it's primarily to share with you about my own church and experiences within evangelicalism, and to reflect on those things myself. For the record, I attend a Presbyterian Church (USA) in a small town.

1. I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers...but they only wanted me to plan baby showers.

In most of the churches and evangelical groups that I have attended, women led Bible studies, and they did an excellent job doing that. But I realize that there is another reality in a number of churches. I was one time listening to a sermon by Gary DeMar, and, right before the question and answer session, the pastor of the church that was hosting DeMar did not allow women to ask questions, but rather told them to ask their husbands.

2. I left the church because when we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex.

We talked a lot about sex in a male evangelical small group that I attended in college, but we also talked about other issues, such as pride. In the Seventh-Day Adventist churches that I attended, sex was not a common topic of conversation. Come to think of it, I don't recall them getting overly specific about what "sin" was, period. At my current church, I don't hear much about sex. On the issue of sin, the pastor often encourages us to do the right thing----love others, for example----rather than ranting and raving about what's wrong.

3. I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities.

I don't ask a lot of the questions that come to my mind when I'm at church. In the church's Bible study group that I attend, I realize that the people there are people of faith. I struggle in terms of my faith, but I don't want to ask a bunch of village atheist questions because I would like for the Bible study to be edifying----for myself and also for them. If I were to ask a question, I can envision them trying to answer it. Maybe I'd be satisfied with their answers. Maybe not. But I try not to be a destabilizing presence at the group.

Plus, I am unsure about the extent to which my church has wrestled with certain issues in the Bible. I once asked about church discipline in Matthew 18 and in I Corinthians (which entails excommunication), and they said that their feeling was that everyone should be welcome in church, but that we should be discerning about people who could take advantage of us. I believe that the people in my church are biblically literate, in that they know where to turn in their Bibles and can quote passages from it. But they don't stress out over certain issues in the Bible.

Some groups are easier for me to handle than others. In my church's Bible study group, there is not a cultish pressure on me to believe a certain way and to express my overt agreement with certain ideas. There was that sort of thing in another group that I was in years ago. As I look back, I am conflicted about whether I should have been the destabilizing presence that I was in that group. On the one hand, I hopefully did show people that their beliefs are not the end-all-be-all of reality. On the other hand, I should not have disrupted the inspiration and edification that people in the group could have received. Looking back, I probably should not have been in the group at all, since I hated being in it so much.

4. I left the church because sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.

My current church is not a cult. Is it a country club? Well, many of the people who go there have gone there and have known each other all of their lives. Some of them are teachers, and so they naturally like to talk shop with each other. But I still feel welcomed when I am there.

5. I left the church because I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith.

We don't get into evolution at my church. My pastor seems to assume that there was a literal and historical Adam and Eve. But he does not try to defend that view against evolution. He just assumes that the Bible stories in Genesis 1-3 represent what really happened.

6. I left the church because sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt.

I just go with the flow when I'm at church. Granted, when we're praying for people, I wonder if there is a God who hears and answers prayer, considering all of the suffering and death that exists in the world. But I then ask myself what the harm is in praying. And, if the people in the church want to comfort themselves with the notion that God is present even in the afflictions of the world and can bring good out of these afflictions, then who am I to challenge that in their presence (though I can challenge that to myself, in my own mind)? Hopefully, they're right!

I think of two incidents at my church that pertained to doubt. First, one lady was asking me why I did not take communion. I told her that I had problems with my faith. Her response was, "Well, every little bit helps!" Her point was that taking communion can help reinforce a person's faith. Second, a deaconess in the church was telling us about how she came to church a few years ago, and since then she has learned that she really had the faith that she thought she didn't have. That tells me that the church welcomes those who struggle with their faith.

7. I left the church because I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.”

I don't have this problem in my current church. I did have it, however, in an evangelical group I was in years ago. The leader liked to talk about where people were growing or not growing, as if he was an authority on people's spiritual condition.

8. I left the church because it was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans.

The pastor doesn't get into politics. He quoted Reagan once, but that was more in an anecdotal Reader's Digest way than it was political. I wouldn't be surprised if many of the people there are Republicans, though. It's a rural area. A couple of weeks ago in Bible study, the people were lamenting that prayer was not in the public schools. At the same time, when I was talking with a lady whose son was in the Navy and I said that some of the Republican candidates for President want us to go to war with Iran, she remarked that "We don't need another war!" So my church may have Republicans, but I've not come across a dogmatic, in-your-face, "true Christians are Republicans" sort of attitude there.

9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

I've not heard these issues discussed. One time, though, my pastor did say that the Jews of Jesus' day had an Old Testament notion that people who prospered were rewarded by God, whereas those who suffered were punished by God for some sin. That seems to imply that the Old Testament could be mistaken in areas. But I doubt that this statement by my pastor represents the full extent of his theology and his belief on Scripture.

10. I left the church because of my own selfishness and pride.

I've left groups because I wanted to be more valued and respected within them. I don't think that's wrong, per se. Why beat a dead horse, when I can find another group that suits me better, in that it's more accepting?

11. I left the church because I knew I would never see a woman behind the pulpit, at least not in the congregation in which I grew up.

My pastor is a male, but there occasionally is a woman behind the pulpit.

12. I left the church because I wanted to help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity.

I don't know how my church handles this. There are people in it who believe that we should share our faith. But does our food pantry give people who need help a little sermon before they can get their food? I doubt it.

13. I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school.

We don't get much into systemic injustice because we don't get much into politics. But someone from a charity comes to speak to us every month, and we help support that charity for the month. In the process, I learn about people in need, due to poverty, lacking family to take care of them, etc.

14. I left the church because there are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience.

My pastor has preached about the dark night of the soul. He lost his first wife decades ago, and he has told us about how he believes that God was with him in that experience.

15. I left the church because one day, they put signs out in the church lawn that said “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.

We don't get into gay marriage or how we should vote. I wouldn't be surprised if people at my church are socially conservative, since a number of them support prayer in public school. But people don't get into my face about how I should vote on gay marriage.

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