A man once told me that the last time he entered a church was forty years ago. He was a teenager, but folks in his church thought he had an “unnatural attraction” to his best friend. They held an intervention for him. When the intervention “didn’t work” he was kicked out of the church, and didn’t return for 40 years.
One day, he knelt in tears at a railing near the altar while we prayed. The altar and railing looked similar to the church where they had prayed over him as a teenager. Forty years later when he had found his way back, we prayed for the walls he had built up to fall. We prayed for him to have the grace to forgive the people who had harmed him. We prayed for peace for him as he found his way back to church, even though it is sometimes hard to be there, with triggers that remind him of that earlier time, and fears that it will happen again.
I am still praying. I just heard a news story about a teenager named Lennon in Barnesville, MN, who was supposed to be confirmed last month at his Catholic church. He was allegedly not confirmed after posting on his facebook wall that he was against the marriage amendment that failed to pass in Minnesota on election day. The vote would have changed the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Lennon voiced his opposition to that measure. You can read more about that here.
So I am still praying.
I have an uncle who is gay. I don’t see him much, but he was at my grandmother’s funeral, and told me he had not been inside a church in at least a couple of decades. He asked me, “What is the point of these buildings? What use do they serve?”
The Barna group did a study that talked about the most common reasons that young people don’t go to church. The most common responses had to do with the church being irrelevant to their lives, anti-homosexual, antagonistic towards science, boring, and judgmental. The research is documented in the book, You Lost Me by David Kinnaman
So I am still praying. First I prayed for was that the voices of love and grace and mercy would be louder than the voices of intolerance and judgement. But that is not enough. If I am going to pray, I might as well ask for it all. Now my prayer is this: That we might find a way, as Church to be God’s body–to embody the love and grace of God above all else, and let go of fear, intolerance, and judgement.
I want to be able to tell Lennon there is a place for him in this Church, even with his opinions. I want to be able to tell my uncle about the reasons for Church, and not be afraid that his worst fears will be confirmed if he walks back in. I want to know that the man who left forty years ago won’t experience the same pain today. I want to know that this will never happen to another person again. I want young adults to come to church and experience it as a place that recognizes and welcomes their gifts, their questions, their life experiences and their whole selves, including a thinking mind.
We need this not just because I want a church that feels safe for Lennon, my uncle, and others to be themselves, but because the body of Christ needs them too. Those of us who are “in” the church miss out on all the gifts that those “outside” the church have to offer. And as long as there are groups that are “inside” the Church and “outside” the Church, we’re a long way away from God’s vision for this world.
At least as far as I can see.
So I’m still praying.