Knittin’ Mittens for a Snake

annoyedWhen will we begin to listen?  Much of what we are offering people, they don’t want, can’t use, and don’t value.  A growing population of deeply devout people — of all ages — have determined that organized religion is for the judgmentally insane.  I was sitting in a meeting with a group of conservative evangelical independent almost fundamentalist teenagers who are furious with their church for not welcoming minorities — racial, ethnic, gay, poor.  One by one the young people lamented that they simply don’t care to be part of any religion that uses hate, exclusion, violence, injustice and abuse as their governing values.  Twenty years ago, many young people in conservative churches would have not batted an eye at exclusion — only those liberal bleeding hearts would have wanted “those people” anywhere near the church.  The trends are fairly clear: more people are avoiding the church because it is too judgmental and restrictive, not because it is too liberal and unrighteous.

Part of the problem and challenge is that many in “the church” cannot distinguish between what is truth and what we have chosen to believe is truth.  The pick and choose nature of biblical interpretation is ghastly and embarrassing.  Individuals make a simple, basic decision about their Bible — to use it as a tool or to wield it as a weapon.  And a growing number of older adults are failing to realize that those they are injuring most are their children and grandchildren.

Oh, I know the fear is there.  For those who believe that the devil is stronger than God, the idea of tolerating human brokenness is terrifying.  If I believe that a particular sin is like a viral infection and my God is impotent in the face of disease, then I will fight until my dying breath trying to deny that taint.  If I believe that the shortcomings of others have more power than my own faith, I will attack them in every way possible.  And I will twist holy writ in every direction to make it justify my anger and fear.  But I had better pay attention to the unintended consequences of such faithless behavior.  People are watching.  The hostility of the narrow-minded are corrupting the credibility and integrity of the church.  Young people are not drifting away from indifference, they are making a conscious decision to break from the toxic energy of judgmentalism, persecution, hostility, anger and violence.  A young woman told me, “I had to get out of the church just to feel God’s love again.”

Another young man shared with me that he has three very good friends — a Filipino youth, a gay neighbor and a mildly mentally challenged classmate.  On different occasions he took them to his United Methodist church.  He told me that each time he has been asked NOT to bring them back — they aren’t the kind of people he should be associating with.  Guess what?  He left the church.

When my grandmother thought I was wasting my time or doing something foolish, she told me I was “knittin’ mittens for a snake.”  As I see more and more effort dedicated to preserving our institutional church and our personalized, privatized, sanitized sacreligion, I can’t help thinking we might be knittin’ mittens for snakes — we may be guaranteeing that we have no future, no hope, no mission, and no positive witness.  Even if we truly believe non-churchy people are sweaty sacks of sin, they should be the very people we DO want.  It is very hard to save those you deny and reject.  Two whole generations of Christ-followers and faithful seekers are basically absent from our churches.  They are very open, honest and transparent about why.  And we can happily reject them as ignorant, misguided, and evil — they don’t mind a bit.  It simply reinforces and proves what they already think.  If there is anyone we don’t want in our church, we include them as well.  Some say we have no future if we let sinners in, but the reality is we have no future as long as we keep God’s precious children out.

22 replies

  1. My church is not judgmental, hostile, angry, or violent at all. Just the opposite. The love of God is on display at all times. But the younger generation still stays away.

    • But you do understand that we are guilty by association, right? It should make you angry that the lowest common denominator defines us, and the churches that reject, judge, and revile hurt the reputation of churches who seek a better way. It is time for the love of God to trump the pettiness of humankind. We are being buried by the blinding intolerance of those who miss the point — and it makes it all the harder for those who define themselves by love.

      • Perhaps some of our children may be lumping the churches they grew up in with the churches who reject, judge, and revile. But just where are they getting these bad views of toxic churches if not in the church they grew up in? TV and movies? Or are there other factors at work here? When I was their age I rejected the church because it was calling me to live a holy life that I wasn’t willing to do. Isn’t this generation just doing the same thing?

  2. No Greg, they are not. Many of the young people that I work with have a much deeper appreciation of our faith and our heritage than I did at their age and more so than their parents and grandparents. This generation is seeking something that is real. Their BS detectors are finely honed, and frankly, what too many of our churches are giving them is nothing but BS. Too many of our churches wouldn’t know the love of God if it bit them on the backside… and too many of them like that just fine.

    • When we have given them “Jesus died to make us whole” in both word and deed (the central message of the gospel) and they reply “I’m whole enough without all this Jesus myth stuff,” how finely tuned are those BS detectors really?

  3. This was well worth the wait Br. Dan ……. have missed your more frequent wordsmithing but understand you have had a full agenda from the good Bp.,

    I must mention that those sweaty sacks of sin include US — each and every one. As soon as we forget, or deny that, all is lost.
    So, it’s not “US” and “THEM’ but — ALL OF US
    And, as Wayne points out, when people’s BS Detectors are finely tuned, those doing-the-right-thing-for-the-wrong-reason are called out and the credibility and integrity of the “church” they think they are serving is compromised. Result: The Loss of 1 or 2 (or more) generations of church people.

  4. The lowest common denominator defines us only because we allow that to happen. If “they” shout intolerance, judgmentalism, clickishness, etc, then we need to step up and offer faith, hope and love in even bigger, more outrageous ways. I’m going into my 9th year of leadership in the church, and I’m finally starting to get it. I will not allow the minority of hate, intolerance, mean-spiritedness, wet blankets, and other assortment that the dismal tide has washed in to define me, my ministry or the ministry and church I represent. That may mean some radical changes are needed in my own life, but I paid dearly to see that the integrity of my faith remained intact through many a storm…and I’m committed to encouraging others to do the same. We have so much to offer. We have a God who is deeply, madly in love with us, so our ministry should be firmly embedded in a culture of outrageous, extravagant grace. I will not be silenced by a wet blanket. More important, my church won’t either…at least not on my watch.

  5. Dan, I have heard what you wrote – albeit the “mittens for snakes” was new – for the last 30 years. I have been the recepient of “narrow-mindedness” from both conservatives and liberals. I have been labled, sometimes appropriately, other times not, and dismissed by persons in every sphere of Christianity. The truth that I’ve discovered is that as long as we continue to focus on the failings of humanity to define our faith or to live our faith we will always have this attitude present.
    My faith grows more when I see and hear the stories of the difference Christ makes in the lives of people transformed by God’s grace. But there is really nothing new under the sun. We (collective, good, church-going folks) continue to live the same story that Christ came to redeem. We aren’t showing, let alone telling, the difference Christ makes. From those with whom I’ve talked, who have left the church, this is why they left.

    • You hit the nail on the head. After spending more than a few decades doing church until I was more broken than when I first walked in the door, I backed way away, started doing some reading about John Wesley and early Methodism–was stunned at what I learned. finally landed on The Heidelberg Catechism and the book about it “Body &Soul” by M. Craig Barnes and truly discovered a God worth worshipping; a triune God of holy love who is most definitely waaaaaayyyyy more verb than noun in his determination to love us whether we want him to or not. My initial journey through the Heidelberg became one long “Where has this knowledge been all my life. Why did nobody sit down and have this conversation with me!” Kenneth Collins said it: Redemption begins with knowledge. And right now a clear understanding and sharing of the gospel is the absolutely best kept secret of The United Methodist Church. People can not share what they do not understand!

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