We are Losing Precious Members

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People are leaving my church. Good people. People I know. People I like. In response to this modern exodus, I have heard three explanations from within my church community. The first two are rationalization narratives. They attempt to put the community at ease. First, there is the narrative that we are destined to be a small group of believers. The Bible never suggests “the believers” are going to be popular. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi has a vision of the modern-day church and he notes that “its numbers [are] few.” And so declining membership actually seems in line with revelation. Believers are supposed to be a small, peculiar group of persecuted faithful. This is problematic. Continue reading

Millennials and the Millennium

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As millennials continue to be dissatisfied with religion, leaving churches in greater numbers every year, I have become at times defensive. I’ve wanted to defend my own religious convictions as well as point out how Christianity has colored, beautified, and created the world we’ve inherited. So even if we turn a blind eye to Christianity, we can never really leave it, nor should we want to.

In my experience, the most cited reason my generation offers for their exodus is “hypocrisy.” If a religion that teaches moral principles doesn’t create morally principled people, what good is it? To them, what religion preaches correctly it administers poorly, such as kindness, love, and generosity. And what it believes incorrectly it administers effectively, beliefs around Proposition 8 and most recently the election of Donald Trump who was most fervently supported by white, evangelical men.

So what good is religion? Continue reading

Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America

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Hakim’s car smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, but it was clean and he greeted me warmly. Hakim was an African-American man with a raspy voice and a slight southern accent. This was my first experience riding Lyft, and it was a pleasant one. He asked me about my work and told me about his—he recently retired as a parole officer, and drives for Lyft on the weekends. Our conversation eventually turned to politics. I didn’t know what to expect. In the wake of an election that had been described as a “whitelash,” I wanted to tread carefully. I tried to say things that would assure Hakim that I understood something about the racial tensions that were unsurfaced and aggravated during and in response to the election. I wanted him to know that I appreciated President Obama and that I had not supported Trump’s candidacy. I was surprised when he said, “You know, I had a real hard time with this election. I actually voted Republican in the last two. Just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Obama. Religious reasons, you know? I had the same problem with Hillary. But Trump?” The way he said “Trump,” sliding into a raspy falsetto, made me laugh. That and my surprise: a middle-aged, middle-class African-American man voting for McCain and Romney rather than Obama, due to religiously-motivated objections (to gay marriage and abortion, as it turned out). Serendipitously, perhaps, our destination was a church. As I got out, he said, “God bless, my friend.”

I know that people of color are not monolithic, just as I recognize that many are forced to uncomfortable compromises when voting, trying to participate within a system that has often explicitly discouraged their participation, voting for what seems to be the lesser of two evils and the least likely to provoke direct harm to them and their loved ones. It is very likely that Hakim is not consistently conservative. But in a defining moment of American politics, he voted Republican. I’ve often wondered which candidate he voted for in 2016.  He never told me, but apparently it wasn’t a particularly straightforward question for him. Continue reading

The Inconvenience of Belief

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Increasingly religious beliefs are being classified as self-deception or a means to justify prejudice. Not too long ago, a couple who had chosen to wait until marriage would have been respected even by those who did not share the religious conviction. But if you had the opportunity to listen to some of the professors at NC State talk about it, you would quickly realize that they believe anyone who advocates for abstinence until marriage must be misinformed, ignorant, or oppressed. In the minds of modern skeptics, religious conviction lacks the necessary conditions from which belief is justifiably built.

From their perspective, adequate proof must exist prior to belief and beliefs must always exist in proportion to the evidence. Religious belief in their minds does not fit this criteria. Instead, religious belief requires no experimentation, changes from person to person, and is made up by the imaginations of people who are picking out what things they’d want to be true. It is like children who play house with none of the inconvenience of actually collecting an income, paying taxes, or mowing the lawn.

And so it is no wonder that skeptics who see religious belief in this way would look upon it with some, if not a great deal, of disdain. Of course, they are right that religious belief is a very different thing from what I most commonly hear called “scientific belief.” But they get two things wrong by categorizing belief in this way. Continue reading