Dear Church, I’m Still Here.

I really like Rachel Held Evans, and anything related to the culture of a young and growing church, so when a Christian friend in Generation X asked that I comment on Rachel’s CNN article on why millennials are leaving the church, I was more than happy to share my thoughts.

For the majority of young people, our moral compasses are calibrated by the culture around us without question. For me, personally, the culture around me was The Bible Belt. At twenty-two years old, I’ve never known any different. I have attended church my entire life, and prayed to receive Christ into my heart at a young age. I grew up to attend an evangelical college, where I minored in biblical and theological studies. Needless to say, my faith has always been an important part of my life.

I wasn’t the girl who cursed or got in fights at school. I never drank or went to parties, and I didn’t have sex. I barely even listened to popular music. I went to youth group and participated in the prayer circle and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. My identity throughout school was the good Christian girl. But I also battled depression, and felt like I had nowhere to turn.

My parents fought at length throughout my teen years before deciding to separate during my sophomore year of high school. It was during this period that my depression reared its ugly head. When I attempted to talk about it, my feelings were shrugged off, even by my Christian friends. There was a deep seeded shame that I, as a Christian, felt deprived of joy and abundant life. Church didn’t feel like a very safe place, and the majority of that time was spent simply going through the motions.

Now, thankfully, depression isn’t the monster in my life that it once was. But I know that the slope is slippery. There was a time in college that I deeply questioned my worth, and even battled self-injury. I don’t know if I would be where I am tonight had it not been for the love and support of patient friends. If you want to read more about that, click here.

In college, I met a man named Jake.* He was incredibly nice, attractive, and popular. He played basketball, and participated in a variety of activities. I was and still am very fond of him. He was a senior when I was a freshman, and after he graduated, Jake posted a note on Facebook admitting his attraction to the same gender. Later, a group of students extended the opportunity to the student body to anonymously discuss our secrets via a blog. Many of the secrets had to do with homosexuality.  It occurs to me that many Christians view gay people as threatening, even defective. My heart breaks, thinking of how I watched Jake and an untold number of others struggle to feel safe or welcome in the greater evangelical church.

I also met a woman named Katherine* who disclosed in a counseling class that she had gotten an abortion when she became pregnant as a teenager. I was shocked to receive this information, and she admitted that she didn’t discuss it on a regular basis (for obvious reasons). Nothing in me can fathom the fear a woman experiences that drives her to scrape out her occupied womb. Fear that she will be abandoned if those around her find out what she’s done; fear that life as she knows it will be over should she go through with bringing this life into the world.

Then there was Joyce, who repeatedly posted on Facebook that democrats were idiotic sheep, and that all Muslims rape their babies and hate Christians and seek only to kill. And Kyle,* who says he loves Jesus, and that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot, and will be called out.  And Dan,* who told his daughter that her testimony and their family name were tarnished because of her decision to get a belly-button ring. The list could go on forever.

The conservative church brims with judgment, often with blatant disregard for the hearts behind the statistics. Until these issues become lonely and scared flesh and blood, I fear that we will never learn to exhibit the love and sensitivity required of those who represent Christ.

Gandhi is quoted as saying “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Those in Gen X question why young people are leaving the church. To borrow Rachel’s words, it is because we don’t find Jesus there. It has nothing to do with skinny jeans or coffee or high technology, or whether there is a drummer in the band or the congregation sings from a hymnal.

There has to be something more. There has to be substance. Because simply not swearing or drinking alcohol or getting pregnant in high school because I was told that they were wrong things never led me to a better understanding of who Christ is. What has? Being loved, and reminded of it often, and experiencing the freedom and safety within the Body to ask questions, wrestle with and heal from my own issues, and become who I was created to be. Don’t read me wrong: I’m not trying to downplay sin, and I don’t believe Rachel is either. Scripture states very plainly that the consequence of sin is death. We’re good at preaching that. What we’re not so good at, though, is proclaiming life, and making Church a safe place for sinners.

Now that I’m older, and have gleaned some experience and understanding, I’m working to make a change. Because I believe in the Bride of Christ. I love her dearly, despite her faults. And I desperately want for her to resemble Jesus by drawing in those who are hurting and confused and searching for hope and truth.

*Names have been changed.

  • I discern a moral shift, from a morality where we all fit in with “Normal”, and so can be comfortable because we know what to expect from other people; and we reinforce that, by spouting that abortion or homosexuality or whatever is Wrong;

    to a morality where we recognise and celebrate our differences, and are thereby enabled to develop our full potential.

    This is across the whole of society, but within the church as well. Quakers, for example, seem more loving, less judgmental.

    • Erin Salmon

      Clare, I pray that’s the case. I see it in my home church and in small ways in the Church at large, especially as this new generation begins to lead and reach out. Again, let me clarify: I’m not at all for downplaying sin. The Church needs to step into the broken places in society with love and humility, and not only teach a better way, but live a better way. Thank you for reading, friend.

  • sharon

    One question about Dan – did you actually hear him saying those things to his daughter?

    • Erin Salmon

      I personally did not, but I spoke with his daughter about it. I have, however, experienced similar interactions in my own life. I believe her feelings have a lot of gravity. I also am not under the impression that these types of interactions between parents and their children are rare in the Bible Belt region. Many people have similar stories. Some convictions, in this case the acceptability of piercings, can change between generations, but it doesn’t mean that young adults don’t take their faith seriously.

      • ryandehoff

        I think you make a very good point about the daughter’s feelings. Even if those are not the exact words Dan used, the message was clear, at least to the daughter, and the effect is incredibly damaging. They are definitely not rare occurrences in the Bible Belt. I’ve been here my whole life, as have many of my friends, and unwillingness of generations to sit down and talk about differences in convictions, as opposed to simply punishing or arguing, is astounding.

        • Erin Salmon

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Ryan. You’re right, we must sit down and have a meaningful conversation about our differences, and realize that though we are, indeed, different, each person has a story to tell. Each person matters and is worthy of love.

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