Today’s post is by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Frank, retired, University Professor and Associate Dean of Continuing Studies, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Wake Forest University. His publications include Polity, Practice, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church (2006) and The Soul of the Congregation (2000).
Sometimes it seems like Christians are the worst enemy of Christianity.
If you want to know why so many Americans under 50 are staying away from church, why attendance at Mass has dropped like a stone, I can suggest a few places to look.
Just start by reading the obituary of Pat Robertson. For over 40 years, this “Christian” preacher and TV mogul, this needy narcissist, has dealt with his own guilt over youthful behavior and his feeble self-worth as son of a powerful father by demeaning others. Like too much of Christianity he has manipulated scripture into a gospel of guilt and judgment, mostly about sex. Everything from hurricanes to 9/11 has been “God’s” judgment on America for sexual “immorality.” The viciousness of his attacks on LBGTQ people paved the way for today’s right-wing politics of hate.
Or have a look at anti-abortion propaganda — billboard bombast along our roads depicting an ultrasound and a heartbeat graph, sprinkled among signs that shout “do you know where you’re going? heaven or hell?” The utter cruelty of ignoring the complexities of human reproduction and health, the private relationship of doctor and patient, the personal struggle of women who cannot go through with a pregnancy — this kind of bullying has nothing to do with Christian faith.
Or review the recent history of male clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, who have abused children or harassed women into unwanted contact, and bounced from parish to parish without consequence. Most visibly, both Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist governance has failed to publicly and consistently repudiate this behavior, or bring a reckoning to clergy behavior.
More difficult for me, born and raised Methodist and ordained years ago in the United Methodist Church, has been the disgraceful failure of my denomination (one of America’s largest) to remove language from official documents that denigrates LGBTQ children of God. We have lived with this genteel “mainstream” inhumanity for 50 years, driving out promising young clergy and demonstrating to many of our own members that they have no place to be themselves in this church.
Now we have the spectacle of Christianity taken hostage by right-wing authoritarianism. The religion of guilt and punishment, hatred and exclusion, has commandeered the public stage under the name “Christian”. Little wonder that today’s version of the Republican Party and most of today’s churches gain no traction among young people.
Christians who know that the scriptures are a gospel of love and justice, care for the earth and the well-being of all in the human community, must speak up. I’m tired of going to church and hearing not a word about climate change or gun violence. I’m tired of reading about school board and city council meetings where the only “Christian” voice is the fundamentalist attacking transgender students.
This is no time for silence. We have to show up. We have to meet, write, and call congressmen, senators, state legislators. We have to call or write journalists who depict nationalists and racists simply as “Christians”.
And what better time to get on it, than this. Happy Pride Month!