I vividly remember the last church service I attended before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I was sitting with a couple thousand strangers in a megachurch when the thought crossed my mind: Why am I here? I could watch this on the internet. And after the service ended, I walked into the church’s multi-acre parking lot and drove away, never to return to church services again (or so I thought).
Dear Elderly Christian, I know you don’t like being called elderly, so let’s start with me begging your pardon for not coming up with a better word to describe your current phase of life (it’s better than “old,” right?). Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I need to ask you a favor: please get off the sidelines and get back into the game.
In 2007, my fiancé and I almost left the church I had been a part of for two years. I was happy there, but we had just gotten engaged, and we figured we might be better off if we just started over at a new church. In retrospect, we weren’t very thoughtful about the whole thing at all – actually, we were pretty much just feeling our way through the decision, which is what I think a lot of people do when they leave churches, and naturally so. Emotions are oftentimes the clearest things in our minds when we’re making these decisions.
On Sunday, I was taking my daughters downstairs to their Sunday School class when I passed a couple of women on their way up to the sanctuary. One of the two women was looking down; the other was holding her arm and whispering into her ear. It seemed odd to me, but I was most concerned that the visitors feel comfortable; and I just assumed that the woman looking down had a disability or something. She didn’t.
It wasn’t that long ago that my wife and I were visiting churches after having moved to a new city. Before moving, we were part of a church where almost everyone knew us, and everything about the Sunday services felt familiar. So it was odd to suddenly be strangers in a meeting that used to feel like home.
When I was 16 years old, a middle-aged guy from my church gave me advice on choosing a woman to marry. According to that man, the most important consideration was the following: “Whatever you do, Josh, make sure you marry a virgin.”
In 1988, a charlatan named Edgar C. Whisenant published a book called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1988. In it, he predicted that Jesus would return at some point between September 11 and 13 of that year. People actually believed him, and unfortunately, my dad was one of them.
My wife and I recently moved to another state, and we’re on the hunt for a new church community. It’s an odd experience — before we moved here, we had been in the same church since we got engaged. Now we’re going from being well-known to being thankful when people talk to us.
“Oh Lord, I’m having a hot flash again,” said my Aunt Kathy Jo, wiping sweat from her cheek while setting up for Thanksgiving dinner. “Somebody turn on the air conditioner – I can’t take it.” I chuckled at her honesty and then complimented her outfit. It was a departure from the more formal Thanksgiving attire of years past. With her black hat, shimmering with rhinestones, tight black pants, and white, denim jacket, she looked less like Martha Stewart and more like Salt n’ Pepa.
About three weeks ago, my wife and I were driving down the road, and I was talking about some of my concerns with the hypocrisy that is all-too-easy to find in the church. As that part of our conversation wound down, my wife said, “Joshua, look, I know you’ve got a lot of valid points, but you really just need to guard against becoming cynical.”
As I mentioned in my previous article, “I Kissed Churchianity Goodbye,” there came a point in my life where I walked away from the traditional church setting, and as far as I was concerned at the time, it was for good. I had legitimate frustrations with Churchianity, and although I was initially questioning things in a healthy way, it wasn’t long before my questions turned into accusations, and my tone became quite haughty – even mean-spirited.
Being raised by churchgoing parents, by the time I had finished law school, I had attended a fairly wide variety of churches. I had been a part of everything from the large, conservative, Southern Baptist church in my hometown to a lively, charismatic church, which my neighbors viewed with suspicion, assuming it was somehow affiliated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (it wasn’t).