This article is also featured on Faithit.com.
A circle of carpeted chairs. A circle of well-worn Bibles. A circle of men—ages 20-70—proclaiming to be courageous, undying followers of Jesus Christ as represented by their dedication to weekly meetings and shared mowing of the church lawn.
I, the token, blue-eyed millennial, was present to soak up the wisdom of those who have gone before me. Like much of my generation, I grew up without a single male role model and have tried to put myself in the company of the men whenever possible.
Tuning in and out of our discussion around the latest best-selling MEN ARE CREATED TO BE RUGGED WARRIORS toxic-masculinity-leaning literature, I was snapped back to reality as a crass joke came flying across the circle.
A joke about one of the guys acting gay.
The hairs on the back of my neck leaped to attention like a military, surprise 2 am role call.
I’ve never been a megaphone wielding, marching supporter or antagonist of the LGBTQ+ Community. I have chosen to be somewhere in the middle; I have chosen to be a connector to both sides. I have chosen to love all people.
Then some of the most hateful words I ever heard were launched into the air.
“Can you imagine if your son was gay? Man, isn’t that like the worst thing that could ever happen?”
My vision went blurry and my stomach dropped miles into the reservoir below.
Two men added on to the joke and nodded in agreement.
One man made no eye contact.
Two others glanced around the room as if they were deciding which side of the fence to fall on.
I knew this game. If I stood up to this comment it would be assumed I was gay, feminine or worst of all to them: both.
But as the banter continued, I spoke a quiet wondering.
“What do you think Jesus would say to someone who is gay?”
The culprit of the joke furled his brow beneath his camo hat. Another man widened his eyes perhaps indicating I had broken the unwritten, “don’t challenge your elders” rule.
“It’s just a joke,” was muttered as an interruption from the large group leader brought the tension to a screeching halt.
My question lingered in the air never to be answered. No one came to my defense. Most importantly, no one came to the defense of those not present.
It’s no secret millennials (born 1980-2000) are fleeing from church faster than sit down restaurants, large department stores, napkins and bars of soap. A study by Pew Research shows only 42% of millennials are church members today, a drastic change from the 77% who were members forty years ago.
Only 42% of millennials are members of a church today, a drastic change from the 77% who were members forty years ago.
A lot of people have written words on the millennial exodus.
They blame the younger generation.
They blame technology.
They blame parenting.
They blame the devil.
They blame Prince and his lack of pants.
They blame fog machines.
They blame the dumbing-down of our culture.
They blame avocado toast.
I wrote some thoughts myself in a little piece titled, “59% Percent of Millennials Are Leaving the Church and They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” which quickly reached over 3 million views and was featured on the 700 Club.
Turns out, my internal struggles with trying to love Church vibrated across the world.
Traveling all over the U.S. and speaking in Churches primarily about suicide prevention, I’ve had the unique opportunity to connect with thousands of millennials all over the country.
And when you ask about Church—especially to those who have left—one word rises above the rest.
Some of you are already seeing red at the mere mention of this community. Some of you are already writing a 4,000-word email condemning me to hell while canceling me from your life.
You see, I’m not even here today to talk about the theological debate, the translations, or the sin is sin is sin is sin is sin is sin is sin loop.
The crux of the issue is not the “law” itself, it’s the deplorable way you’ve treated an entire group of people. And we will not stand for it for another second.
Because Jesus wouldn’t.
The church is dying because so many of you became the Pharisees Jesus came to fight against. You became the religious elite deciding who was welcome and who was not. You made outcasts of families when their kids came out. You disowned your own children—your own flesh and blood—because something within their bodies made them unlovable to you.
Millennials are fleeing from the church because you cannot proclaim to be the embodiment of unconditional love and push away anyone who doesn’t meet your standards to be worthy of love.
The fact that you made the letter of the law more important than showing people the love of Jesus—the man who 2000 years ago proclaimed, “He who is within sin may cast the first stone”—has turned much of a generation off from wanting anything to do with the empty sanctuaries you gather in.
Millennials do care about respecting and learning from their elders, but only if those people are worth emulating.
As long as I live I will never understand why this is the hill so many Christians decided to die on. I don’t understand why someone else’s choices about love became more important than supporting their eternal salvation.
Lately I’ve been wondering if the American Church is going extinct for a reason.
Maybe God is bringing the flood so that He can start fresh the way the Church was meant to be.
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Leave everyone better than you found them…⠀ .⠀ An attentive ear. 👂 ⠀ . ⠀ A knowing smile. 😁⠀ .⠀ A thank you. 🙏⠀ .⠀ A few corny jokes. 😂 ⠀ .⠀ A hug. 🤗 ⠀ .⠀ A thoughtful gift. 🎁 ⠀ .⠀ A compliment that helps fight the crap in their head. 🥊⠀ .⠀ You have the power to make the world a better place every time you open your eyes.⠀ .⠀ Be the reason someone has a better day today and every day. ⠀ .⠀ Love, Sam.
A post shared by Sam Eaton | Motivation (@recklessly_alive) on Nov 24, 2019 at 8:01am PST
To those of you who have been beaten up by the Church or its people:
I am so so so sorry. I am so freaking sorry. All I want to do is squeeze you until your ribs start poking out and let you sob into my boney shoulder. I am sorry we have failed to love you. I am sorry we have failed to support you on your journey towards heaven.
To anyone who has spoken up for the outcasts in small or big ways:
You are a hero. To all the boomers who have been loving everyone all along, paving the way for others to do the same, you are who I want to be. Strong. Brave. Faithful. Your next coffee or beer is on me.
You see Church, we have to work together to find a better word that describes us than hypocrisy. We have to explode out into the world with love and compassion for all of God’s people. For the sick. The poor. The orphans. The homeless. The widows. The outcasts.
Together, we can change the view of American Christianity from hypocrisy to unconditional love.
Together, we can embody the unfathomable love God shows us every single day.
Together, we begin again by focusing on what we have in common rather than what divides us.
Together, we can go out into the world and start to heal all the pain we have caused.
It’s a huge job and it’s going to take all of us.
I shifted in my chair, trending towards tears realizing I probably wouldn’t be welcome in this circle anymore. As the large group speaker began to pray for us to be BOLD MEN, I prayed in my heart for that to be true—perhaps in a different light than he intended.
As the prayer closed, the three jokesters stood and left without making eye contact. Then one man wandered over, shook my hand firmly, wiped a tear from his eye and walked away.
His emotion a symbol that we shared the same essential belief:
Every single child of God should be welcomed into a Church that embodies unconditional love.
And together, we will keep working until it’s true—on earth as it is in heaven.
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