The phrase “walked away from the faith” seems to be getting a lot of traction recently. I get it. Churches are seeing a downturn in attendance and need some sort of explanation. I wonder if “walked away from the faith” is a bit of a smokescreen and possibly a warning to congregants who remain, kind of an us (truth bearers) vs. them (those who turned away from the truth).
I think in many cases, probably the majority of cases, those who leave are actually leaving the institution of the church not the faith. In fact I think they take the faith with them, just not the unseemly parts of religion that lay just below the surface like sexism, racism and discrimination.
I’ve heard that recent data actually points to younger generations having a stronger sense of morality than their older counterparts. It also points to their stronger sense of spirituality even without the formal structure of an institution. They have little need of the rules, fear, control, guilt, divisions and “culture wars” so prevalent in today’s Evangelical church.
I can sympathize.
I didn’t grow up in the church. I discovered Christianity in my twenties. Both my parents had left the churches they grew up in—Episcopal for my dad and Catholic for my mom—because the “church” did not approve of their relationship. Thus, I and my siblings were raised without spiritual training. There was still a very strong sense of right and wrong but without the religious underpinnings. Looking back that was probably not a bad approach.
Later my siblings and I each found our way to some sort of spirituality, discovering Catholicism, traditional Protestantism and in my case evangelicalism.
Now I’ve left. Not my faith, but the belief system that has seemed to almost weaponize that faith. It troubles me that over the past 40 years the churches I attended seemed less and less likely to reflect Jesus. I constantly heard about who and what we were against and “end times” nonsense and seldom heard about truly caring for the poor, the marginalized or the immigrant (all very important groups to Jesus). Perhaps it’s always been like this. Perhaps I was naïve. I’ve always said the church should be the most welcoming, accepting and affirming place anyone could hope to be. It’s not.
I hope to eventually find a community that is all it promises or is at least honest about its failings. But, for now, don’t say I’ve walked away from the faith. The truth is I walked away from the church.