::Time to finally get back to finishing this series. Lent and Easter got distracting, and then I just continued to be distracted. Apologies for such a long delay!::
Reason # 5- they wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christ and the exclusive nature of the Church.
This post warrants two different conversations: one about the claims of Christ in the midst of a world where religious pluralism is not only prominent, but also valued, and also about the behavior of Christians.
So let’s begin with the former point. We live in a time where our culture places high value placed upon acceptance, tolerance, and being politically correct. We also live in a country that has become the world’s most religiously diverse.
I read a book in one of my religious studies classes in college called A New Religious America by Diana Eck, in which she surveys how America has become so religiously diverse, especially over the last half-century. While in the 1950’s, it was highly likely that one’s neighbors were Christians (with perhaps a Jew here or there), today, one is just a likely to live next to a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or unaffiliated person. We live in a country where there are a plurality of world views, and generally, that is something that is seen by many in younger generations as a positive thing. Because of this, it is natural for them to struggle with the exclusive claims of Christ. What does it mean when he says that he is the ‘way, the truth, and the life,” and that “no one comes to the Father except through me”? What does it mean for their friends or neighbors who do believe differently?
This post is not to debate a theology of salvation or what exactly the exclusive nature of Christ is, but the Church needs to be a safe place to ask questions and search out the meaning of Christianity’s claims, understanding why those claims need to be explored through a dialogue of compassion.
The second point is that younger generations most certainly wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christians. Too often, we turn our congregations into social clubs, where members must think, act, dress, and behave like everyone else who is a member.
I was in a sorority in college. It was a great group of people, but one thing that I never liked was our definition of “pin attire” (ie. what we had to wear one day a week when we would wear our sorority pins.) We had to dress up in what I would call business attire: dress pants, button down shirts or sweaters, no denim, no t-shirts, or anything. In other words, it was preppy business. Just like now, my style was nothing of the sort back then, and I always felt like someone else on days where I would wear my “pin attire.” I couldn’t wear my jeans and t-shirts with my pin. I had to “look” the part. So often, the Church approaches people in the same way. Rather than accepting people wherever they are in life, there is often an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) expectation of needing to be a certain way or look a certain way first.
The Church is not a club. It is not a social organization. It is open and inclusive to all people in all the corners of the earth. Unfortunately, so often, groups of people are excluded because of their lifestyles or tastes in music or how they look. More than anything, this causes a huge stumbling block to the younger generations because among them, generally the idea of acceptance is extremely important to them, and while they hear they may hear the words in their congregation that “God loves everyone unconditionally,” when they do not see it embodied in the lives of the Christian community, they want nothing to do with the hypocrisy.
How can we, as a community of faith, work to not only share, but also embody the unconditional love of God to all of those whose paths we cross?