Once again, involvement in organized religion on the decline. According to a Gallup poll, only 47% of U.S. adults belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, in 2020. This year is the first time it has fallen below 50%.
Evangelical churches are concerned about the loss of attendees and members. The question every church’s mind is: why is everyone leaving?
John Stonestreet and Maria Baer over at Breaking Point cite several cultural trends as the culprit. In their words, “For example, an organization called The Witness, an online community of African-American Christians, recently launched the hashtag “#LeaveLoud.” Through podcast episodes and online articles, The Witness encourages black Christians to not only leave “predominantly white or multiethnic” churches if they’ve been dishonored, but to be vocal about it, inside and especially outside the church.”
Any reasonable person can agree that you would leave if you were being dishonored and poorly treated at a church. Our African-American brothers and sisters have suffered generations of being treated as second-class citizens in Evangelical churches. The very roots of the Evangelicals are racist in origin. The movement started as a segregationist movement and has done very little to stem the rising tide of racism in the United States.
However, Stonestreet and Baer, while acknowledging that “Plenty of our African-American brothers and sisters have been neglected or hurt by fellow Christians,” Instead of dealing with the problem of racism in Evangelical churches they deflect and blame the victim. According to them, “Being noisy about joining the “exvangelicalism” movement is not only a popular thing to do, it’s a way to be popular.”
Victim blaming is a way to acknowledge the problem and never address it. Stonestreet and Baer go even further and suggest that those who leave not only church but Christianity, are just wanting to avoid the moral code of the Bible. Exvangelicals didn’t understand faith. Stonestreet and Baer provide a non-sequitur for a definition of faith. They claim that scripture is clear, “live peaceably with everyone, as far as it depends on you.” They take the final step of victim-blaming by saying that leaving loud is not living peaceably. The final insult is left for their closing, “Anyone who takes that teaching seriously, not to mention the many others that directly apply to our lives within the body of Christ, will find it difficult to “leave loud,” or to justify leaving over silly disputes, or to neglect praying for those who have left.” Church abuse and being dishonored are now equated with silly disputes.
Let’s summarize, people leave the church to become popular, and because they don’t understand faith, how silly of those sinners.
It should also be noted, that Stonestreet and Baer have received considerable criticism over conflating the Exvangelical movement and the #LeaveLoud Movement. They are not the same movement, they address different issues.
In another version of this article, published on the Christian headlines site, Stonestreet and Baer decry that high profile figures share their deconstruction stories and “tragically” these involve divorce, marital unfaithfulness, or homosexuality. Stonestreet and Baer have decided that these people have lost their faith because they chose to be sinful. Where is the compassion for the brokenhearted? What happened to ministering to those who are hurt by the tragedies of life? Sadly, the most telling sentence in this second article is: “Of course, every “leaving church” story is different. Sometimes, real harm has been done.” The authors admit that people are being harmed. That is where this article should focus. Instead of whitewashing the problem of people losing faith by labeling people as moral failures and sinners, maybe they should prevent abuse.
One final article I read does have an interesting new slant. It appeared in Charisma Magazine. Ben Crisp’s article called “Why I’m Not Giving Up on My Generation.” He says that despite all the production values and showiness of many churches, his generation wants something more genuine. In Crisp’s article, too many smoke machines and lasers, mission trips without a real mission, being ministered to instead of ministering to God, and lack of shepherding, have led people to leave the church. In his conclusion, he says, “From the outside, it may look as though younger generations are difficult to understand. We really are not. We just want something genuine. We want holy worship. We want houses of prayer. We want Holy Spirit gifts active in our lives and our churches. We want to see an outpouring of the Spirit like never before.”
As good as that sounds, he gives no evidence to support his statement. There are no polls, personal stories, interviews, and no acknowledgment that many people leave because they have been hurt. Crisp’s answer is a “Sunday School” answer. It’s like saying we all need to read the Bible more and pray. It sounds good, it gets you a gold star from the teacher, but does that solution solve the problem being considered?
When it comes to Exvangelicals, again very different form the #LeaveLoud movement, no one has any real answers for why people leave. The closest I have seen is the Barna Group book UnChristian.
The Barna Group took the time to ask why people left the church. Their research published by Dave Kinnaman in the book UnChristian pointed out that many young people are disconnected from church because of the Evangelical anti-science stance, right-wing politics, the lack of real-world answers, and an antiquated understanding of human sexuality. Stonestreet and Baer see those issues as a moral weakness and a lack of
brainwashing good instruction.
We will continue to see a decline in all religions until churches, synagogues, and mosques start to purge themselves of racism, abuse, profiteering pastors and return to helping people find answers to the toughest issues in life. People will come to church when we have something to offer them besides fear of damnation.