This post on Sojourners has been making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook lately. I understand why, as much of what the writer said resonated with my own experience as a teen. And with my experience as a youth leader while my own kiddo was still hanging out in the early elementary Sunday School classroom. And of course, we’re all concerned about how few young people stick it out and remain active in the church through adulthood these days.
But I have to be honest here- most Sunday mornings, I get myself ready for church and head out on my own. Depending on whether I’m attending my home church or filling a pulpit someplace, my husband or teen might tag along. But it is the rare Sunday that I make my teenager to come to church with me.
Certainly, I am accustomed to the battle/ritual that waking a teen before noon requires, especially given that morning coffee is enough of a treat to inspire some movement most days. And I can certainly muster enough “I suffered through this at your age” to slather on the guilt pretty deep. And I am a big believer in raising up child up in the way (s)he should go. Including going to church. After all, how can I expect my child to value a belief system that remains a mystery?
I also place great value on having a community (beyond family) that knows me, cares for me, prays for me, cries when I am hurting and rejoices when I rejoice. Some of that you can get from book clubs, support groups and the like… but there is something different about being part of a group of people who are committed to loving God and loving others well.
All that to say, there are an awful lot of reasons to be part of a church that one attends regularly, most of which I experienced from a very early age and continue to seek out for myself.
So, why wouldn’t I make my kid come along?
Because I have not yet found a church that I can trust with the tender wounds already inflicted upon my child’s heart. By the church. By the church in which that child was baptized. By the very people who spoke together one of the most precious promises we make in our congregations: that they would walk alongside my family, loving, teaching and preparing my child to stand one day and make a profession of faith.
Some of that was my fault. By the time confirmation came around, my future preacher’s kid understood the importance of working out and working for one’s faith, which includes asking hard questions and exploring how others understand our scriptures. I wanted my child to recognize that our finite human brains are not God’s, thus we are not likely to come to absolute understandings, no matter how long or how hard we study and pray. And that we need to hold to the teachings we’ve been given, but not tightly in arrogant stubbornness, understanding that the Spirit can and does breathe new life and new ways of being into the church.
But it wasn’t just about the FPK’s mind or heart. You see, when a child is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, they have a little bit more figuring out to do than the average young person. They have to wade through the grand pronouncements of highly visible Christians about the relationship between sexual orientation and natural disasters. They tend to look at the polity of the church and see who is allowed to offer their gifts in ordered ministry and why they are not (yes, my child really did pick up and read the PCUSA Book of Order). They listen carefully to how their pastors and elders talk about those “sinners we love but hate their sins.”
Somewhere in the midst of all that noise, these dear ones, too, must somehow hear God’s voice claiming, calling and commissioning them to the work of the church.
And somewhere, in the midst of all that noise, the Body of Christ seems to have severed a nerve. We don’t – as a Body – feel the pain of those whose very personhood is diminished in the statements made by denominations and by individuals. Nor the pain of their family members. We don’t – as a Body – rejoice as their personhood is recognized by governments and civil structures, affording our LGBTQ brothers and sisters rights and responsibilities that so many of us take for granted.
Until I find a church that amplifies the love of God, worshiping in truth and speaking with grace…
Until I find a church that can truly be a sanctuary from the bullying, the scapegoating, the fear mongering that happens in our schools, in the public square and on our airwaves…
I will press on. I will keep looking. But I’m not going to make my teenager come with me.