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The Church Bashing Trend

Kathryn Stockett's The Help has been one of my recently treasured reads. An intricate tale of racism in Jackson, Mississippi, that I found myself both enthralled and appalled with as I turned her pages.

Sotckett, anticipating this judgment on her home state said, "Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all I want, but God help the person who raises an ill word around me."

In other words: watch the criticism unless you've been on the inside.

In Stockett's protective sentiment, I found words for a timely conversation that has nothing to do with domestic life in Mississippi but everything to do with upbringing and speaking into one's native landscape.

In particular, who, among the current critics of Evangelicalism has earned the right to criticize harshly and still be heard?

It is extremely fashionable to rant against Evangelicalism and indeed there is much to lament. Whether correcting outrageous comments by Fred Phelps or laughing along with the poignant humor of Jon Acuff, there is absolutely a place for correction in the Church.

There is a burgeoning trend, a mini-club of folks who were raised in a hyper-conservative setting, who found themselves shackled by faith, who were told never to doubt. And who are understandably rising from their slumber to criticize their tradition.

This is worthy of celebrating. Transforming, questioning, challenging, learning.

However, I struggle because this conversation has become trendy and too far-reaching, confusing and alienating those outside the Church.

Trendy, like, "Hey, yeah, I was raised all messed up in the church. You too? Great, let's go to a coffee shop and stay fashionably detached while bashing our pastors." Yes, I am being dramatic and trite to make the point but have you experienced this yourself? I have been on both sides of this conversation.

So, when do we stop making sweeping statements about how awful pastors, seminaries or churches are when in reality, many of these institutions have provided the forums and resources for these conversations to take place? At what point does the chatter about what we once were alienate the outside world in the same way the hyper-conservative traditions many react against?

I am a person who was raised without faith. By college I knew more about Eddie Vedder than Jesus, and I am not alone. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2009), the number of Protestants in the US now hovers at 51%, only 26% consider themselves "Evangelicals." Turns out half of us have not grown up in any sort of church, let alone the stifling communities many now berate.

It is necessary to lament the wiles of life inside the church, but it is dangerous when we assume that everyone else is uplifted by our conversations. We need to keep asking: who are we talking to?

Millions of people have a church-less story. They were never told not to doubt or how to vote because they grew up separated from those dogmas, and they are not sold on Jesus enough to stay put when the conversation turns native. Native talk is necessary but does not always make for good outreach.

Like Stockett, I recognize that I've little space to comment since I was born on the outside. But speaking for those on the outside, are we reaching a point where we might get over it and on with it?

How do we shift from reactive to progressive conversations?

November02, 2010 at 10:24 AM

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