TO BE-long to a Faith Community OR NOT TO BE-long to a Faith Community: That is the Question!

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TO BELong to a Faith Community OR NOT TO BELong to a Faith Community:

That Is the Question!

By Deborah Church Worley

May 2016

 

And no, I do not have the answer!

I know there are a lot of classic reasons to not go to church, to not belong to a faith community–church-goers/people of faith (Christians, in particular, it seems) are perceived and/or experienced as hypocrites and judgmental….Sunday is the only morning families have to sleep in and/or hang out together….the sermons are too long and/or boring and/or irrelevant….the music is outdated and/or boring and/or irrelevant….faith in God is for the unthinking and/or unintelligent, for people who need a crutch to get through life….etc., etc., etc.

In asking friends and relatives for additional suggestions regarding reasons to not go to church, I learned of more–for example:  “when being there is toxic to spirit and soul” [due to theology, priorities, hypocrisy]….“When you feel lonely, isolated, and uncared for in spite of attempting to reach out to others”….“When the God that is followed there is too small”…. “Too conservative and not gay-friendly or too ‘free-spirited’ [and no structure]”…. “Not wanting to finance an institution that does things I don’t support”… “lack of respect for diverse opinions or views”… “lack of support or insight into real-life issues”… “hijacking of church by extreme conservatives on abortion, marriage equality”…and more!

Certainly many valid reasons.  Many certainly valid reasons.  There is no doubt that a strong case can be made for not going to church, for not belonging to a community of faith.

Can an equally strong case be made to go to church in these times?  Are there equally valid reasons to belong to a faith community in today’s society?  Simply going to church because it’s what you did growing up isn’t always (ever?) enough; going to church just because it’s what you’re supposed to do on Sunday morning doesn’t hold much water any more.  In the face of so many and such compelling reasons not to, can a case be made, today, to be a person of faith, who belongs to a community of faith?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and the answers have not come quickly or easily.

Which may be surprising, given that I am an ordained Minister in the United Church of Christ!  Not to mention a “cradle Methodist,” having grown up attending a United Methodist Church with my family, having sought out and attended a Methodist church when I was an exchange student for a year in Brazil, and having attended a United Methodist seminary (Go Boston University School of Theology!).  I also spent two years as a United Methodist young adult missionary at the United Methodist-related McCurdy School in Espanola, NM, and later served as a part-time pastor at a lovely little adobe United Methodist mission church in El Rito, NM, while also serving as the Chaplain at the aforementioned McCurdy School, having returned after seminary!  Did I mention that I am a “cradle Methodist”???  

And so I figure that if even I, former lifelong church attendee/missionary/seminary student/chaplain/youth pastor/ordained minister, can have doubts about–or at least be seriously asking myself and others–what are the reasons to go to church, to belong to a faith community, there might be others who are, too.

I will offer several reflections, therefore, as part, hopefully, of what is already an ongoing, genuine conversation and, yes, the struggle surrounding the question:

“TO BE-long to a Faith Community OR NOT TO BE-long to a Faith Community?”

Stay tuned!  🙂

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4 thoughts on “TO BE-long to a Faith Community OR NOT TO BE-long to a Faith Community: That is the Question!

  1. patslentz

    I will look forward to your future writings, Deb! Tuesday night I heard Diana Butler Bass speak – a totally different talk than I heard her give 2 years ago. Have you read her latest book, Grounded ? Based on what I heard her say, she addresses both sides of your questions. Her talk was very moving to me, as it was a personal account of her own faith journey and conversions in relationship to church.

  2. Karl Stanford

    Hi Deb,

    I don’t think we ever really got a chance to talk about this at all in our unfortunately brief times together, but I thought I’d toss out some of my thoughts here.

    I’m not sure if Sue told you or not, but my “formal” religious background is as a Jehovah’s Witness (don’t worry, I’ve almost fully recovered from the ordeal). My experiences with JWs certainly soured my view of religion. On the plus side, I learned enough about the Bible to believe that JWs are probably following the Bible as closely as any faith I’m aware of. On the minus side, I just don’t believe in the Bible as a divine work. As a scientist, I reject such notions as an Earth that is less than 25 thousand years old, humans being abruptly created out of nothing, the first woman being made from man’s rib, and well…the flood. I accept the Bible as a work of metaphor, a guide to use (in some situations) for interacting with our fellow humans. As an owner’s manual for human actions and interactions, I find it quite…well…tedious. Hundreds of thousands of verses exist that not only allow, but appear to invite, ambiguity. The guide I prefer is a simple one–Kant’s Categorical Imperative, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” When I first read this, it sounded much like the Golden Rule, but I see a crucial difference in the term “universal law.” As such, it applies not to how you yourself would be treated, but how you would wish ALL to be treated.

    How does this relate to a membership in a faith community? Well, I just can’t function on faith. I function on actions and evidence. A community is variously defined as a collective of individuals with some unified purpose or outlook. My desire is to belong to a community of individuals who see their relationship to the world and to each other as I do–with rational, objective outcome measures. The measures can’t simply apply to people who are a part of my community, but need to apply universally. The measures need to extend beyond the human experience, and need to incorporate an ethic of respect for the environment and for other living things with which we share it. I’m one of those people who just never stops questioning, and I refuse to “wave off” a question as being unanswerable. My experience with faith communities (both JW and non-) has shown me that while the leaders may share my quest for answers, the rank-and-file are often too accepting of a state of “dunno…just the way it is, or the way it is meant to be.” What? Human starvation, genocide, racism and death from treatable disease are the way it is meant to be?!

    I laud the efforts of many faith communities. Right here in our small town, they have worked to provide basic needs for the poor and sick. I have seen charity that has touched me deeply, and I do appreciate these efforts. However, as an atheist (or agnostic on a particularly light day), I wish that the stigma against my way of viewing the world was removed. When you self-identify as an atheist in most small New England towns, you are some sort of lesser person. There is no ready venue for a an objective reality community–only one for a faith community. We who seek to address the macroscopic ills of the world don’t have much of a place.

    • Hey Karl! Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply!! I apologize for taking so long to respond. And in fact, I’m going to take even longer!! I want to read your comments more carefully (I’m actually going to print them out), and respond more carefully than a quick response here would allow…… So, stay tuned…I’ll be in touch again! 🙂 I am sincerely grateful, though, for your honesty and sincerity.

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