Each week the Newberg Graphic publishes a pastoral pondering from one of the local clergy. This week I was the author.
Aug. 11 Pastoral Pondering: Religion can be a source of comfort or a divisive tool
- Published: 8/10/2012 1:45:54 PM
I have often heard that
Researchers probe the question of why people do not go to church. In 2007, David Kinnaman documented five years of interview research in his book “Unchristian.” He found that young people (16 to 29 years old), who were non-church attendees, viewed Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, anti-homosexual, sheltered and too political.
Bradley Wright, associate professor of sociology at the
One recurring theological issue that becomes an obstacle for many people is the classical problem of evil: Why does an all-powerful, all-loving God allow bad things to happen to good people? The relationship between faith and science is another obstacle. Many question the reliability of the Bible.
Some people have expectations of God that have not been met. An elder in a charismatic church, who struggled with a particular issue, wrote: “In my own life, no matter how much I submitted to God and prayed in faith, sin never seemed to leave me. Well, what’s the point of being saved if you aren’t delivered from sin?”
Unanswered prayers, disappointment in life, perceived injustice are among the reasons people drop out of church.
Wright’s third category is the bad behavior of Christians, which includes mistreatment, and even abuse, by church leaders. It also includes apparent closed-mindedness on the part of some religious people. Wright quotes a former Southern Baptist, who rather harshly identified this tendency among the Christians that he had known: “Christians have their pat phrases for every little whim.” Standard pat answers, which close off discussion, include statements such as: “God will never put more on you than you can bear,” “God works in mysterious ways,” “your faith wasn’t strong enough,” and “God wanted him in heaven.”
The research shed a little light on the reasons people choose not to attend church. A phrase has come into vogue over the past decade that applies to many who have left the church or have never been part of it: “spiritual but not religious.” I think what lies behind that phrase is the recognition that organized religion is far too human and therefore has many faults. Still, the phrase seems to indicate a common human quest to find the most meaningful and rich life available to a person.
I see myself as spiritual and religious. “All religions are equally false and equally true, depending on how you use them,” writes Eckhart Tolle in his book, “A New Earth.” I have found that religion can be a resource for healing and growth or a tool to suppress, confine and control. I want to affirm spirituality wherever it comes from. I also want to learn from religion in its many forms. While religion and spirituality are sometimes at odds, the two often overlap for me.
The Rev. Robert Flaherty is pastor of Newberg First United Methodist Church