A clerical aquaintence and fellow millennial recently sparked a conversation on Facebook when he shared an article by the Rev’d Mr Matthew Marino entitled, “Exclusive Inclusivity: Will The Episcopal Church Keep Gay Millennials?” My acquaintance affirmationally quoted Marino,
Did you notice that GenCon12 voted to become both more progressive politically while, at the same time, holding the line on theological orthodoxy? Did you notice the groundswell to shrink national structures and sell the national Church Center? Did you notice the Acts 8 Moment?
Many Boomers seemed surprised at those swirling winds…
Surprised, indeed. As a millennial, I have felt woefully misunderstood by earlier generations — the power-wielders — within the Episcopal Church, for what appears to be a discomfort with, even hostility toward, the blend of progressive values and orthodox confession which many of my peers and I profess. The assumption they make is that either one is progressive and unconventional or one is conservative and conventional.
Well, my friends, I am similarly discomfited with, even hostile toward, such false either – or dichotomies and the generational prejudice they betray. Temper my indignation though I may try, I cannot help but believe that the generation that has fought hardest for the full and unqualified inclusion of all people within the Episcopal Church has also systematically excised the very grounds of its existence and purpose: Jesus Christ.
If the Episcopal Church hopes to keep many millenials, it will have to face the reality that there are innumerable progressive non-profit social justice organizations with equally impressive, if not better, records of inclusivity and diversity, with accomplishments that would make the Episcopal Church pale in comparison, competing for our support and service.
If the Episcopal Church is nothing more than its popular caricature — the Democratic Party at Prayer — and if it cannot stomach the robust, intelligent, sophisticated theology, resplendent liturgy, and rich polity of which it is presently an ungrateful heir, then millenials will take their conviction, their prayer, their loyalty, and — in what I am sure will be the worst blow for baby-boomers — their wallets elsewhere.
Is there anyone of that generation who sees the intensely humorous irony, that in becoming cultural and philosophical relativists; that in making an especial point to establish open, respectful overseas missions in places like Africa and Asia that celebrate local culture — places historically abused by western imperialist governments and their equally condescending missionaries, living out the white man’s burden and the white man’s commercial interest — are those places where vibrant, uncompromising, and unabashed conventional christian communities are blossoming, quite literally exploding with blooms of grace faster than we count.
The very people whom we have historically oppressed and whose cultures we have mercilessly suppressed as inferior to our own, do not believe that it is necessary to abandon our storied conventions, even as we hemorrhage out everything purposeful and meaningful in our tradition in their name. It would seem that those who have felt most disenfranchised and excluded are surprisingly the least likely to desire a further dilution of their faith.
Perhaps, they realize that it is not the creed that is historically at fault; it is not Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended, and returning, who is exclusionary. To deny christian tradition is to deny the founder, the mover, the inspirer of the very grace that led us to a more expansive, more inclusive church.
If not Jesus Christ, if not the Holy Ghost, then who, then what? If it were anyone, anything else, why maintain the charade at all? We might as well proclaim ourselves secular humanists with a passing fancy for mysticism. Or, worse, is our continuance as a church really faithfulness to the Church Pension Fund? Now, there is a thought.
Testimony to this effect is found in the aforementioned article by Mr Marino, most especially in the case of LGBT millenials, who, in his experience, are no longer enamored with the Episcopal Church’s pandering to them by loudly parading ’round and belauding their sexuality, but who merely want a church that helps sustain and enrich their faith, providing them a context within which they may do the same for others; a church that does not withhold or dilute the truth, or reject the essential along with the inessential,
As the culture continues to change, will the Episcopal Church keep Gay Millennials? Or will they end up going someplace else — someplace that puts more emphases [sic] on their faith than their orientation?
Today, millenials are more interested in a church that behaves like a church. We do not believe in christless christianity. We do not believe in squishy relativism and coreless antifoundationalism. We do not profess Christ merely mortal, sometime preacher of good ideas, teller of memorable tales, wearer of a wicked awesome hipster beard, and victim of an admittedly unfortunate political execution. We do not believe in a repackaged, badly interpreted, western rehash of oriental mysticism. We do not believe in the Episcopal Church as the Democratic Party at Prayer.
We do not believe that there is nothing exceptional about Jesus Christ, because if there is nothing exceptional about Jesus Christ then why in the hell are we wasting so much time and money maintaining an institution that bears his name? We do not believe in a church of nothing more that do-gooders and well-wishers who pay their ten percent, drink their coffee, and take a holiday from praying in the summertime to antique in Rhode Island, sup lobster in Maine, or sip wine in Martha’s Vineyard.
We do not believe in the Church of the Holy Concert Series; Ss Wine, Whiskey, and Cheese; the Basilica of the Modern Art Installation; or the Cathedral Church of the Biannual Congregants. We do not believe in whitewashing, cherrypicking, glossing over, veneering, sugarcoating, or tossing the baby out with the bath water. We do not believe in a buffet-style, cafeteria christianity wherein we can take a little of this and little of that and leave the rest until they discontinue the menu item.
We do not believe in John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Diana Butler Bass. We do not believe in our esteemed leaders incapable of even mouthing the holy name of Jesus Christ in public pronouncements. We do not believe in a church more prepossessed by property seizure, equity accrual, investment dividends, trust funds, pension plans, copyright enforcement, marketing schemes, and retaliatory litigation than it is by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
That’s what we believe and if the intention of the Episcopal Church’s powers-that-be is to hollow this confession with indifference rather than hallow it with faithfulness, well, millenials — like most human being — are bipedally equipped and quite capable of walking away and going elsewhere. The truth is, though, that we do not want to walk away, we want to remain and continue to build upon the good work that the Episcopal Church has done, is doing, might do — except we want to do so in the name of Christ for the glory of that name, not as an act of self-congrulation for how lovely and welcoming we are.
If our baby-boomer brethren and sistren (I promise that this is a real word) want to sit in symposiums and seminars discussing “How to Keep Millenials in the Church,” maybe they should take some advice from actual millenials. We would like nothing more nor less that a faithful church that preaches Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ resurrected, and Christ enthroned. We want a church that is unashamed to preach atonement, sacrifice, suffering, service, and salvation.
Millenials were born with extremely sensitive bullshit barometers and we want honesty, transparency, and integrity. We want a church where we can develop relationships, build community, and engender fellowship despite difference and disagreement, but without pretending that we believe nothing lest we offend someone, anyone. We want a church that respects us, because we have the courage to live in both faith and doubt, certainty and uncertainty, boldness and meekness, and countless other seemingly opposite traits wedded together in conscious imperfection.
We want a church that doesn’t make us choose between artificial categories of superficial division. We want a church that allows us to be authentic christians as well as progressive activists, a church that does not assume that convention means we are bigots, that we are fundamentalists, that we are young earth creationists, biblical literalists and innerrantists, “God Hates Fags!” picketers, or hardline anti-abortion, anti-women, anti-immigration neoconservatives. Our church is historically the church of the via media — fraught thought that term is — and its members should know well the sort of cohabitant and coöperative culture we yearn for and which we find lived out in the pages of the gospel, in the life of Jesus Christ and the acts of his apostles.
Our idea of church is a place where ideas can flow freely and where questions are never stifled, but also where our history is accepted and our traditions respected. Christology, hamartiology, eschatology, and theology in general should not be forbidden subjects, the domain of divinity students who will never revisit their study. Worship should be less about novelty, play-acting, and pleasing and more about adoration, supplication, lamentation, and oblation; you know, worship.
We are thoroughly tired of a church that disrespects us by trembling fearfully in our presence, terrified that it may offend us or challenge us. We want to be offended, offended by our complacency exposed in the light of the gospel; challenged by the indictment of sinful self-regard and the subsequent call to go and sin no more, to be disciples to all nations and carry the love of Christ to all people. We want a church that remembers what it was, works with what it is, and reimagines what it could be.