Turns out there are a lot of angry and vocal Christians in the world ready to burn at the stake anyone who stands up in the name of Jesus to embody love and compassion for the broken and lifeless.
While I always saw these angry Christians on the news white-knuckling picket signs between their fingers like a supernatural game of tug-o-war, I never experienced the force of their wrath for myself. That is, until I had a little article published called “59% of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why.” That post went viral reaching over 3 million people worldwide.
Overnight, my whole world turned upside down.
- The interim pastor at my large suburban church told me over coffee I was a source of darkness and my voice was no longer welcome. Another pastor told me based on the article she couldn’t see me teaching the youth anymore after six years of volunteering.
- A radio show host/pastor, after inviting me on his show to talk about millennials in church, ripped into my history with suicidal ideation and my relationship with my alcoholic father who left when I was twelve years old… live on the air. #classy
- I woke up each day to an incessant flood of emails in my inbox like this one, “You are a little, spoiled punk in need of a good-old-fashioned wood-shed whoopin’!!! How dare you throw mud on Jesus Bride. WARNING: It will NOT go well with you when you face Him.”
And my all-time favorite correspondence with anyone who claims to know and follow Jesus ever:
- “You should have just killed yourself.”
And we wonder why 59% of millennials raised in a church have dropped out and have no intention of ever going back.
We wonder why, according to church researcher and consultant Thomas Rainer, 8 out of 10 churches in America are declining in attendance or at a plateau.
I wrote my article as a love letter using my experiences of frustration with the local church to try and move our collective Church mainsail back towards shore—clearly an offense worth excommunication, attempted public humiliation, and calls for suicide.
The truth is, we need to take a long, hard look at our Church families and come together to remember what it actually looks like to be a follower of Jesus. We need to explode out into our communities by filling needs, loving the least of these and — in the process — making disciples of all nations.
We need to embody this quote by my main man Francis Chan, “We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression ‘I believe in God, just not organized religion’. I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live.” ? Francis Chan, “Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God”
But where do we find people who are actually living courageous lives, daring to move towards people who are different than they are, choosing to wrestle with really difficult and complicated questions in their faith, who are going out into the community to find people who’ve been clobbered by the Church and apologize, and are actually willing to sit beside someone they don’t unanimously agree with and be kind, supportive, and loving towards them?
Where are these rare and beautiful breeds of Christians who care more about spreading the gospel than rage and exclusion?
I had sort of given up on finding them. I’d dipped my toes in the baptismal fount of a number of new churches but struggled to get past the pain and rejection I’d experienced.
And then there it was: the best example of Jesus found in the unlikeliest of places.
“Watch this episode on Netflix,” a youth pastor friend suggested. “Every Christian in America needs to watch this.”
And so I opened the link, expecting a Case-for-Christ-type documentary and instead finding myself face-to-face with the Fab 5 as “Queer Eye” season 2, episode 1 began to play.
(I realize the fact that I even mention that show here pretty much guarantees another 9,000 hate-filled emails.)
The episode opens in Gay, Georgia, a town of 89 people complete with a side of sweet tea and southern hospitality.
If you haven’t seen the show, the “Fab 5” travel the country helping to change people’s lives. Often really good people who have been through really challenging circumstances.
Tammye (who everybody calls Mama) introduces herself by saying, “I feel like God has given me a precious gift, and I am on this planet not for myself but for the betterment of humanity.”
Soon you hear from Jonathan, resident grooming expert on the show, who shares:
“The church is what I feel alienated by, not God. I feel completely loved by God and Jesus. It’s a lot of the politics of the Church, it’s like what made me feel not welcome, it was the choir of people saying I love you. I just don’t accept your lifestyle choices.”
BAM. 4:46 into the episode and the love of God is being shared. Hurt is being shared. Real, raw and honest discussion being had about the Church. HALLELUJAH!
5:01 On-screen a BIBLE VERSE. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). What is the last TV show you watched with a Bible verse on the screen (besides those swindling televangelists preaching from their private jets obviously)?
Soon, the gang stops at a community center built by Tammye’s church to serve meals and provide daycare for those struggling in the community. (YES CHURCH! LET’S GO!)
6:42 The gang walks into the church but Bobby, a member of the Fab 5, won’t go in. Over the course of the episode, you learn he is a pastor’s kid who has been so hurt by the church he can’t even cross the threshold with no one around. How many thousands and thousands of Bobbys are out there that we’ve pushed away?
Soon you learn that Mama’s young adult son, Myles, was very involved in Church growing up but once he came out, he lost his entire church community. You see Mama with tears in her eyes talk about working through what her religion said and the incredible love she had for her son.
You see the Fab 5 work with Myles to share their own hurts about the church and yet recognize that this struggling young man in Gay, Georgia needs that community. They love and support him so he can step back into that church community with confidence.
Five GAY MEN helped this man find his way BACK TO CHURCH.
If you refuse to watch the whole episode or already have steam coming out of your ears at the very thought of anything regarding “homosexuality,” I implore you to watch starting at 43:22.
44:50 — Mama asks Bobby, “What have you learned this week?”
Bobby says, “To remember where I came from, to let go of some of the resentment, to remember that not everyone who claims to be Christian is good, but there are a whole lot of good ones out there.”
And then they embrace and smile and laugh.
This. This. This. This. This. THIS.
THIS IS WHAT THE CHURCH SHOULD LOOK LIKE.
Not screaming at each other about Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13. Not 217 different denominations because we can’t reside in the same space every time a new social issue comes along we don’t unanimously agree on.
Not shouting hate or going on insane political tirades.
This. This episode is what Jesus would want the church to look like.
Like having hard discussions.
Like embracing the vulnerability of saying, “When I read Leviticus, it says that’s not okay and I don’t fully understand that. But I do understand that we’re made to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sorry for how much the church has hurt and ostracized you. You’re my brother in Christ and let’s walk this thing out together. And please pass the potato salad.”
Like going out of our way to apologize to the communities we have not loved as we love ourselves and move towards them like these incredible humans did on Queer Eye.
The biggest problem in the American church isn’t a social issue or a president, it’s not programming or budget discrepancies: it’s unity.
It’s the vulnerability to admit we don’t have all the answers, and it’s the courage to love people who are different than we are.
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10
I think Paul would have some heated words for the American Church. Sorry, Paul. We’ll try to change.
So thank you Netflix and Queer Eye for having the audacity to do what most churches won’t: walk out into our communities with open hearts and open minds and break bread together as one body of Christ, as the Children of God, sons and daughters of Adam that we all are.
The truth is, the attendance numbers don’t lie: the Church needs saving and we can be that change we wish to see by following the examples of Mama, Bobby, Tan, Karamo, Jonathan and Antoni.
Let’s choose to be one Church united in our love of Christ and love of people.