Thursday, May 28, 2015

Good News, Bad News, It's Not News

When writers and researchers break out the demographics, it’s hard not to root for your “team.” We like to think that our generation is the most generous, our state the smartest, our profession the most honest, or our ethnic group the best-looking.  Even when we don’t say it out loud (because our people are also humble), we notice.

I detect that tone when people write about their religious groups as well. I’ve done it myself, especially in reference to charitable giving, where we find that the religiously affiliated give more and volunteer more, even to secular causes. There is a normal but unfortunate tendency for folks to want to prove their “method” works better than other peoples’ way of living in the world. There is a type of preacher that takes pains to illustrate this in reverse as well, ruefully noting that Christians, including evangelicals, have premarital sex, divorce, and substance abuse about as much as other populations. 

If only those latter were true.  There are reasons why those numbers don’t measure what they say they do (which I leave as an exercise for the student). If you like to root for the evangelical “team” in that way, you still have moderate reason for rejoicing.   Yet that is not a reason to rejoice.  Mark 2:17 Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is supposed to be attracting those who need her, those who are in crisis, those who are broken. We should hope that the life histories of our people include more divorces, more arrests, more homelessness. We don’t hope that, because we remain very human. 

We’re not complete washouts in this, because we do feel comfortable with bad news if it’s far enough in the past, so that it becomes a testimony or rescue and redemption. Churches work at closing that gap of how far in the past something has to be before we’re comfortable with you.  It’s not easy.
It’s easier to see the problem if we imagine it extended.  When the day comes that the unchurched world has all the unwed mothers, prisoners, and unemployed people, while churches are populated only with the prosperous and those with Buffy’s keen fashion sense, we will have finally been defeated.