NPR ran an interesting story about Christian podcasts and the podcast producers who are taking conversations you aren’t likely to hear in church to a new platform.
The article cites a Pew Research Center study from 2015 that found millennials leaving Catholic and mainline Protestant churches in large numbers for at least the past eight years.
But those people, the study found, didn’t abandon their belief in God: it was the church with which they had a problem. Podcasts the NPR article pointed out target that audience of people who still consider themselves “religious or spiritual” but have problems, for one reason or another, with churches they’ve been part of and how those churches teach their version of God and Christ.
On the podcasts, the article says, people can say things they “can’t say in church.”
For some of us, it’s not podcasts: it’s a blog.
I’m not a pastor, but I’ve never made any bones about that. In fact, I try whenever possible to point out that I’m not a pastor. I think we are all called, however, to be the Christ we want to see in the world.
What’s sad here is that there are modern-day issues that can’t seem to be discussed openly in church. We are told — by every ultra-conservative church person who finds that something we believe is different from something they believe — that we shouldn’t rely on our own understanding. In their mind, all too often, they consider it perfectly reasonable to rely on their understanding and with that reliance also requires a refusal to question anything.
One of the podcasters interviewed in the NPR article, Toby Morrell, acknowledges that he and others like him are often criticized, which he says is a good thing:
The church does a really poor job of respecting people’s minds. They want to just give you everything in a pretty little package, and that is what your Christianity is. I think what we’re doing is opening up a door where people go, “No, I own my faith. I’m wrestling with God.”
“Wrestling with God” is a Biblical concept from the book of Genesis in which Jacob wrestles with a mysterious angelic character he later says was God Himself. And at the end of the skirmish, Jacob says he was blessed by God. Can’t that be interpreted to mean that those who do, from time to time, wrestle with their beliefs have the chance to receive a genuine blessing from God rather than the damnation some church people seem to wish on anyone who questions anything?
It’s that stubborn, no-questions-allowed theology that seems to be more and more of a turnoff these days. For some people who genuinely want a relationship with Jesus Christ, it’s Christians, not Satan, who seem to be stumbling blocks.
Consider, for example, the furor over a gay character in the Disney film, Beauty and the Beast. There are Christians calling for a boycott of Disney altogether over a secondary character in a movie because that character happens to be homosexual. As I recently wrote, I’m not a scholar when it comes to the basic storyline, but the double standard seems to be obvious even to someone who isn’t: these same Christians wouldn’t mind taking their little children to see a story about a young woman who is kidnapped and held against her will and, while a captive, falls in love with something resembling a buffalo. We’re urged to boycott a film that includes a gay character but the bestiality part isn’t a problem? If a secondary homosexual character is so big of a deal that people are ready to take the boycott as far as never visiting a Disney theme park again, how is the woman-loves-an-animal thing not at least raising eyebrows?
And can you imagine trying to have that conversation inside a church? If you can, consider yourself fortunate and please — please — value what you have.
If we can’t have actual conversations about modern-day concerns without being branded as heretics (or worse), then there’s something very wrong with the way some churches actually do church.
One of my favorite religious blogs is called “Stuff That Needs To Be Said” and is written by Pastor John Pavlovitz, a North Carolina youth pastor who has gained a lot of attention, both positive and negative, for his progressive views of Christianity. He makes you think. I like that a lot. I may not agree with everything he says, but I agree with virtually all of the reasoning he puts into his arguments and, after actually having a one-on-one conversation with him, I believe he is genuine and his goal is to invite more people to the table where those real conversations about Christ actually happen.
It sounds like that’s the motive of these Christian podcasts as well. Part of me wishes John would start a podcast, but I have so little time to actually listen to podcasts that blogs are a much better choice for me.
Still, if the motive is to bring more people to Christ, I don’t know how I could consider that motive a bad one.