Postcards From The Edge

I’m a broken record regarding my disappointment with our local church’s whack-a-mole approach to the growing threat of misinformation, science denial, creepy/racist theocratic propaganda and general media illiteracy.

With this situation poised to get significantly worse over the next few months, rather than regurgitate my usual ominous song and dance, I’ll just let this updated batch of church and “friends of the church” Facebook posts (an irrelevant distinction given the medium) speak for themselves.

“Enjoy” I…guess? Here we go:

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Eyes Averted

Since my “taking a church break” post a few weeks ago, I’ve received some lovely pieces of encouragement, experienced a lot of radio silence (judging by the large number of views vs. responses) and had a 1:1 conversation that went into the relationship between the church and social justice.

Regarding the latter, my overall takeaway was that the frustration I’m feeling essentially boils down to fundamental disagreement over the following two points:

  1. Whether or not the spread of misinformation/media illiteracy is a major problem in the church (needing to be addressed en masse vs 1:1)

  2. Whether or not the church should take an active role in identifying and/or trying to address matters of social justice

Let’s start by talking about misinformation/media illiteracy.

I tweeted most of these screenshots out a few days ago as well, but for those that missed it, here’s a sample of some actual church and “friends of the church” (it’s a social network, after all) posts on Facebook:

Let’s break these down (and keep in mind that these are tame ones compared to the “missing children” QAnon stuff). We’ve got:

  • A creepy merging of Christianity, patriotism and the military (theocracy, ahoy!)

  • A dangerous pseudoscience response to COVID (made even darker by the MLM scene firmly embedded within the church)

  • A “Thin Blue Line” meme (a strong “fingers in the ears” response to discussions about police reform and systemic racism)

  • Complete nonsense about the role of fact checkers in journalism

  • Straight-from-Trump’s mouth parroted misinformation about mail-in voting (hello there, fascism!)

Content like this will just keep ramping up as we near the election (and especially after), and we continue to ignore it at our peril.

As for the church’s role in in matters of social justice, let me start by clarifying two things:

  • Merely identifying something as wrong/sinful is different than taking action (some issues just need calling out, while others require decisive next steps and ongoing followup)

  • The church obviously can’t force people to do things (only offer guidance and advice)

Obviously (per the manifesto above) I’m very much of the opinion that we need to at least identify the problem of misinformation. I’m also exasperated, however, at our inconsistent (or non-existent) actions/next steps for already-identified sinful behaviors that have larger societal impacts.

Why do we (finally) talk about institutional racism as sinful, but not continue the conversation by openly discussing the actual elephant in the room, which is the racist history of policing in America?

Why do we generally condemn lying and harmful gossip, but stay silent when our President vomits divisive propaganda (much of it especially harmful to minorities) day after day?

Why do we preach love and inclusion, then fall back on decades-old “settled” Biblical interpretations surrounding women in church leadership and support for friends in the LGBTQ community? This behavior not only harms those affected directly, but acts as a deterrent to other soft-hearted seekers, who end up walking away while scratching their heads at the hypocrisy.

Here’s my hunch as to why:

If sinful behavior strays too far into what could be classified as a “political” topic area, we look away, note that this isn’t the church’s responsibility and trust that it’s ultimately all part of God’s plan.

So…does that plan include acceptance of sin and injustice at every step along the way? I mean “the poor you will always have with you” and all, but as a church we still identify poverty as a major social issue and help improve the lives of the less fortunate, right?

Do we walk by the sheep in the pit since there’ll always be sheep in pits, and it’s not the church’s role to be sheep extractors? No, we intervene right there in the moment to solve the unexpected issue that’s now staring us in the face. When things are uncertain or unprecedented, we err on the side of love over legalism.

The fusion of evangelicalism, conservative politics, nationalism and the greatest misinformation delivery system in world history has resulted in the church becoming paralyzed on issues of clear-cut cruelty and sin. By washing our hands, averting our eyes and continuing to stay in our standard lanes, we’re doing immense damage to Christianity.

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In entirely unsurprising news to any of my readers, I’m taking a break from our local church. To be clear, I have no hard feelings against anyone specifically (and in fact I have a good deal of love and admiration for many), but I can only scream into the void for so long before it becomes a bit of a “shake the dust off” situation.

I’ve written incessantly about this stuff for many years now, but to put a TL;DR bow on it, the primary reason for my hiatus generally comes down to the fact that the church just isn’t willing to have a serious, top-down reckoning with misinformation, media bubbles and the decades-long fusion of Christianity with the Republican party.

I suspect this is due to concern that exploring these topics would cause many members to leave the fellowship. It’s true, this would absolutely happen. Continuing to avoid these hard truths, however, will cause marginalized and/or dissenting voices in the congregation to throw up their hands and walk away. 👋

We treat these concerned “whistleblowers” as the outliers, and paint us as having been individually choked out by the “weeds” of societal concerns and cultural forces (something to be remedied by just “getting back to basics” and focusing on Jesus), when in reality the church itself has become obscured by a thicket so dense that it’s now almost unrecognizable.

When the church trips over itself to address natural disasters and accidents, but avoids even a mention of Jacob Blake (having already “finished” our racism series), another weed grows.

When (mostly male) members continue to prioritize concerns about their own personal sexual temptations above active participation in online dialogue and the combatting of misinformation, another weed grows.

When the church doesn’t address the damaging effects of QAnon (sadly, not even joking) and related wild conspiracy theories, another weed grows.

When we fret more about worship-appropriate female outfits than revisiting and expanding the role of women in leadership, another weed grows.

Though the next several months will get increasingly terrifying on almost every front, I sincerely hope that the church emerges from the chaos with gardening tools in hand, ready with open eyes and soft hearts to start clearing the soil. I’ll gladly join in.

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