For years I have been saying that one of the church’s biggest problems is that we are not honest. We – all denominations – allow clergy to do some pretty bad stuff, and all we do is move them or allow them to resign quietly. We are not alone in this – the #MeToo movement has gone after celebrities, universities, and all kinds of organizations for the same thing. Pope Francis is purging the church in Chile, and I hope he continues to weed out the child rapists that seem to flourish in that system. If we attack this problem from all angles and ages, we might make a dent in it. Maybe.
We have a big problem in the way we teach the faith as well. It is far easier to make cutesy little pictures of Arks than it is to talk about loving our enemies. It is simpler to show Jonah being eaten by a giant fish than to teach children about sacrifice. We have taken the easy way out, and we are paying for it. We have generations of children who have grown up with meaningless church, and they are responding with a big “so what?” And our approach to adult education is often non-existent, or focused on some TV preacher’s book about prosperity and feeling good about oneself.
I don’t mean to say that we should make children read the bible from beginning to end – that is not only pretty boring and frustrating, it is also – sometimes – not age appropriate. I do not want children reading about King David’s rape of Bathsheba one day, and then see him heralded as a hero when he takes out Goliath. We can, however, take the life and teachings of Jesus and make them meaningful – we can take some of the writings of Paul and use them to help people grow spiritually, even from a very young age. We have to have the will, however, to tell the truth about Scripture – we have to take it seriously, but not literally. And, we need our adults to know more about their faith before they start teaching children or other adults.
Why not teach people that turning the other cheek is an act of defiance and strength, not weakness? Why not show children that love of neighbor doesn’t mean you have to like everybody – you just need to treat them like a child of God? What if we took the Prodigal Family and used it to talk about family quarrels and dysfunction, and how forgiveness can heal our differences and disagreements? Wouldn’t these kinds of lessons go a lot farther than the simplistic nonsense we see in much of what passes for Christian Education – especially Vacation Bible School materials (don’t get me started on that!)
We have allowed lies to drive the church for too long, and if we don’t stop lying, we will continue dying. Telling the truth shouldn’t be so hard for the church. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH). an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin from United Theological Seminary (OH) with a focus on Christian Ethics, and a PhD from Alvernia University (PA) in Leadership.