This is my response to Winnie Varghese’s article in the Huffington Post (you can read the article here.)
While I share the frustration that can lead to Winnie’s “who needs them, anyway” attitude, I find that attitude problematic. It’s not a question of whether we need the people who have left the church. It’s a question of whether we think those people need us. Do they need to know Jesus in the way that we know Him? My life in the Episcopal church gives me a great deal of joy. It helps me to see the beauty in creation, to embrace the wonder that derives from scientific insight, to discover even deeper levels of meaning in the arts, and, most importantly, to accept and love other people, no matter how difficult they can be sometimes. The proper response to joy is the desire to share it. If our church isn’t inspiring that desire, than something truly is wrong. If people walk away, we have to at least entertain the suspicion that it’s because they’re not finding the joy that we so long to share when they’re with us. Wouldn’t it make us better, more faithful followers of Christ if we stopped deriding people as mere “social” Christians, and assumed that everyone who comes to church does so because they’re looking for something.
I’ve seen people leave the churches I’ve served, and I’ve always felt it to be a tremendous loss. Not because we need to fill out our membership rolls, but because it feels that I’ve failed them in some way. I always hope that they have received the message of joy while they’ve been in the church, and that they’re leaving because of some quibble with the liturgy or the organizational structure. Many have left because we’ve failed to provide programs for their children, particularly when they become teenagers. I can’t fault them for caring about their children’s formation. They go to other churches. But they go, I hope, with good feelings, having found joy in their hearts during their time among us.
In the end, the reasons to pursue social justice and the reasons to pursue evangelism coincide. We experience forgiveness, support, and love, and we want other people to feel those things, too. So we work to address the systems of injustice that treat people with suspicion, indifference, or hatred. But we also work to introduce those same people, and all others, to the beauties that we’ve experienced in the church. We can never say “who needs them?” Christ needs them. As he said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” That’s not a call to be disrespectful of other religions or secular points of view. But it is a call to acknowledge what we’ve been given, and to seek to share it with others.