A**holes “in the name of the Lord”

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According to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, millennials are far less likely to be outwardly religious than any other American generation.  “[O]ne in four are unaffiliated with any religion, [which is] far more than . . . older adults when they were ages 18 to 29.”

The majority of millennials don’t feel good about Christianity.  Over 60 percent say Christianity is “judgmental.” Sixty-four percent say that the term “anti-gay” best describes most churches today.  Seventy-five percent of young people raised in “Christian” homes will give up Christianity after they leave high school, and a little less than half of that number will come back to the church in their late 20s or early 30s.

There are any number of reasons why young people, in particular, are growing increasingly antithetical to God and Christian commitment.  What young people see as hypocritical faith peddling plays a major role in their abandonment of the church.  They no longer feel they have to quietly accept the practices of so-called Christians when they clearly are at variance with the written Word that is preached.

Pastor “Flip” Benham is just one example of why so many young people are abandoning the ship of faith.  The scripture asks the question:  “how can two walk together except they be agreed?”  Christian leaders are failing Christian youth.

Pastor “Flip” takes great pride in defending accused child molester Roy Moore.  He’s not alone.  With a cacophony of voices calling on the name of the Lord, a huge group of Christians conjured up reason after reason explaining why it’s okay for Moore to pursue and sexually abuse teenage girls– or why they turn a blind eye.

The latest and probably lamest excuse by a pastor suggests that Moore had no choice.  Why not?  Because older women just didn’t have the “purity” of young girls.  Do we blame the age of his mother at the time of his birth for this ridiculous point of view?

Here’s what Michael Stone of Patheos reported Benham saying in a recent interview with Right Wing Watch:

“I think that, number one, you need to understand, 40 years ago, what the Sitz im Leben was like in Alabama. Judge Roy Moore graduated from West Point and then went on into the service, served in Vietnam and then came back and was in law school. All of the ladies, or many of the ladies that he possibly could have married were not available then, they were already married, maybe, somewhere.

So he looked in a different direction and always with the [permission of the] parents of younger ladies … He did that because there is something about a (sic) purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.”

Yes, the pastor actually said that.  But it get’s worse.

In the clip below, Benham struggles against admitting that it’s just not okay for a grown man to date a 10-year-old girl, even if the good ole “God-fearing” parents say it is.

While many would argue that Benham is an aberration and should not be used as an example of Christian leadership, the truth of the matter is that the record books are filled with examples of Christian leaders letting their own (sometimes sordid) personal agendas define their walk with God.

If it’s not sleeping with some member’s wife or molesting young girls and boys, the transgressions by Christian leaders are compounded all the more when these pastors’ congregations ignore the aberration and line up with their leader instead of with the Word of God.  “Touch not mine anointed,” they are quick to say in what must be the most inaccurately quoted scripture of all time.

Former President Jimmy Carter said something profound in an op-ed he wrote titled “Losing My Religion For Equality:” 

“The truth is that male religious leaders have had—and still have an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.” 

The Biblical “Golden Rule” says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It is drawn from the scripture that says to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  The failure of Christian leaders to consistently model this teaching– which Jesus declared to be one of only two new, summarized laws– is the view of the Christian church that millennials reject.

Young people today are not brand loyal.  Christianity as a brand doesn’t hold them.  They are now more concerned with substance over form.  “What it is” fuels their allegiance, not “what it is supposed to be.”

This new Millennial perspective on religion has been a long time in the making.  The school system’s focus on secular education has pressed on students over a number of generations the importance of seeing all claims by faith teachers as subjective expressions understanding.  In the computerized world of high tech application, our young people have been taught that truth is fixed and quantifiable– and must, therefore, be divorced from the spiritual.  In the church, we proudly accept the fact that a hundred different preachers can take the same three words and preach 100 different sermons.

Millennials don’t gravitate to this degree of subjectivity because in the church they are exposed to far too many adults who have no idea what they believe (don’t study), can’t explain why they believe it (hide when a Jehovah Witness knocks on the door), and will simply parrot the most popular scriptural phrases of the church without any demonstration of commitment to them.

So, in our communities, we have big churches and little churches, cathedral churches, and storefront churches.  The large churches are places where people often go to network or be spiritually entertained, while the smaller churches simply die the slow death of irrelevancy.   Meanwhile, there is no longer any cultural guilt associated with those who abandon church involvement– because quietly, deep down on the inside, we all understand.

We have moved away from the idea of objective moral truth.  In our Judeo-Christian ethos, only the ‘Judeo part’ maintains ethical norms that are actually binding on everyone.  I can’t remember the last time I heard or read about a Rabbi jumping naked from the window of his church member’s home after being caught in bed with his wife, only to stand up in church and be applauded for saying he is NOT going to step down.  The ‘Judeo part’ has rules.  The ‘Christian part’ does not– it’s under grace.

“Standing behind the man of God,” even when he is clearly wrong, and not calling for him to step down when his transgression is egregious and clear, has led to the destruction of standards for leaders.  When leaders are not held to standards– things that they MUST live up to– young members of the rank-and-file are quick to head out the door.

Why be in bondage to the routine of a church– Worship, Sunday School, Bible Study, Choir practice, etcetera, etcetera– when the church is not in bondage to the truths it preaches?  It is impossible to rationally require adherence to one without being also true to the other.  Well-intentioned a**holes in the church are just a**holes with church identification, and if we are not careful, we will either produce another generation of a**holes in the church, or we may soon find that of the young people who desert the church today none of them ever return.