The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

The Barna Group did a survey of Millennials to assess how important church is to them. Of this group 30% said that attending church was not at all important. Another 30% attend church and find it important. The remaining 40% fall somewhere in the middle.

A significant number of young adults have deep complaints about the Church as a body of believers. As reported, “More than one-third say their negative perceptions are a result of moral failures in church leadership (35%). And substantial majorities of Millennials who don’t go to church say they see Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), anti-homosexual (91%) and insensitive to others (70%).” The group that sees Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, anti-homosexual, and insensitive to others is particularly disturbing. One could ask, “What has happened to a Gospel of good news?”

Some people get this negative perception of who Christians are from those who attach “Christian values” to their political ideals. Some conservative groups in particular who uphold this union of church and state have become strong political forces. They effectively have stolen the Christian name to support their political agendas. With God on their side who dares to oppose them. In a showdown, however, we have seen that truly Christian moral values are subservient to their political ideologies.

Being seen with negative values can come from our

own churches. With the Episcopal Church as a progressive partner in the “Jesus Movement,” many of those who have been beaten-up by their previous churches find a new welcome. These “refugees” report what the Millennials observed: judgmental attitudes, hypocrisy, anti-homosexual aggression, and insensitivity to others. This doesn’t mean that the Episcopal Church is free from these negative behaviors, but we understand why the criticism is true and why some professed Christian attitudes are not Christian.

Jesus warned about these failings. Regarding being judgmental: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matt. 7:1-2) He was frequently critical of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like white-washed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt 23:27-28) Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, but he did say “to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31) And Jesus was sensitive to all sorts of people, including drunkards, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17) This leads many of us to believe that there are no exceptions to God’s love!

We can pray that the church will be seen as a place where people come closer to God. Church is where we learn about God through the Bible and other religious teachings, and from personal experience. The Church can continue to reach out to the needs of others, to feed the poor, befriend refugees, comfort those who are sick and infirm, and help those who search for a deeper meaning to their lives. Our failings as Christians can be forgiven allowing us to move forward in positive ways to bring to others love, peace and joy. We may not be rewarded for our good efforts. Jesus certainly wasn’t in his day. Crucifixion was his reward. But for centuries the goodness of God as seen in Jesus has inspired people to go forward with love and forgiveness in their hearts, to serve the needs of others, and to be drawn into a closer relationship with God.