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Christians in Exile

2011 November 2
by Mike

Following is a piece from Ian Morgan Cron’s blog entitled “Believers in Exile. A New Christian Diaspora?” To read the rest of the article and the comments, go here:

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“Why’d you leave church?” I asked.

It’s a question I probably could have answered myself. I’ve heard the same story over and over from friends all around the US and Europe. I’ve heard it more in Nashville than just about anywhere else.

used with permission

“Our church became an echo chamber where the only voices or opinions we could hear were our own. People who questioned our brand of Christianity were considered suspect or dangerous. One day I went off the reservation and started reading books by thinkers I’d been told to watch out for. Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and Stanley Hauerwas were some that blew me away.

“Then what happened?” I asked.

“One Sunday I walked out of church and never went back,” he said. “I want spiritual community, I just don’t think the church as it is right now is where I’m going to find it.”

Most of the people I meet who are leaving church aren’t young. They’re in their forties and fifties. After years of reading off the same theological script they began yearning for deeper, more open conversations about faith that included considering diverse perspectives and conversations that widened rather than narrowed their souls. Their churches were either threatened by these folks or unprepared for their emergence.

My friend shared other reasons why people are leaving. They were edgier.

“Some of us began meeting gay people in committed relationships, and we couldn’t square what we were taught about human sexuality at church, with who we knew our gay friends were in real life. Others had neighbors who were raised in other religious traditions who lived out the values of the kingdom more consistently than we did.

One day I asked myself, “Isn’t it strange to tell these people that Jesus wants us to love our enemies and forgive seventy times seventy, but then he sends people to hell for not receiving him as their Lord? I kept asking friends and pastors at church what they thought about this stuff because it troubled me, but no one really wanted to talk deeply. They just went right to the scripted answers.”

“So you left church because you had too many questions?” I asked.

“I left my church because it didn’t honor my questions. I got pegged as having gone rogue,” he said, swallowing the last of his coffee and glancing at his watch.

24 Responses leave one →
  1. erin permalink
    November 2, 2011

    “They just went right to the scripted answers.”

    Sounds about right.

  2. November 2, 2011

    It does sound about right, doesn’t it? And yet—it’s so refreshing to find people (and churches) who will explore difficult questions together . . . who will listen, honor questions, re-explore scripture, discern, and permit vast diversity.

  3. Fredrick permalink
    November 2, 2011

    Hi Mike, what do you mean by “vast diversity”?

  4. November 2, 2011

    Hello, Fredrick. I’m talking about people coming to widely divergent opinions. (What this looks like within the context of a community of faith—which by definition has central beliefs holding it together—has been explored often on this blog.)

  5. November 2, 2011

    “I left the church because it didn’t honor my questions.” People so much want their questions to be honored — and in the questioning comes the deepening of faith. Not just doing church.

  6. Jerred E. permalink
    November 2, 2011

    Very interesting post, Mike. I was at Oklahoma Christian last week and heard David Kinnaman (Barna Group) talking about how his new book, You Lost Me, addresses how the young people are leaving our churches over having unanswered questions. I think exile is a wonderful metaphor of how we maintain faith in our current culture.

  7. November 2, 2011

    So glad that Kinnaman was at OCU. I’m in the middle of You Lost Me. It’s a wonderful follow-up book.

    I love these words from Rachel Held Evans: “Most of the people I’ve encountered are looking not for a religion to answer all their questions but for a community of faith in which they can feel safe asking them.”

  8. kathy s permalink
    November 2, 2011

    Sometimes it seems to me that questioners are viewed skeptically as “trouble makers” rather than considering the very real possibility that the questioners have a bigger and more trusting view of God than those who fear the questions.

  9. November 2, 2011

    I’m not in exile, but I’m not comfortable either. Many things have contributed to this, but the tipping point was teaching a class on the Gospel of Luke. I am convicted that personally and as a church we are not understanding or following Jesus. It is hard to discuss this without sounding like a dreamy idealist or a crank. I was recently told we need to create a new staff position because they would be a ‘rainmaker’. Sigh.
    I know I don’t have all the right answers, or questions, but I long for a community that struggles with them.

  10. November 2, 2011

    This is very good stuff–the post and the comments–as it really is on to something. I struggled for so many years in my role because people weren’t asking the questions to match my Preaching School answers. And…I had rehearsed all five of them so diligently!

  11. November 3, 2011

    This phenomenon finds its way into matters great and small. When qb suggested the other morning that reading John 2 as the “first of two Temple-cleansing episodes” – yes, most of the study Bibles around the table had footnotes to that effect – was an example of “careless reading, along the lines of doing base ten problems with base eight arithmetic,” the blowback qb got was pretty interesting.

    My larger piont was, of course, that the way we read Scripture ends up being amplified along the way from reading to practice, from reading to world view to practice, and that if we read with the wrong arithmetic, by the time we get to praxis our “system” is incoherent, and our witness among intelligent non-believers is undermined. Making a piont like that, self-evident as it is, does not elicit a terribly hospitable reception in this “safe place” we call the church.


  12. November 3, 2011

    I’m right there with you Gina. The business side of church can be unsightly, and so many take a worldly management view of it. Money questions are sometimes as hard as theology questions.

  13. November 3, 2011

    Seems like people are leaving because their tired of churches who are living in fear rather than faith. Or, to borrow from a biblical metaphor, it seems like people are tired of trying to pour the new wine into an old wineskin only to see that old wineskin unable to handle the new wine.

    May we have enough faith in God to allow the Spirit to lead us a disciples of Christ into waters that may be murky or even unchartered!

    Grace and Peace,


  14. David U permalink
    November 3, 2011

    Great post and comments by all ! I especially relate to Kathy and Rex’s comments.
    And yes……….Terry is STILL a nut! 🙂 And a very lovable nut at that.

  15. Meghan permalink
    November 3, 2011

    I, too, have many questions I would love to get answered. I wish there was a blog I could ask them on? Maybe you (Mike Cope) should start a question and answer blog?

  16. November 3, 2011

    Mike, this speaks directly to the conversations I feel like I am having with friends all around me. Thanks for posting.

  17. Beau permalink
    November 4, 2011

    I gave most of my life to the church of Christ. When I left, I researched my own questions and found answers that the church would never have provided:

    … that biblical scriptures may be ancient, but they are also error-ridden, contradictory, and often intentionally false and misleading.

    … that biblical scriptures are no more divine than the Quran or the Mahabharata.

    … that biblical morality is not the source of all morality, but rather while some concepts such as the golden rule are good (and predate the bible in other religions and philosophies), many evils in our society have been supported by scripture for centuries- antisemitism, slavery, the silencing of women. One could say that these are misinterpretations of scripture, but that’s the very problem with using scripture as a moral guide. Every christian interprets it differently (and some christians will fight to the death over these differences).

    … that the central tenet of christianity no longer seems rational, helpful, or in any sense “true” to me. The idea that man has rebelled against God and requires a divine blood sacrifice to be reconciled now seems like an unhealthy bronze age superstition, no matter how “nuanced” a theological gloss is painted over it.

    … that I can overcome my faults, love my family, serve humanity with joy, and alleviate suffering without biblical notions. In fact, I can do it better without biblical notions. And all I need to motivate me is the clear, rational understanding that my world is a better place to live in when we treat each other well.

  18. Kathy permalink
    November 4, 2011

    Mike – The Faith Seekers Sunday AM class is going through a “Questions about the Bible” and probably should be called, “Subjects that we dared not to ask in our fathers’ churches.” Great study, open, safe – we ask away with nary a down the nose glare to be found. 🙂

    Paul addressed this going so far as to say, “…it is probably good that you have disagreements…” [somewhere in Corinthians, I think 1st Cor.] Forgive my hurry that doesn’t allow a search for it, but you get the idea, I’m sure.

  19. November 4, 2011

  20. Lisa permalink
    November 7, 2011

    If, as Beau says, the Bible isn’t the inspired word of God, then why do we even bother?

  21. Beau permalink
    November 7, 2011


    Thank you for responding, but I think that your question, “why do we even bother?”, only makes sense if the only thing you value in life is an imaginary afterlife. I value many things in my life: my family, my friends, a good book, the taste of chocolate ice cream.

    I know that I won’t enjoy these things forever. I and they will come to an end. But that doesn’t lessen their value to me. For me, these things are worth the bother.

  22. Owen Burgess permalink
    November 10, 2011

    I relate very well to this post and many of the comments, Mike. I have journeyed in exile for two years now. Given my age (57) and my history, it’s a very strange place to be and a journey I never thought I would travel. But I find my fellow exiled pilgrims, and others grappling with difficult questions (whom I might never have encountered when I was “cloistered” [a comment about me, not judging others]), much more understandable. Or at least I’m much more patient with their questions, having struggled with my own. And I hope I have a more experiential understanding of the good news of the Kingdom of God Jesus talked about. Still uncomfortable, but not unhappy. Life is a journey with many unexpected twists. Maybe that’s why I appreciate the Celtic Christian mystics so much.



  23. November 12, 2011

    Excellent post, comments. I decided to add to the conversation.
    Peace to all.


  24. John Irvine permalink
    June 5, 2012

    The believer in exile is not a person full of beliefs, but one who understands at a deep level that our phenomenal world is not random materialism but comes from a non-material divine source. The intelligent non-believer is not a non believing Christian, but a non-believer of ancient myths held up to be fact. Scholarship and Science is not an enemy for an intelligent believer, but is an enemy for the non reflective, non-questioning people who are purporting to be religious authority figures. The main stream Christian churches for example require a comprehensive education, where the student learns that the Christian stores Quelle 1 through 3 grew over time, and yet once ordained conveniently forgets this and tells the flock the stories are more or less true – relying on a narrow theology that is informed only through the texts themselves not one on wider inter disciplinary scholarship, including psychology, archaeology, physics , especially quantum mechanics.

    The truth is out there – we are non-material beings, made from God-stuff- pure-consciousness itself. The churches just have to stop pretending the stories are true, and that creation was ex-nihilo..

    Happy thoughts,


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