It was one of those quiet but persistent rumors; a piece of gossip that was traded in the secrecy of a small town café or Bible study.
“The preacher's kid is an alcoholic,” they said. “He's getting out of control.”
And as dirty little secrets like this are prone to do, it developed a life of its own until it ruined another's. Unfortunately for me, I was that person. Whispers of my purported alcohol abuse had found its way into the cracks of my character like water on a sidewalk, and it managed to collapse my reputation with frighteningly quiet efficiency.
It was because of this event that, for the year and a half before I left for college, I sat in a church pew out of nothing more than enormous respect for my father. Every Sunday morning I felt surrounded by whispers of my every indiscretion. I learned to tune them out in favor of the comforting words of the sermon.
I have not willfully stepped into a church since, and I am far from the last to do so because of a bad experience. According to a study by The Barna Group, an organization that specializes in researching spiritual-based issues, more than four out of five atheists, agnostics, those undecided about their religion and individuals affiliated with other faiths have gone to a Christian church at some time in their life.
A statistic like that doesn't happen on accident. Published last year, it comes from a groundbreaking book called “unChristian” by progressive thinkers David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. They saw a phenomenon occurring – drastic shifts in public opinion about Christianity – and decided it was time to discover what a new generation of Americans really thought about their faith.
To put the enormity of this shift in public opinion into perspective, in 1996, The Barna Group released the report “Christianity Has a Strong Positive Image Despite Fewer Active Participants” that showed 85 percent of Americans were favorable toward the church's role in society. A decade later, one-third of 16- to 29-year-olds unaffiliated with Christianity said it represents a negative image they would not want to be associated with.
It is important to note that anger or hostility toward Christianity is not new. In fact, Kinnaman and Lyons even questioned if there was a problem beyond what should be considered normal for any organization – religious or not. However, the results are so overwhelming and shocking to the average Christian's sensibilities that there is no denying the church has a huge image problem.
And despite my own qualms with various denominations of Christianity, I also hate to see it tripping over its own feet and perpetuating its own negative image. I have made peace with my faith since my bad experience with it, but only because others helped me see that it was man and not God who betrayed me. It is this side of the church I want others to see, the healing and forgiving side that has nearly become forgotten.
However, as Kinnaman and Lyons write, “The unChristian faith is here in force.”
But we also have a choice of whether it is here to stay.Tweet
Latest posts by Aaron Wolfe (see all)
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