I’ve heard and read quite a bit lately about how the church in the U.S. has been failing. Oddly (odd to me, anyway), this discussion usually places the failure in the “last 20 to 30 years.” Now, the United Methodist Church has been losing members in the U.S. for as long as there has been a United Methodist Church, so this matter is at least 40 years old.
There has been some really good work lately on how the church (again, recently) has been failing young people. Kenda Dean’s Almost Christian and Andrew Root’s Relationships Unfiltered are among the best reads available on youth ministry that are currently available.
Recently, though, I read head-into a failure of the church that far pre-dates any of these, though.
In a conversation over recent legal problems of a college athlete, an octogenarian United Methodist said sternly: “If you’re going to commit the sin, you should have to pay the consequences.”
I wanted to chalk it up to dementia, but I couldn’t, so I replied firmly, “That’s not gospel.”
The glare I took in return told me this person wasn’t used to having someone take issue with his pronouncements.. He asked me what I had said.
I clarified: “I said, ‘That’s not gospel.’ The whole point of Jesus’ coming was so that we, who are all sinners, do not have to bare the full consequences.”
He went on to ask me just who I thought would be in hell, then. I didn’t know, and didn’t buy the deflection. I reminded him again, along with everyone else around the table, that the gospel is about us not getting what we deserve.
My heart began to break all over again when, later that afternoon, I pondered just how many years this man had been an active church member. A leader in congregations. And his answer for life ‘s “If you’re going to commit the sin, you should have to pay the consequences.”
We, the Church, have failed this man.
Let’s not lose a whole new generation the same way.