My beloved colleague Steve Knight recently wrote an intriguing post about whether or not the emerging church was in the process of creating gathering places that would be available to folks who self-identify and “None” – you know, as in “None of the Above” on what-religion-are-you survey. As you know, I am super in love with the Nones, or as I like to call ‘em SBNRs (spiritual but not religious folks.) I love ‘em just as as much as I do the Recovering Evangelicals. Ya’ll are my people. Why? Because I am one.
I’ve been working with SBNR folks for a goodly number of years now, and you know what? I don’t know a one of them who truly feels comfortable in a church. Not an old school ritual-based church. Not a new-fangled pop-music-and-candles church. Lots of people do feel comfy in both of those settings. (Huzzah! More power to you!) And lots of SBNR folks do go to those kind of churches. They just don’t feel especially right-fit behind the double doors. It’s kind of like when you really want sushi, but you are in the middle of a corn field in a landlocked state, so you end up eating chicken-fried steak and eggs. It’s not bad. It fills you up. Other people like it a lot. But it’s not sushi.
If churches are so very interested in making space for the None’s/SBNRs, then why aren’t more of those folks feeling at home there? Because I know a lot of emergent pastors, and I know they are trying to makes space for “the other.” They really really are. So why isn’t it working? I’d like to offer 6 reasons, all of which I’ve observed over several years of working with just such a relig-ish population.
- First Problem, The Other. I know we need language to define things. It’s helps make unwieldy things easier to talk about. But this idea of welcoming in “the outsider” or “the other” is a modernist vocabulary. In the postmodern milieu the idea of the other is fading fast. Eastern philosophy and the concept that we are all part of a universal whole is starting to blur the lines of us and them, of me and you. Churches are still largely functioning in the terms of “us” and “the other.” Churches who are interested in welcoming the Nones need to start getting uber curious about the life of these “other’s.” What do they believe? How do they live? What helps them feel rooted? What causes do they support? (Now switch and have the other person answer the questions!) Finding the common ground and dancing in the overlap needs to become a more central concern than pulling someone across an invisible boundary that doesn’t really exists anyway.
- Conversion. No matter how welcoming a church is, there’s still that underlying vibe of “we want to convert you.” Even if that’s not your gig, newcomer’s are going to feel that way because of how churches have behaved in the past, and how they still behave on the Fox nightly news. No one feels comfortable with that. I mean, who wants to hang out someplace where the whole goal of the gig is to get you to abandon your core beliefs? For churches who have a heavy emphasis on conversion, or who are dedicated to the idea of one undeniable universal Truth, making space for the None’s is going to be a tough call. And that’s okay. Those branches of faith should go ahead and pursue the conversion thing. But if that’s not your main gig, then you need to really work hard on changing your language and your programming to demonstrate that you are interested in learning from newcomers and making space for new ideas and practices.
- Wiggle Room. The theology and doctrine of most churches is not flexible enough for the level of questioning that SBNR/None folks are are engaged in. Churches aren’t set up to be interfaith. And maybe they should not be. Maybe that is the role of another yet-to-be-born kind of relig-ish community. But if a given church wants to make space for the Nones/SBNR they are going to have to kick their beliefs open a lot wider.
- Let’s talk about Sex. Except for of the most liberal of mainline churches, the sexual mores of most churches are too restrictive, and discussions about sex are too narrow. And if you aren’t both open and affirming, well, most of the None’s aren’t going to darken your door.
- Dead White Guys. Religious debate that stems from the teachings of dead white guys is just too big of a concern among most church leaders. And the ratio of theological debate vs. living-out the gospel of love through service/charitable giving is still too heavy on the debate side. The SBNR folks I work with aren’t interested in parsing creeds or analyzing Augustine. They are intelligent and interested in theory as much as the next guy. But the felt need is more about how to live out the Gospel of Love in our current cultural context. To put it in terms that my theologian readers will understand: your concern over orthodoxy is trumping your parishoner’s need for assistance with orthopraxis.
- No Space for Relig-ish Hybrids: Just as emergent pastors are captured by the idea of hybrid denominations, the SBNRs are captured by the idea of hybrid faith. They aren’t asking “Am I cathlobaptist or mennoanglican?” Rather they are self identifying as Christian-Buddhist, or Jesus+Reiki, or as one of my Christian-ish readers once said, “I love Jesus, and I’ve always been a little bit witchy.” In my opinion, hybrid religion is the next evolution of faith in an increasingly global culture.
As a spiritual minister, the question I’m asking myself is: Where will these relig-sih hybrids find a home? What does it mean to create a relig-ish sanctuary? How do we gather the SBNR/None folks who are hungry for a place of spiritual nurture and exploration? How do we accommodate the natural shifts in beliefs throughout the human maturation process? What does it mean to pursue common truths across religious borders?
These are the questions that really light my fire. Creating such a place is my passion. We spiritual misfits, we soulful wanderers, we need a landing place. We need a place to call home.
What about you Magpie? What is your relig-ish hybrid (if you have one)? And where have you found a place to call home? Still looking? What would you need to feel welcome in a regli-ish nest?
Magpie Moments is our Monday morning series this Fall, featuring a single shot of soulcare from me, your Magpie Girl. Join us each week and toss back some nurturing goodness. Need a double shot of soulcare? Click here for previous Magpie Moments. Thank you for being here today.