Perhaps many of you have heard the quote attributed to Martin Niemoller which begins “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist….” There are several versions of this quote but they all end with something like: “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I was thinking about this quote and began to wonder what it would sound like if written from the perspective of Christian churches in North America. Pondering this it dawned on me: when we speak of the decline of the Christian church in North America we are probably generally thinking about the white Christian church in North America. I also realized my perspective is even narrower since I only have experience with white, Christian, mid-western North America, churches. So, bear this perspective in mind when you read the following. I also wanted to emphatically point out I could not say “they came for” because no one is coming for the Christian church. Talk of war on Christianity in North America seems to me to be the privileged attempting to justify their own fear. So, instead I will talk about why people leave. Here is where my imagination took me:
The Door of the Christian Church
First to slip out the door were those too overwhelmed with the daily grind of poverty. From work schedules to clothing to exhaustion, none of it fit with “how we have always done” church. So they slipped away and became projects for the church. No one noticed since the offering remained relatively undisturbed.
Then, those whose lives had been claimed as property were shoved off to another door. Even after slavery had ended and a passing phrase or two in scripture no longer smoothed ruffled consciences still our monochromatic Sunday morning color scheme soothed our senses and fed our ignorance. So we didn’t worry about it.
Then, those of differing nations of origin, were stopped at the door with a sign, which shouted ENGLISH. Blinded to our own history by fear for our jobs, we talked about legalities, ignored our complicity, and shuffled them off to be “with their own kind.”
Then, the door was slammed in the faces of those whose sexual orientation, or lifestyle choices didn’t meet with approval. We professed our love for them, just not their sin. We did so quickly, just before the door slammed.
Then went the heretics, the intellectuals, the partiers, the adventurers, the socialists, the feminists, the loners, the liberals, the doubters, the wonderers, the wanderers, the tree huggers, the philosophers. Many drifted out the door with phrases like “scripture clearly states,” “ we’re not social workers, we have to share the Good News,” and “why don’t you come to worship?” nipping at their heels.
Until at last the church was such an empty place we wrapped everyone else up in a label, which read “those without right priorities” and let them fade on out the door.
No one was left to hear us whisper, “I told you so. See how those people killed our church.” As the door slid shut for good.
Certainly not as succinct and profound as Martin Niemoller but hopefully you get the idea. The weird thing is the only way to prevent the ending to this story is to quit trying. Stop trying to save the church and start living love instead.