You’ve been at that event — some graduation, some concert, some ceremony — where someone gets up to the mic, shakes their head and says "see, the news cameras should be here showing the good things all these kids are doing, instead of focusing on the bad a few do." The audience always agrees because we know, despite how we are represented sometimes, most black kids do graduate high school and most have never even touched a gun. But to someone outside of our culture, just looking at the news, they'd think we were all wired to shoot and run.
This is the same "SMH" moment I had when I read “From Eddie Long to Kim Burrell: Why Millennials Should Abandon the Church” on BET.com yesterday. It’s the same moment millions of black Christians experience when Black Twitter spends days telling them that they are all just a bunch of hypocritical bishops and fanatical singers.
My longtime friends love and respect me. They think I'm a pretty good guy, but every so often some send me a screen shot captioned "this is why I don't go to church." My decade of unconditional love for them, even while knowing all their successes and failures, beauty and ugliness, seems less impactful than a clip of some far-off YouTube preacher that went ballistic. A lifetime of knowing me and my Christian mom, our imperfections and our love, is immediately canceled by a trending topic. No matter how solid my Christ rep is, it can quickly be voided out by one crazy sermon thousands of miles away.
Truth is, the Church, even the Black segment of it, is no longer always that overcritical, big hat, Amen corner, cartoon of a building we see in movies. Have you listened to Lecrae's music? Kierra Sheard's? Mine? What about the culturally sensitive sermons of T.D. Jakes and E. Dewey Smith? We do our best to talk about real life, with grace, and love, and hard truths. But despite all those speeches and albums, the same way a family in suburban Wyoming may have a stubborn, incomplete view of young Black men, I fear some have that stubborn, incomplete view of Christians. What gets the tweets, what gets the articles, what gets the press, is when we do this Church thing wrong. I admit when we do it wrong, we do it wrong! Abandoning that church may be necessary, but please don’t abandon God and the Church.
I’m a millennial too and when someone says something we don’t like, our first mind is to punish them, protest, by withdrawing from the community they represent. Most of the time though, when we see a popular Christian trippin’, and when I am myself, it's normally because they, I, have somehow withdrawn a bit from our community of believers and friends ourselves. The trouble doesn’t come because I joined the church, but because I stopped going. I stopped confiding in my like-minded friends. I started focusing on the ones that didn’t understand me. I stopped praying, fasting and reading — all that stuff the pastor told me I should probably do. In true millennial fashion, I started pursuing approval from people instead of pursuing God’s.
There are plenty of reasons for a millennial to be “in church”— in a real, loving community of believers. God loves us so much that he looks beyond our faults and sees our needs, but he rarely leaves a love bomb on your doorstep. Instead, he connects his people. It should comfort you that church folks are notoriously imperfect, because we all are. Make yourself at home! Those imperfect people have found forgiveness and a reason to wake up and try to do better. We have found identity, hope, and a strategy for tomorrow. We've found an answer to that feeling we get when we go to a funeral: "there's got to be more than this." We have seen legitimate miracles! We find friends, wives and husbands there. We learn how to sing and play instruments there. Some of us learned public speaking and writing there. Twenty-thousand people, thanks to Dave Ramsey, figured out how to get debt free there. (Where was I at?!)
It's God's family, but it's a family nonetheless. It’s a family with crazy uncles that we wish would shut up, overzealous grandmothers that can’t believe what kids are wearing these days, and cousins that just can't seem to get it right. Luckily, we don’t depend on how much we get right, but rather how much we give God. Everyday I try to give God the reins to my life, my words, my talent, my heart, my relationships, and my identity, because if He really did all that Bible stuff for me, He deserves it and knows what is best.
I can't undo what the man is accused of doing to those boys and I can't unsay what the woman said on that pulpit. We know it hurts. Imperfect people trying to deal with their own imperfections and love other imperfect people is a doubly imperfect process. There are molestation victims with daddy issues trying to comfort molestation victims with gender dysphoria. There are abuse victims with guilt trying to teach abusers with insecurities. That’s church! We give grace to the sinner and we give grace to the ones that need help giving grace. We’re all in the same boat trying to steer it toward the shore. And not just any shore, but the right one, the one we believe is right. All of us are not just wrapping hate in faith, but we’re trying, successfully and unsuccessfully, to navigate history’s most sensitive generation and present our truth in love.
Trust me, while us Christian Millennials sit in church, we feel the cut when the preacher shows us how God doesn’t like something we know we do and love. Even when it’s perfectly said, we are quickly reminded that Church is not built for us to feel good, but to feel God. And that's exactly why we need to be there.
Hear more from Jonathan McReynolds in the clip above.