When Religion Limits Faith: Why My Generation Needs A New Church

I want to apologize in advance for the length of this post- but it seems that I have a lot to say on this topic, and it cannot be easily summed up.  So, tuck in and let’s get real about the stuff you aren’t supposed to talk about for a bit.

I have been thinking about faith and religion a lot lately based on several events, both positive and negative over the past month.  It all started about 4 weeks ago when in the run up to the Oscars I went to see the movie Life of Pi.  I was absolutely blown away by this movie.  For days I could not stop thinking about it- but what struck me was more than it’s stunning visuals.  What continued to seep into my thoughts was the message of faith in the movie and the way it presented religion.

Pi cover

Pi was what he called a Hindu Christian Muslim.  All three religions were a part of his faith life as they all helped him to know God in different ways.  Pi first came to know God as a Hindu, the religion of his mother.  He connected with the many Gods and their stories, and saw them as heros. Then, Pi came across a Catholic Church and began to learn about Jesus.  He couldn’t understand the sacrifice, but he was fascinated.  Pi said that he had to come to faith through Hinduism, and found God’s love through Christ.  Finally, Pi met God once agin as Allah when observing prayer at a Muslim house of worship in his hometown.  He found that performing the daily prayers, he felt connection to God and serenity.  Pi took pieces of all three traditions and found a peace while discovering God.

A quote from the book (which is equally wonderful, and I now want to re-read as it’s been almost eight years since my first reading) explains how Pi saw all of the religions working together, reflections of one another as they all sought to  discover God.  “Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims.”  Pi also explains that faith is a house with many rooms.  I loved this vision of faith and how religion was a part of it.  It was a broad and encompassing picture that posed no limits to how God could be known and understood.  I found it to be beautiful, and it rang true to feelings about religion and faith that I had always held deep within me.

A week later, as I was still feeling the glow from the movie, religion was suddenly presented to me as something that limited the ways in which God could be known.  At the University of Portland, a Catholic University that I worked for a few years ago, the president- Father Beauchamp made remarks about the LGBT community on campus that essentially equated there being a don’t ask don’t tell policy on campus.  The sentiment was as follows- “We know that there are faculty and staff in same-sex relationships on campus. They are not open about it and we don’t ask them. But if someone were to go very public about it and make an issue, then we would have trouble.”

Oh, boy.  What this says to me is that as a Catholic institution, they are not welcoming or accepting of the Gay community.  As I was still reeling from this incident, the issue of Christianity and faith not being accepting of LGBT people was brought to my attention once again.  Two weeks ago I read an article from Time online about the friend of the court brief that President Obama and his administration sent to the Supreme Court urging them to overturn the ban on same sex marriage in the case they are about to hear on California’s Proposition 8.  I read the article in delight; then I came to the comments.  Some of them were just plain hateful in the way that they talked about homosexuality- and everyone with a negative word said it in the name of Christianity.  I felt disgusted that people would use their religion as a weapon against others, and I felt like it limited the love of God.

Holding these disparate experiences of religion in my mind, I went to church over the weekend with two of my friends.  I grew up in the Lutheran Church and while I have struggled in recent years on some theological issues; it is, and will always be, a cultural home.  Sitting in the pew and singing the traditional liturgy was immensely comforting and brought me a feeling of contentment.  Yet, I could not help but feel a bit hypocritical sitting there, because I don’t believe Christianity to be uniquely right, or the only correct religion.

More and more often, as I talk to my peers and friends within my generation- we don’t feel that there is any one right religion.  All religions are simply a different way that we can understand and connect with God.  God’s love is powerful and prevalent in the world and around us, and can bee seen in the people we encounter every day.  Most of us don’t think that God gives a hoot if you are Gay or straight, and we don’t appreciate the church telling us that our friends are abominations.  Many churches do not go that far, they say that they love Gay individuals, some can even accept that that is how God made them, they just hate the sin.  Call me crazy- but telling someone that they cannot live as they want to and must deny who they are, cannot find love, and that fulfilling their desires would be a sin- does not feel like love.  It seems like the church in remaining dogmatically faithful places limits on God, and hinders the faith that many hold.

For years, the church has been loosing members as more and more people have started to affiliate themselves with no specific religion at all.  If the church wants to retain or even bring back the younger generation, they are going to have to become more open and accepting- and fast.  We are not a generation without faith.  We believe in God and in love, we just cant find a church community that is a comfortable fit.  For me, I miss being a part of a church community- I want to return and be a part of the love and support that a church can provide.  But I just don’t feel like I would be fully accepted if my open religious views were known.

I found it ironic on Sunday that the lesson of the day was the story of the prodigal son.  This is the parable where the son asks his father for his inheritance early, leaves home and squanders it by living the partying life, and then returns home when downtrodden.  His father welcomes him back with open arms and throws a huge party.  The brother is upset by all of this- he has worked hard and followed the rules and no one has ever thrown him a party.  The father responds with the famous line- my son was lost but now is found.  I and others like me are the prodigal sons and daughters.  We have left the church in search of the world, and we want to come home.  But would the church welcome us back as we are?  They would certainly throw a party to see the young in their pews once again, but would we be loved unconditionally as the son was, or would there be problems for bringing our worldly views back in through the door with us?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I know we want to find a new home.  The church needs to change and it knows it.  I have watched with interest this past week as the Catholic church selected a new Pope.  They know change is needed, and selected the first Pope from South America and the first Jesuit.  But is it enough?  I suppose we will just have to wait and see.  Meanwhile, I am going to keep seeing God through the wondering eyes of Pi, and praying for my church to accept all my brothers and sisters, just as God does.  I have faith.

Further Reading:

Why the First Latin American Pope Inspires Less Hope Than We Hoped

New Shepherd, Same Wandering Flock

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