I am frequently asked, "How can you stay in the church?" Some who ask this are expressing amazement that anyone seemingly so intelligent could remain connected with such a benighted institution as the Christian church. They want to know why I don't leave, much as an impatient social worker might ask a battered woman why she can't bring herself to leave her abusive husband. Many other questioners desperately want to continue in relation to the Christian church, but are finding it hard to do so. They want to know if I have some clue that has escaped them on how to remain a Christian without being demoralized or depressed.
I am not sure I have a satisfactory answer to the question from either of these contexts. But I can unpack my own thinking on the problem, which I define as how to remain faithful to Christ in a sinful church.
Dismay at the public and private behavior of church leaders and their governance of the church is hardly new. Such criticism can be found in some form from the earliest days of Christianity. In our own time, revelations of sexual abuse of children and youth by clergy have dominated the news, probably less because this is a new occurrence in Christian circles than because it is now being prosecuted in secular courts. Such revelations are causing a significant crisis in the credibility of church leaders, both among lay people and in the society at large.
However, reformers have also been cognizant of other failings. At least since the late 18th century, secular critics, as well as Christian reformers, have called for transformations of society that would overcome gross injustices: the vast gaps between wealth for the few and grinding misery for the many; the denial of human and civil rights to those without property, to blacks and Indians, to women.