Spirituality

Meet the Nones: From Pastor to Unaffiliated

Pastor collar, Andrejs Zavadskis / Shutterstock.com
Pastor collar, Andrejs Zavadskis / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: Kevin Gonzaga tells his story of why he's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

Three years ago when I arrived at seminary to pursue my calling to fulltime pastoral ministry, one would probably have struggled to find someone in my generation more committed to the ministry and vitality of the local church.

While imperfect, I believed the church was the best hope of the world, and it was better to stay and work toward change than abandon the church and look for greener pastures. A year and a half later, I wrote a blog post explaining that I was no longer a Christian. I fear that this would only deepen the stereotype that seminary is a place where people lose their faith, so I should explain. 

The truth is I am one of growing number of people who choose not to affiliate with any organized religion. I am a “none,” and my journey to “none” started a long before I left for seminary. My disillusionment with, and eventual abandonment of, Christianity did not center around one traumatic event that shattered my faith, but rather it was something that coalesced from numerous experiences over a long time. 

It really started when I began studying the scriptures for myself in college. I was shocked to find many things I had been taught by the Church were wrong, were not in the Bible, or were even contrary to what the scriptures actually taught.

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and 'Being Made One'

Illuminated book of scripture at Entos Eyesu told said to date to the 7th century. On the right is St. George.
LAKE TANA, Ethiopia — Spirituality imbues every corner of Ethiopian culture, from its music and dance, to its artwork and even its unrivaled rich-as-the-earth coffee. Home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world (having adopted Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century), the sites and sounds of Christendom were ubiquitous wherever we traveled in country this month.
 

Art and iconography — both ancient and modern — from Ethiopian Orthodoxy (also known as Tawahedo or "being made one" in the Ge'ez language that remains the official language of the Orthodox liturgy here) were ever-present — in shops, restaurants, and hotel lobbies as well as in the myriad churches and monasteries, and the sounds of ancient Christian prayers and the chants of monks filled the air from the capital city of Addis Ababa to the kebeles (or neighborhoods) on the outskirts of Bahir Dar, another major city about 60 km from the Sudanese border.

Meet the Nones: Pouring Out Love

Photo: WIN-Initiative / Getty Images
Photo: WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: Megan Monaghan Rivas tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

There are never really two kinds of people in the world. But for purposes of this post, I’ll posit that there are two kinds of “nones” in the world – “nones” who would be part of a church if they could just find the right one, and “nones” who have no desire to be part of a church even if it matched them perfectly. I place myself in the latter category.

Like many “nones,” I started out as a “some.” I was reared in the Roman Catholic Church and educated in Catholic schools. As luck and the development curve would have it, just after confirmation (at age 14) I started finding out things about the church that I could not stand up and be counted for. The church’s policies concerning women and homosexuals seemed to me to stand in deliberate polar opposition to the Gospel message. And the church is not known for willingness to change from the inside. I didn’t have another 2,000 years to wait. My first “adult” move in the church was to leave it.

Because He Loved Us: A Call to Action

Cloud image, Yurchyks / Shutterstock.com
Cloud image, Yurchyks / Shutterstock.com

In a world that seems completely and irrevocably divorced from the teachings of Christ, where in contemporary society is there a place for the Christian voice? Politicians shamelessly use Jesus’s name to justify their authority and gain influence without bothering to unpack the full depth of theological and ethical implications of their words. Corporations are granted the rights of individuals, but some individuals are denied the resources they need in times of crisis to support their families and livelihoods. And the public debate is so full of vitriol and hyperbole that dehumanization and outright hatred of those with whom we disagree has become the norm. In light of the situation in which we find ourselves, how then should Christians behave? 

While it might seem appealing to remove ourselves from secular society altogether and forsake the world in all its brokenness in favor of a uniquely Christian ethic that appeals and applies only to us, Christians have an obligation to serve as active participants in public discourse— elevating the conversation rather than abstaining from it so that we may try to live the truth and convictions of our faith. 

The Nones: Saving Perfection

Photo: Leap of faith, Matthew Williams-Ellis / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Leap of faith, Matthew Williams-Ellis / Shutterstock.com

[The "nones"] recite history and Christian leadership's collusion with the agents of empire-building and warfare. Then they say something like, “I'd rather live like Jesus than be a Christian.”

They see the Church as the rich young man and they wonder if anyone actually follows Jesus anymore.

Of course, this is not the only demographic shift at work in the religious life of the world.

There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than there are in England.
More Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. ..
More Baptists in Southeast Asia than in the Southeastern United States.
More Christians go to church in China than in Europe.
In 1900, 71 percent of the world's Christians were in Western Europe. By 2000 that percentage dropped below twenty percent in some European nations.

Here's the real kicker: these are not problems to fix. They are simply realities to be faced.

Canada Cuts All Non-Christian Prison Chaplains

Steven Frame / Shutterstock
Handcuffed male hands hold a black Holy Bible. Steven Frame / Shutterstock

TORONTO — The Canadian government is canceling the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons.

By next spring, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and other non-Christian inmates will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance.

In an email to reporters on Oct. 4, the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is responsible for Canada's federal penitentiaries, said the government "strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners."

A World Without Immigrants?

IT WOULD BE strange if any segment of the liturgical year left out the theme of migration. The Bible is riddled from end to end with the journeys of nomads, pilgrims, exiles, returning exiles, and the risky intrusions of strangers across boundaries erected to deter them.

This season’s poster child for divinely inspired mobility is the lovely figure of the Moabite “alien” Ruth, who chooses to leave her own country and accompany her beloved Jewish mother-in-law when she returns as a widow to her native Judea. Ruth’s story is romantic, even erotic, as she daringly slips into the arms of Boaz during the sexually charged siesta at the threshing floor. But our readings are no mere novelette. Scripture shows how much hinged on her pluck and her allure. Her great-grandson will be David, and her descendant Jesus the Messiah!

“Where would we be without immigrants?” is one of the many questions between the lines of the scriptures. The Bible has lots to say to us about the divine impulse active in migrations, and the opening of the heart to “strangers within our gates”—things guaranteed to alarm defensive nationalists of every stripe.

I remember the deep spiritual emotion that caught us all up in Boston’s Faneuil Hall during my naturalization ceremony—Cambodian refugees, Vietnamese grandmothers, Salvadoran families, and all the rest of us. I think of the migration of my own great-grandparents to Russia, and the adventures that have scattered my own family from New Zealand to Mexico. How God revels in mixing us all up!

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.
 

[ NOVEMBER 4 ]
What Kind of 'One'?
Ruth 1:1-18; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34

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Sermon on Snot-Nosed Children, Insecurity, and The Lap of God

Toddler photo, paulaphoto / Shutterstock.com
Toddler photo, paulaphoto / Shutterstock.com

A couple days ago I called my friend Kae so we could talk about this Gospel reading where Jesus takes a child in his arms and teaches the disciples that if they welcome a child in his name they welcome God.  And we started talking about the actual reality of children and how difficult small ones can be to manage. Kae told me of this brilliant technique she employs when dealing with toddlers.

She said it really helps her to be patient and compassionate with defiant, emotional, snot-faced toddlers when she just thinks of them like little versions of really drunk friends. Then when they keep falling down and bumping into things and bursting into tears she just treats them like she would a friend who is too drunk to know what they are doing, and who you just try and make sure doesn’t hurt themselves, and who you clean up bodily fluids from, and make sure they drink some water, and then just lovingly change them into their pajamas and tuck them into bed.

Children are really a mess.

Is the Dalai Lama Calling for the End of Religion?

Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com
Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com

My friend, Doug, is not what I’d call a religious person. He grew up in church but has since taken to a combination of practicing martial arts, yoga, and independent study, primarily of Buddhist philosophy. In a lot of ways, his journey is a familiar one for younger adults today (he and I are both 40 so we don’t really qualify as “young” adults anymore).

Doug is, like I am, an intellectually curious guy. He follows my work pretty closely, and he is certainly open to other points of view, even if they’re not ones he embraces for his own life. Sometime we share ideas back and forth, but this quote from the Dalai Lama that he sent me recently really got my attention:

"All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether."

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