So, yes, the main objection is to gay marriage. But behind that, I think (I'm admittedly an outsider here), is a great deal of anxiety about confessional identity, about the ease with which denominational authorities can ignore the standards that define what it is that ordinary congregants thought they had assented to in joining the particular church. The fact that breakaway Episcopalians emphasize the Articles, and that breakaway Presbyterians emphasize the Confessions, tends to confirm for me this view of things.But part of the reality of the church is that the church is the people, and again, which people are the ones to whom the organization must be most sensitive?
In a survey released Wednesday, nearly one-third of Millennials who left the faith they grow up with told Public Religion Research Institute that it was "negative teachings" or "negative treatment" related to gays and lesbians that played an significant role in them leaving organized religion.One question this raises is: who are the ordinary congregants?
Specifically, 17 percent of Millennials, or adults between 18 and 33-years-old, said negativity around LGBT issues in religion was "somewhat important" to their departure, while 14 percent said it was a "very important" factor. A majority of Americans, 58 percent, also said that religious groups are "alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues." Among Millennials, that percentage jumped to 70.
"While many churches and people in the pews have been moving away from their opposition to LGBT rights over the last decade, this new research provides further evidence that negative teachings on this issue have hurt churches’ ability to attract and retain young people,” PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones said in a statement.
I can still remember fire 'n' brimstone sermons from my youth (few from the Frozen Chosen I sat with, but even those wouldn't have thawed us out). Churches finally had to give those up, even though many were convinced they were confessional and the core of their beliefs. (Back to the question of soteriology and it's role in Christianity, but I digress....). Nobody wanted to hear that anymore, and partly as a result of that we got the Gospel of Prosperity as peddled by Joel Osteen. We also, however, got churches that got out of the judgment business ("Judge not, lest ye be judged," my KJV saturated memory still recalls).
Now a new generation is urging us to get out of the sex business. Because that's part of what this is all about. The other part, obscured but very present in the documents at the FPC website, is the question not of sola scriptura, but of sotierology. Is Christ the sole source of salvation, or not? That was identified as a driving issue in the documents produced by FPC in its year long discernment process. This issue even had a name: universalism. Like "inerrancy of scripture," it is a term with a very specific meaning, meant to draw a bright line between "us" and "them."
There are two responses to that question which raise the hackles of many: a) no; b) why is salvation the core concern of Christianity?
I would argue that the emphasis of Pope Francis I on poverty and care for the least among us shifts the emphasis of the church from spiritual salvation to temporal salvation; and that, to many, is the problem. Recall the statement of the FPC church elder:
Before Sunday’s vote, church elder Eric Thomas heaped more direct criticism on PCUSA, accusing it of promoting “false teaching” and being “too often focused on social justice.”That's not just a complaint of modern evangelicals. It's been leveled against the Pope himself by American Catholics. Part of the reason for the criticism is the shift in focus from what we believe (in my heart I know I'm right!) to what we do (since I know I'm right, everything I do is right!).
Does this connect with the question of gay rights? Stick with me, I'll get there. First we have to address the core concern of Christians: is it salvation? self-fulfillment? righteousness? Or caring for the least among us? Is it, in other words, to offer salvation to all? Or to be a servant to all? (whether these are mutually exclusive will be addressed; eventually). But rather than address them and leave you buried in another avalanche of bloggage and verbiage, let me stop there for the moment with the question:
What is, or should be, the core concern of Christians?