Why Young People Leave the Church by an Orthodox Christian
A few years ago I started listening to Pop Culture Coffee Hour- it’s a Greek Orthodox podcast run by ministers in charge of youth and young adult programming in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The 4 hosts will talk about a book or movie or show and relate it to the Christian values and beliefs of Orthodoxy. They do an annual Star Wars episode and it can get silly, but they are also very serious about their dedication to Christ and looking for the things to point to Him in the media around us.
In their most recent episode, one of the hosts, Christian Gonzalez, gave a monologue about Millennials and Generation Z who are leaving the Church that felt relevant to our LDS circles, because so many religions are experiencing the departure of their young people and I wanted to share it here. I transcribed this and took out some “um”s and other in-between words/sounds.
I’ve been working in youth ministry now for a decade….The question that you get asked more than any other one is why young people are leaving the Church and what we can do to get them to stay. This is the big question. And we think “more programming” “more pizza parties” “more whatever” – all of this kind of stuff. And ultimately, I feel like after so much thinking and talking to people on “We are Orthodoxy” and after a decade of asking myself this question, I think I am getting somewhat confident in an answer and I think that the reason that they leave is that ultimately the Church doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t actually matter in the world. It has no other goal than the perpetuation of itself, and at the end of the day, young people look at the Church and they see an institution that exists for itself. When push comes to shove, they are forced to hear the words of Jesus- to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, right? But what they hear about at church is the importance of sexual ethics and personal piety. They are told not to do things like pass out antidoron to anyone besides the people just next to them, unless they distract somebody in church. “But what if I see a stranger in the back of the church who’s never been here before- should I not be welcoming to that person and open to that. To be like, ‘Here you go- here’s some bread.’?”
You know they see us- they see people spending plenty of time planning ethnic celebrations and festivals of the Church while the poor, red-lined neighborhood next to them boasts of a more than 50% high school drop out rate. And ultimately, people are listening to the words of Jesus, who says to care for the disenfranchised and the poor, and they see things where Jesus actually does those things and then they look at our Church and they’re like “Who are you following?”
One of my friends said this recently and it was brilliant, he said, “Ultimately young people leave the Church because they have too much integrity to stay.” And to me, this is becoming a huge issue that we need to address. We’re not actually dealing with people in the communities. We think so much about building buildings and getting more people to these things and have these events and a make money, fundraisers, etc. of course there’s always that pressure on people to give more money so that the priest has a salary so we can keep the doors open, etc.
But again at the end of the day, if this isn’t making any real difference in the lives of real people beyond this simple personal piety- and don’t get me wrong, we need the personal piety- we need that. We need prayer and fasting and alms giving. but again, these things are.. this is me trying to figure this out… these are ascetic practices- of a species of training. And the question is “training for what? What are we training for?” And the reality is that it’s training to love our neighbor. That’s ultimately what it comes down to: to love God, to love neighbor. And when we’re not doing that as a church, all that we do on Sundays is a medieval play. So of course people are tired of going, and of course people don’t think it matters, because they’re not actually seeing anything real instantiating the Kingdom. When people are being gripped tightly, or having money dragged out of their pockets to pay for the debt that is accruing over building a temple when people have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt themselves-we put more burdens on people as a community by wanting to go further into debt to build a new rec center and it baffles me. It honestly doesn’t surprise me that people leave. Who cares? What have we done? What have we done for anybody? How have we made the world better?
You know who makes the world better? The martyrs. And that’s why they get themselves killed. It’s against the institutions and the kingdoms of this world. And man, we’re playing right into it, with our self perpetuation… I don’t now. Rant over.
And this goes far beyond things like Black Lives Matter. It goes far beyond political platforms. Far beyond that. It’s the line that runs through each human heart: Am I going to live for myself or others? And it’s what we need to ask ourselves as an institution.Pop Culture Coffee Hour, Episode 133: The Chosen
So that rant really caught me and I thought about how we Mormons are dealing with the same things. It has been really good for me to listen to this podcast over the past 3 or 4 years- it sometimes gives me the sermons/talks I wish I heard at church and I often find myself connecting more with the Christian community as a whole.
Do you look outside the LDS/Mormon world for spiritual uplift? Do these words above feel familiar to your experiences?