Quitting Church

This week there’s been a good bit of discussion around the web about quitting or leaving church.

I’ve been thinking about this theme myself, in part because of recent encounters with a number of Roman Catholics who are struggling with their faith and their membership in that Church. Some can no longer find a spiritual home there and have embarked on a journey that leads them away. Others are struggling to find some way of finding peace with a hierarchy from which they are alienated and finding peace as well with a personal history and family tradition that still binds them.

Over the weekend, our neighbors down the street at the Freedom from Religion Foundation had an ad in the NYTimes urging Catholics to quit the church. Here it is:

The ad has produced its desired result: considerable response from various quarters. Sidney Callahan wrote about it for America magazine’s “In All Things,” observing that:

Helpfully, the free from religion folks provide a long list of oppressive “dark age” errors that “must be stopped.” One can become a member of their cruade by sending checks ranging from $40 (Individual) to $100 (Sustaining) to $500 (Life) to a puzzling category of (After Life) for $5000. This pitch for money prompted one wag to reply, “Hey people, you can quit for free you know.”

I’ve long joked that I would love to run an ad campaign directed at Roman Catholics with tag-lines like “The Episcopal Church: All of the Liturgy, none of the Guilt.” I do believe that the Episcopal Church can offer a home to at least some Roman Catholics who can no longer be at home in their church. But at the same time, to make such a direct appeal seems problematic. Here’s another version, from Rev. Matthew Lawrence.

A generous, pastoral response is necessary; and above all, humility that the Episcopal Church might not be the appropriate place for everyone who is estranged from the Roman Catholic Church.

One Catholic who left the Church and an order, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, is Mary Johnson. An interview with her  is here.  Her story of leaving is An Unquenchable Thirst.

My doubts in the convent were more questions about my call than doubting God or my Catholic faith — that came later. Though I’d felt called to serve the poor, I was assigned years of administrative work. Eventually when I was superior of a house that cared for refugee women and their children, I was forbidden to start programs that would have helped the women toward self-sufficiency; my superiors insisted that I limit myself to providing food and shelter. As Mother Teresa aged and her health failed, I clashed with two powerful sisters who had pulled the community very far to the right. I also realized that I needed deeper human connections than the rules allowed. I kept hearing within me the words of Jesus in the gospel: “I came that you may have life, and have it to the full” — and life in the MCs didn’t look very full. I felt as though I was suffocating.

Lisa Miller points out that women are giving up church in growing numbers. According to the Barna Group, regular attendance by women has dropped by 20% between 1991 and 2011. Her focus is on conservative Christianity.

One woman who struggles with church-going is Elizabeth Drescher, who writes about  “Giving up Church for Lent.”

Dave Kinnaman (The Barna Group) on their current research findings, postulating “two worlds” one of active, engaged Christians; the other consisting of secular people completely alienated from religion and Christianity. He suggests that perhaps whole segments of our population and culture have given up church. That is to say, religion is no longer of any significance or interest to them.