Progressive Theology, Racial Justice, LGBTQ, and the Co-vocational Future of the ChurchApr 07, 2022
How are Gen Z, progressive theology, racial justice, and LGBTQ shaping the future of the church in America? That's our topic for this edition of More Than a Pastor.
We’re continuing our series on why I think the future of the church in America is co-vocational. Why I think the church of the 21st century will look less like the 20th century and more like the 1st century.
And why now is THE time for pastors like you and me to figure out how to leverage our ministry skills into a secondary income source, so we can serve God and provide for our families no matter what.
Last time we talked about Toxic Church Culture, Beth Moore, #CHURCHTOO and the Co-vocational Future of the Church.
Today we’re going to talk about Progressive Theology, Racial Justice, and LGBTQ.
I’ll tell you why I decided to bring these three concepts together in a moment. But first, let me ask you...
Ever Wonder How We Got Here?
Have you ever been driving in your car, on your way somewhere…and you’re pretty sure you know the way to get there…but after a while of driving in that direction, you have a moment when you realize you’re not quite sure where you are…or how to get where you wanted to go?
I’ve had times like that!
In fact, I vividly remember a time when our family had driven from our home in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Detroit for the day. It was in 2007 or maybe 2008. My wife had an appointment at the US Immigration & Naturalization Service office there, as part of her progress toward becoming a US Citizen.
She’s Canadian, eh!
So it’s one of those deals where you arrive at like 8:00 in the morning, drop off some documents, have some kind of an interview with one of the immigration officers, and then they process your papers and you come back at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon to pick up the documents.
So we had lots of time to kill. I wanted to take the family to downtown Detroit to do some exploring - it was a beautiful summer day. I thought I knew the road to take from the immigration office…because we were not really that far from downtown.
But after driving 10, maybe 15 minutes or so in the direction I thought we needed to go to get downtown, I realized we were not getting closer to downtown. We should have been seeing tall buildings by now, but we weren’t.
So, I did the one thing that men must never do while driving...
Admit that I was lost and had no idea where we were or how to get to downtown Detroit!
Remember, this was in 2007 or 2008, so there was no Map app on the iPhone. Actually, at this time I’m pretty sure I didn’t even HAVE an iPhone yet.
So I pulled into a parking lot and decided I needed to find someone I could ask for help.
And as I turned into a nearby lot, and pulled into a parking spot. There, on the horizon before me, I could see the iconic Renaissance Center building and the beautiful downtown Detroit skyline before me.
And I asked myself, how in the world had I lost sight of the tall buildings of my downtown destination?
We started out so close to downtown. And now we are miles away from where we had wanted to be.
I don’t know about you…
But this is exactly how I feel when I think about the plight of LGBTQ people with the church, and the issues of racism in the church today.
I ask myself…
LGBTQ and the Church
How in the world did we get to the place we’re at right now, where LGBTQ people feel judged, persecuted, stereotyped, and scapegoated by Jesus-loving, peace-filled people in the church.
Where Christians are more known for debate and demonization over dogma than exhibiting the gentleness and respect Christ had for the marginalized and vulnerable.
Where people who “come out” as gay face the trauma of rejection and stigmatization from the people who should love them the most...their Christian family members. Leading some 300,000 LGBTQ young people committed suicide in the 80’s and 90’s because of the pain and rejection they felt from the church and their families.
Racial Justice and the Church
How’d we get here? it’s the same question I ask about racial justice and the church as well.
How can it be that the church in America, by and large, has had a long history of defending slavery, perpetuating Jim Crow, resisting Civil Rights Acts, and still to this day today, in many corners, continues to ignore and downplay racism as the sin it is.
Where thousands of evangelicals embrace the ideals of so-called “white Christian nationalism.”
Where 11:00 AM on Sunday is still, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr called it 60 years ago, the most segregated hour in America.
I know there are exceptions. I’ve been blessed to be part of a denomination that was involved in the abolitionist movement, and in a church that’s been on a journey to becoming multiethnic.
It’s involved a lot of intentionality in seeking to reflect the diversity God had brought to our community, to our church. And has led to diversifying our board leadership, our staff, our worship styles and worship teams, and more.
I was hesitant to bring up LGBTQ and racial justice in the same episode, along with the progressive theology, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, for several reasons.
- They both involve forms of diversity
- They involve acceptance and love of “the other”
- Both involve people who have traditionally been marginalized by traditional, conservative evangelical type churches in the majority
- If you’re in one of those a more conservative type of church and you advocate for ethnic diversity in the church, or express concern about how the church has alienated LGBTQ people, and is pushing entire generations away from the church, you get labeled by some as a liberal or progressive. Or worse…you get labeled an apostate pastor like Rob Bell. Please hear me, I’m not saying that I believe that about Rob Bell. I’m just saying that’s how you get labeled and who you get lumped in with.
You know, labels have their place. They can be helpful.
But I’m not sure it’s helpful, if you’re more on the evangelical conservative side, to label everyone you disagree with a progressive. Or to demonize those who are less dogmatic as you as being liberal or apostate.
A Generational Shift in Acceptance, Advocacy and Activism
But perhaps the biggest reason for me to mention the issues of racism and LGBTQ together is because we are witnessing a generational shift take place in terms of acceptance, advocacy, and activism regarding these issues.
And this shift will have a profound impact on the future of church.
Every generation has had its activists, and causes it cared about, right? I'm a Gen X-er, so I know we were all concerned about work-life balance back in the day.
But the Millennial and Gen Z generations are activist generations. Have you noticed this yet? If you’re a parent of Gen Z young adults like I am, I’m sure you have.
They are super passionate about social issues like immigration, the environment. But at the top of the list, you’ll find racial justice and LGBTQ.
And I think the reason why is that Gen Z identifies with these causes more than any previous generation. Here’s what I mean..
Members of Gen Z are much more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation. And they’ve experienced more diversity than any other generation in their schools, colleges, workplaces, and military (for those who went that route).
In fact, most have experienced diversity in every aspect of their lives except, perhaps, one: Their church. (Again, I know there are exceptions!)
And when they look at the society around them, 60% of Gen Z (and Millennials, by the way) believe that systemic racism is fairly or very widespread throughout society, but they don’t really see the church doing anything about that.
And when it comes to LGBTQ, Gen Z (and Millennials) are far more progressive on LGBT issues than any previous generation. Perhaps so because members of Gen Z personally identify more as LGBTQ than any previous generation!
In fact, one in five Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ. Bisexual identification is the most common, with one in six Gen Z adults identifying as bisexual, according to a 2021 survey by Gallup.
And very interestingly, nearly one out of three young Christians identify as LGBTQ! I had no idea!
Nearly 75% of Gen Z and Millennials say they care about LGBTQ rights and support same-sex marriage.
Another thing Gen Z are passionate about is genuine community
Gen Z place a high value on relationships…and not just at a superficial level…I’m talking about real acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. What those of us in the church might call radical hospitality.
Unfortunately, most in Gen Z don’t believe they can find that kind of community and belonging in the church! And exhibit A is the church’s decades-long struggle to offer acceptance and belonging to LGBTQ people.
In fact, a 2021 survey by Springtide Research Institute showed that half of young people ages 13 to 25 surveyed said they don’t think that religious institutions care as much as they do about issues that matter deeply to them - like racial justice and LGBTQ. And this translates into a low level of trust, with the same survey reporting that Gen Z gives the church a 4.9 out of 10 on a level of trust.
The bottom line thing to know about Gen Z are that they refuse to align with institutions that don’t share their values - institutions they doesn’t trust.
Again, I ask...
How did we get to this place where a generation of young people distrust the church because they believe it doesn’t share their values of creating a place of belonging and safety for a people who, from their experience, have traditionally been discriminated against and marginalized by the church?
So like I’ve said in every episode of this series, I’m not here to get into theological or political debates.
My goal is to share a perspective on social and cultural trends which I believe are creating shifts that will greatly impact the future of church…shifts that I believe will lead to a co-vocational future for the church.
I don’t believe these shifts point to an end of the church…but maybe an end to the traditional, institutional church as we’ve come to know it in America in the last 75 years. And maybe that’s a good thing!
So regardless of your views on ethnic diversity or LGBTQ in the church, I think you will agree with me that every church - including your church - is going to be affected.
- Many churches will continue to see a sharp drop-off in engagement by the younger generations.
- This will lead to a huge financial disruption for churches who had been dependent on funding primarily through tithes and offerings. Meaning that churches will need to create new models of economic sustainability.
- And with that, I think pastors who had been full-time in the church will need to create income outside the church in order to provide for their families.
- Churches and pastors who want to reach Millennials and Gen Z will need to reimagine how they do that in ways that meet the younger generations where they’re at, and build trust with them over the long term.
- I think this will cause churches and denominations to rethink labels, methods, how we define community, and how we live out our theology. Maybe old models and labels need to die, and new ones need to be created? Maybe we need to create fresh expressions of church that don’t look like church, where people aren’t defined by their sexuality, where real belonging and community can be created, where people have an opportunity to encounter the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s going to take new wine in new wineskins to engage with people who won’t come near anything that looks or smells like traditional “church” as we’ve known it.
- And maybe this means more churches and fresh expressions will be led by co-vocational pastors who work in the church and the marketplace.
- One more thing that impacts the future of the church: The growing distrust of the institutional evangelical church among Gen Z will have a direct effect on the number of people from that generation who respond to a call to ministry as pastors and missionaries. I think this means that, as the Boomer and Gen X pastors retire or move on, many traditional churches will struggle to replace them. And Gen Z members who do feel called, but don’t feel like they “belong” within existing traditional denominational or church planting structures, will probably create their own. Maybe we’ll see smaller church-type gatherings meeting in homes, vs. large gatherings in traditional church buildings. And more based on authentic relationships.
Disruption and the Church
These shifts will create disruption that will impact every church. And we can curse this disruption or bless it. We can see it as some evil plot by the enemy to destroy the church and ruin a generation. Or we can see it as part of Jesus’ plan to renew the church, to deinstitutionalize it, to create a safe place for people who feel caught between their doubts and our dogmatism, and to create the kind of radical, beloved community that Jesus intended his church to be in the world.
I want to talk more about that in our next episode: Doubt, Dogmatism, Deconstruction and the Co-vocational future of the church. I hope you’ll join me for that.
But before we go, I’d like to tell you about a free resource that I’m offering during this series, and it’s called “How to Know if Starting Your Own Business is Right for You?” In it I share the top 12 signs that you might be ready to start your own business. And the three most important things every pastor needs to build and grow a successful business today. Download your free copy at morethanapastor.com/biz.