Christians celebrated Pentecost yesterday.
Many church members wore red to represent fire and the coming of the Holy Spirit. But too many American cities are seeing red as mass shootings continue.
The Gun Violence Archive reported 15 mass shootings on Memorial Day weekend, resulting in 179 deaths and 463 people injured. More than “thoughts and prayers,” spiritual bypassing should be replaced with a trauma-informed ecclesiology.
To be sure and to be fair, the North American church has contributed more than its fair share of violence, aiding and abetting in some of the world’s most horrific crimes against humanity.
Violence is a part of church history, which is why it’s no mystery that its buildings remain segregated at 11 a.m. sharp on Sunday mornings.
This past Sunday, we read the story of a church unified. They were all upstairs before the church split up, splintered off. At Pentecost, we witness the church before doctrines and creeds, schisms and denominationalism.
To date, the body of Christ has been divided up in so many different ways, with more than 45,000 denominations globally, according to the Center for the Global Study of Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
The North American church, though one body, has not been able to see eye to eye since Pentecost. It is always going through changes, always struggling with its self-image.
Presently being pulled to the right and left side of the political spectrum, the body of Christ is contorted, which results in a distorted practice of the ministry of Jesus. It is fair, then, that younger faith seekers are looking at the church and asking, “Does attending this church make me look like a believer in Jesus?”
Consequently, there are Christians who are deconstructing American Christianity, pulling apart what has been held together by tradition and trauma, examining what they truly believe and what is worth keeping — to be in close relational proximity to Jesus.
There are Christians who are decolonizing American Christianity, decentering whiteness and challenging this socially color-coded hierarchy based on a pigment of the imagination, which then names itself supreme and is heresy.
There are Christians who are testifying, telling their story of sexual and spiritual abuse. They are calling for accountability, justice and deliverance from toxic Christianity.
There are Christians who are leaving the church but not Christianity. They want less institution and more Jesus. They don’t want to go to church; they want a “come to Jesus meeting.”
They are setting up shop in coffee shops. They are doing the holy work in living rooms and on morning walks. They will go where they must so that their faith keeps moving.
This is where the church is going, from house to house and heart to heart. It is evidence of the Spirit’s wind blowing.
While the North American church turns gray and its leaders complain about the declining attendance of Millennials and Generation Z in worship services, I would argue that this departure from the church’s four walls is an act of faith.
It is rooted in the belief that there is more to Christianity than what the church offers on Sunday. It is inspired by a desire to practice one’s faith throughout the week. Because it is needed on days like today when there are reports of more mass shootings.
Younger believers are expecting their faith to be in touch with reality. They are seeking an embodied ecclesiology and a church membership that reflects their friendships, which are diverse and cross-cultural.
They also expect the church to feel for all those who are hurting and to demonstrate it with their body language. They want the church to see red, to express strong emotion, to extend hospitality and to act in solidarity with those who are victimized, marginalized and traumatized.
John Shelby Spong writes in A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born:
“I will leave it to tomorrow’s believers or critics to determine whether or not the Christianity that will survive this present twenty-first century is still in touch with the Christianity that broke upon the scene in Judea in the first century and then moved on to conquer the Roman empire in the fourth century, dominate Western civilization in the thirteenth century, endure the face-lifting reformation of the sixteenth century, follow the flag of European colonial expansion in the nineteenth century, and shrink dramatically in the twentieth century.”
The North American church is fighting the updated version of itself and trying to delay another reformation. Consequently, some Christians are doing the maintenance work in other places.
Acknowledging that North America is in a world of hurt, younger generations are doing the work of healing themselves so that they don’t hurt the chances of another generation believing that Pentecost is more than a day when we wear red.