As if she were writing from right inside this blog's ongoing discussion of connections between rigid patriarchal religion and abuse of women and children, Valerie Tarico writes two days ago:
From the standpoint of wooing converts or even inspiring the faithful to stay faithful, the sex-obsessed behavior of high-profile patriarchal Christians is about as effective as the U.S. Army’s attempt to win hearts and minds with drone strikes. I’m not trying to be poetic here—in the last decade or so, the percent of Americans who self-identify as Christians has dropped from 85 percent to 70 percent, and young people point to the culture wars as a key reason Christianity turns them off.
Guess who’s leaving the fastest? Women. . . .
[P]atriarchal Christian men are obsessed with lording it over women, queers and kids because in the view of the Bible writers (and true Bible believers) that is the right and proper order of things, ordained by Yahweh himself—who, by the way, gets really mean when people don’t do things his way.
And as if writing a companion piece to Tarico's analysis, shortly after Tarico publishes it, Christian Smith writes,
[W]e find (and will publish in a forthcoming report) that fully one-half of youth who self-identified as Catholic as teenagers no longer identified as Catholics 10 years later in their 20s. That is a 50 percent loss through attrition in one decade. If that number is not grim, I do not know what is.
This helps explain why, according to research by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, one in 10 adult Americans (13 percent) today is an ex-Catholic.
Smith is William E. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, and author of Young Catholic America. The "we" to whom his statements refer are Smith and his team of colleagues who are spearheading the National Study of Youth and Religion at Notre Dame.
So: half of teens raised Catholic are now leaving the Catholic church by the time they become adults. One in ten American adults is a former Catholic. One-third of American adults raised Catholic have walked away from the church.
When researchers like Smith (but, please note: parishes and bishops are not asking these questions) ask those leaving why they're leaving, these "fallen-away" Catholics speak repeatedly of their sense of not having been made welcome. As Father Tom Reese reminded NCR readers yet again this week, these Catholics of the exodus, and notably the millennial ones, speak quite particularly of the lack of welcome for LGBT people, and how tired they've become of seeing their LGBT family members and friends used as despised objects in unholy poltical battles by people calling themselves Christian.
As this mass exodus is occurring, what's most striking to note is how almost NO parishes or Catholic study and prayer groups or bishops seem willing to invite into their circles the people being discussed, dissected, talked about, but treated as "them" in contrast to "us" who are the church. When those of us shoved to the outside and left to look in on all the nice discussions about love and service and mercy and welcome do ever dare to raise our voices and try to find ways to testify about what it means to be excluded, we're quite frequently told we are behaving in an ugly way, and don't understand the insider rules of "us" who constitute the church.
The churches have, in other words, constructed a no-win situation, in many cases, for LGBT believers these days, and I suspect that many of us who are LGBT will, as a result, continue distancing ourselves from these toxic, harmful dynamics that turn words like "love" and "welcome" upside down. But when statistics are now showing as well that large percentages of other believers, especially young ones, are leaving for the same reason — they will not tolerate the ugly us-vs.-them games, the lies on which they're based, the false spirituality they foster — I wonder what kind of pastoral response a wise church that wants a future for itself should develop?
Seems to me it would start with listening — to those shoved to the margins. And with the assumption that "we" do not have all the truth in our hands, and may have something important to learn from "them." Call me crazy, but this is how I see it, as one of the "thems."
I write these reflections having just been informed by a group discussing Catholic spirituality online, to which a good friend and a genuinely holy person invited me, that my comments about issues of welcome and the churches are not welcome in this group's discussion, because "we" don't share in a way that hurts the feelings of others. This instruction came my way because I responded honestly to a group member who slammed my commentary on issues of welcome by informing me that the young people leaving the church are abandoning orthodoxy and succumbing to secularism.
Go to that group member's Twitter page, and you find — surprise (but of course not) — that it's chock full of tweets praising Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Allen West, etc. All fine and good: we're all entitled to our political opinions. I have mine, after all.
But note the message here: this right-wing Catholic is entirely welcome in the group discussing Catholic spirituality — love, welcome, mercy — while I am not. It's "we" who know and enforce the rules, and "you" who have been invited in on a trial basis until "we" see whether you will behave yourself.
Catholic spirituality purporting to be about welcome, love and mercy that praises Limbaugh, Palin, Cruz, and West to the skies: fine and good. Catholic spirituality that arises out of an LGBT experience: sorry, "we" don't entertain that kind of testimony.
Something's very wrong with this picture, isn't it?