Perhaps one of the more discouraging scenes of my life played out recently at the dinner table as my husband and I counted up our disgraced Christian institutions.
His home church is dealing with an ongoing investigation into a former pastor, someone my husband knew well all through his growing-up years. The church where my husband once worked as a youth pastor is considered one of evangelicalism’s biggest blowups, the epitome of a cautionary megachurch tale.
I have a megachurch tale too. I grew up in the Seattle area, and for several years my family attended a satellite campus of Mars Hill — years during which its pastor, Mark Driscoll, was seen by many (including us) as a “cool,” “edgy” leader who told it straight.
After college graduation, I moved to the frozen tundra of the Chicago suburbs for my first job. The not-quite-mega church I ended up at, where I greeted folks at the front door and sang in the choir, is now dealing with an investigation of its own.
That first job I took? It was with Christianity Today, hailed as the flagship media outlet of the evangelical world. As an English major fresh out of an evangelical college, I felt incredibly grateful to be there. One of my first published articles on the CT website was about Mars Hill and the independent churches that grew out of the former satellite campuses.
Then, just a few weeks ago — ironically, soon after CT wrapped up its popular podcast on the rise and fall of Mars Hill — the magazine released a report detailing the sexual harassment that went unchecked at its own office for more than a decade. (I saw a few tweets wondering when there might be a podcast on the rise and fall of Christianity Today.) I knew all the names in the report, co-workers from my time there.
That evening, after we both read the report, my husband and I counted these places where we’d worked and worshipped. I think we both laughed, because sometimes that’s all you can do when something you’ve devoted so much of your life to lets you down, again. I think one of us asked a question, along the lines of, “So why are we doing this?” “This” meaning anything from church to Christianity to everything in the much-too-messy middle.
Over the next few days, I remembered the hymn that goes, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” My mind filled in “love” with other possibilities: “moral failures”? “hypocrisy”? “lapses in judgment”? “cover-ups”?
Why do we do this?
My husband and I both have graduate degrees in theology and biblical studies. His dream was, and is, to pastor. My dream was, and is, to promote the work and writing of people of faith. Some days, these dreams seem almost laughable. How can we sit here among this wreckage of lives and lies and say, still, “Come join us”?
The late, lovely Rachel Held Evans felt this same way. “Some days and some nights, I am too tired, too discouraged, and too overwhelmed by all the beauty and all the evil of this world,” she wrote, in a piece that eventually became the prologue to her posthumously published “Wholehearted Faith.”
“On those days and nights,” she continued, “my most honest answer to the question ‘Why are you a Christian?’ is just ‘I don’t know. Why not?’ That might seem like a paltry and pale version of ‘Yes,’ but it is a yes nonetheless.”
She then went on to describe the people of the Bible whose “yes” made her and kept her a Christian: from Mary to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth to Hagar to the women at the foot of the cross.
“I am a Christian because of women who showed up,” Evans wrote. “I am a Christian because of women who said yes.”
On the days when I, too, feel tired and discouraged and overwhelmed, I try to remind myself of the multifaceted reality first: that there is nothing new under the sun, and corrupted Christians are not a new problem; that I can (and should) work to expose the failings and evils of places that call themselves Christian, but I also can (and should) celebrate the good, true and beautiful things that I see people of faith doing every day.
Every two weeks, I read their stories in Faith & Leadership — about a Massachusetts church that collects a special offering to support Black musicians whenever they sing a Negro spiritual, about a Virginia congregation that helped build affordable housing on the site of their former church structure, about a renowned D.C. church that transformed its boarded-up windows into stirring murals.
I get to share office space with the Everything Happens Initiative, which reminds us that life is both so beautiful and so, so hard. And every week, I work with a local pastor to create a newsletter for church leaders, sharing wisdom and stories and resources.
On the discouraging days, when I wonder why I do what I do, I may simply need to take a closer look at what it is that I do — the remarkable privilege of taking in and sending out stories that are not cautionary tales but lessons from the quiet faithful. They don’t make as much noise as the scandals and falls from grace, but they are there, still.
Some days, that’s enough.
I think one of us asked a question, along the lines of, “So why are we doing this?” “This” meaning anything from church to Christianity to everything in the much-too-messy middle.