Last night, I met up with a friend I had not seen in a long time. She had texted me earlier in the week to ask some questions about the upcoming election, particularly some measures we have on the ballot here in California. It’s not odd for me to get those types of requests from friends. They all know what I do and sometimes seek help navigating the confusing ballot language (FYI: I do a simplified voter guide for Californians every election cycle, which I’ll publish this week). But the exchange took a more concerning tone when my friend, out of the blue, told me that she was really having a hard time with the lockdowns and the news cycle. She hasn’t been able to go to church and connect with people in her faith community. She’s lonely. “I don’t know where I belong,” she told me. “I’m not sure where God is in all this. I’m not sure if I even believe in God anymore.”
That was all I needed to hear. It was clear to me I was talking to a friend in crisis. We arranged to meet up for a talk.
Listening to her in person made me realize a couple of things. For one, she wasn’t really expressing a loss of faith. She was expressing a loss of connection. Having suddenly been disconnected from all the things that kept her grounded and the community that regularly helped her explore her relationship with God, she was left floating without an anchor.
The second thing I realized is that people are suffering under lockdowns much more than we may think. My friend has a beautiful family and they’ve been able to continue working through COVID shutdowns. She has a lot to be thankful for and on the outside she might strike one as very adjusted. That is the veneer she — like many of us — has had to adopt in order to keep life as normal as possible for her children.
But no one can be strong forever and as I listened to my friend talking I knew it in my heart.
The American Church has failed this test…miserably.
My friend has been thinking that she’s weak, faithless, or just lazy. She blamed herself for not being able to push through all this on her own. She blamed herself for not being able to make sense of all the conflicting information out there. Should she be terrified? Should she be enraged? Should she be skeptical of the CDC, the nightly news, her neighbor who is a nurse? Everyone is saying something different and nothing makes sense.
That’s the thing. Humans are built to reason. When logic is denied to us it will literally drive us insane. Logic has long ago left the COVID discussion and the result is that people like my friend are breaking. They’ve had enough. But where do you turn when you’ve had enough of the status quo but every coping mechanism you’ve had in your life is now off-limits?
This is where the Church (the Body of Christ in general) has failed, at least here in California. Logic, science, reason, and art used to be exclusive territory of the Church. The Church gave us the heavens, our appreciation for the human form, and apologetics — the study of reason itself. It makes sense because all of these disciplines are nothing but the exploration of the mechanics of God. The Church used to be on the cutting edge of all these things because the Church used to be the counter culture.
Now we are whimpering, weak subjects of a hostile state and our pastoral leaders have left behind the “counter” and joined the “culture.” Instead of looking to the science and the data ourselves, we have been satisfied to simply believe every utterance coming from government, despite the traditionally adversarial relationship between the Church and the state. Church leadership has fooled itself into believing that YouTube services and drive-by food donations count as “serving” the community. Even as churches begin to accept limited permission from the state to meet, we have to make reservations and worship outside in order to enjoy the privilege of religious freedom.
Our world is currently burning around us. There are no answers to the current state of our national angst without the Church and yet the Church has voluntarily put on a muzzle. People are desperate for answers, even more desperate for connection. These are the two things we are best at. These are the two things our pastoral leaders have acquiesced to Rome.
Every pastor will tell you at one point or another that we humans are born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts and we spend our entire lives searching to fill it.
There are a lot of holey hearts out there right now. Space abhors a vacuum. Something will fill those empty spaces and the Church has been willingly sidelined. We no longer have community — our most powerful draw — to offer. What is left to fill the vacuum? Rage without resolution, bitterness without forgiveness, punishment without grace. Alcohol, drugs, loneliness, resentment…all of these things are filling those lost empty hearts out there without much challenge from the institutions God has appointed to lead and to serve.
Whatever their personal feelings about John MacArthur may be, California churches should be supporting his move to defy a state authority that has thwarted our human and constitutional right to assemble and worship. Every Sunday, we’ve heard our pastors proudly and loudly share stories of how Jesus was a revolutionary, a direct conduit of the counter culture of the Kingdom. We brag about this aspect of our God, even as we cower before state authorities who have no interest in keeping our tax-exempt sanctuaries thriving because God…the Church…is always and always has been direct competition to the gods of the state. We don’t even pay them taxes. We are worthless to them and it is beyond tragic how our pastoral leadership has, for the most part, confirmed as much.
That sense of worthlessness is now infecting the flock at alarming rates. Your response may be, “But if the churches defy the state they will be fined and forced to close for good. And then what good can they do if they’re closed altogether?” This attitude runs counterintuitive to the Gospel. We either trust God in scary times or we don’t. I understand the fear but at some point, we have to decide if we are going to let God be God or let the state be our god.
The Church is losing people like my friend. We have been absent in our nation’s greatest time of need. Our comfort under our Constitution has softened us. We have become an institution of pre-Resurrection Peters…denying our kinship to the community of Christ for fear of the state. The specter of losing our church properties to fines or penalties scares us more than our brethren (people like my friend) losing their faith and their communities. It is not lost on me that Peter obviously later redeemed himself by becoming one of the most influential Christians in human history. It is also not lost on me that the ultimate price Peter paid for his eventual obedience to the name of Jesus was to be crucified in an extraordinarily brutal fashion.
California church leaders aren’t even willing to incur a fine in the name of Jesus.