Millennials Leaving Church: But What Explains Their Departure?

03/19/2015 12:50 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

Millennials Leaving Church, But Why?

But why would anyone leave? What explains the widespread departure?

But again, Millennials leaving Church needs an explanation.

Have you noticed that almost everyone has an opinion, including me? The following brief essay offers one perspective that might shed some light on Millennials leaving Church. It is hardly the only answer, however. I offer it only as one possible explanation.

Actually, my thoughts below were prompted by something written by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, whose calls for reform within the church I find refreshing but largely ignored.

"Christians must start to believe in the God that Jesus presented," says Fr. Richard Rohr.

"Believing in the God that Jesus presented."

You mean there is a difference between the God Jesus presented and the God other Biblical writers presented?

You bet there is.

Interestingly. I would add to Father Rohr's statement that Christians should believe in the God Jesus presented instead of believing in the God in whom Moses or Joshua believed. Maybe there is a reason buried somewhere here that would explain Millennials leaving church today.

And, maybe why others are leaving, too.

Millennials Leaving Church, But Why?

Throughout the history of Christianity, for example, the Church, church leaders, and, consequentially, Christians themselves have justified the Church's right of violence toward others, its discrimination of others, and even its condemnation to hell those who did not subscribe to its beliefs...beliefs the Church would later define, declare, and so dare anyone to question...beliefs the Church said were "infallible"...its doctrines of faith.

Millennials Leaving Church...They Want Honesty, Don't They?

The God we believe in is more often created in our own image, fashioned after our own hatred, prejudice, or envy of others, is it not?

After all, what better way to feel better about your own evil and prejudice than to say God despises those you despise?

Or, this frequent comment the Church often makes but Millennials and others would question: "God hates sin but he loves the sinner!"

Millennials know you can not separate the two.

Of course, it is easy for the Church and some Church leaders to separate the two. They've got their prejudice to protect.

It's easy to deny others their rights as homosexuals, for example, or their right to live in a same-sex relationship, whenever "your" God is the same God Old Testament followers of God created after their own image and so described in their stories recorded in Genesis through Malachi.

Many of them believed they were God's chosen people, just as many Christians today believe the Church is God's chosen Church. Furthermore, they believed, as many still do, God hates sin so badly, sin has to be destroyed - by any and all means, in fact. Unfortunately, this sometimes may mean that in the process of destroying sin a sinner or two will be injured or destroyed in the process...

Millennials Leaving Church...the Reasons May Be Many

...or three or four or more will be sacrificed in the process. Tough love. And, yes, of course, it's unfortunate. But, after all, God is a "righteous" God and he will not tolerate sin.

Therefore, the Church has picked up a similar narrative and reasoned throughout the centuries of its own often sordid and violent history, the end justifies the means.

It may have been such reasoning that gave Moses all the justification he needed to declare to Pharaoh, "Our God says, 'Let my people go' or else!"

The Jews were as suspicious of Moses as the Egyptians were stubborn toward his request.

And, why wouldn't they be?

This formerly-raised Egyptian whom the Jews most likely felt had been wandering far too long under the scorching desert sun shows up one day claiming to be their deliverer. He attempts to ratify his credentials and thus secure their support by reducing the confidence of the Egyptians through a series of "miraculous" plagues.

These plagues, or natural disasters, were to prove to the stubborn Egyptians and suspicious Jews alike that Moses was for real...that his "God" meant business, and that his tribal God was bigger and grander and more equipped than all the gods of Egypt combined.

And yes, of course, it is perfectly fine to call down fire from heaven and all kinds of natural disasters so everyone will know that your God not only favors his people but is more than willing to destroy his enemies to prove it.

Millennials Leaving Church Might Be Explained this Way...

The plagues were convincing, too...but, none as convincing as...

...the killing of all the first born.

"Oh, that'll do it," Moses must have reasoned. "Now, they'll believe in God when he sends a death angel to destroy all innocent firstborns.  That'll do it...that'll show 'em whose God is real...that'll make believers of them when they see our big Guy in the Sky...who alone can get 'er done..."

If you think about it, you can damn well justify anything, can you not, when you believe Moses' God is the same God as Jesus' God?

...when you have created a tribal God after your own likeness and then told your historians to spin your history into stories you later call "Divinely-inspired and infallible" Holy Scriptures?

Who can argue with "inspired" and "infallible?"

Never mind that your ideas about God are just plain wrong!

For a long time, Old Testament believers thought they were right...

That is, until Jesus showed up.

Damn Jesus.

This Jesus has a way of messing things up, doesn't he?

They had God all figured out. They had successfully created a God in their own image of separateness and specialness and, in some cases, hatred toward others to boot.

Until, again, Jesus came along. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why they killed him. What a threat he was!

What a threat he still is. Ironically, however, not to disbelievers. But to believers. To the Church and Church leaders themselves.

Fortunately, the Church today cannot kill Jesus. There's this little thing called the "resurrection" that keeps getting in the way. You cannot control what you cannot kill. Change is occurring, even if the Church resists.

Since they cannot control these changes, therefore, what many Christians and Church leaders do is attempt to argue silly things like Moses' God or Joshua's God in the Old Testament is the same as Jesus' God of the New Testament.

Well, I'm not buying it. And, one reason that explains Millennials leaving Church is because they're not buying it either.

Millennials Leaving Church...Here's a Clear Reason Why?

It's not rocket science to see that people today...even those who still call themselves "Christians" can justify...or engage in all kinds of prejudice toward, let's say, homosexuals or those longing to live in same sex relationships whenever their God is Joshua's God of the Old Testament...instead of Jesus' God of the New Testament.

Fortunately, some Christians leaders and groups like, most recently, the Presbyterian Church USA  are finally admitting the two versions of God just won't work, anymore. So, as the Church has done throughout history, the Church changes its theology to fit the changing times.  It has always done this as any historian knows. Yet, for a while, some traditionalists will cry out against the change, mistakenly calling it "compromise." It generally takes these resistant Christians decades before they see the problem is not the changing times but their own closed-mindedness. A most recent example is the issue of slavery.

But let's be honest.
Let's be real honest.

If God -- I mean, the real God -- is the one defined and described not by Moses or Joshua of the Old Testament but by Jesus of the New Testament - if, as Christians insist, Jesus was/is God in human flesh - then, for any of us to say that Jesus' acceptance of all people...Jesus' love of all people...would exclude anyone whether homosexual or Buddhist or Muslim because they're not as "righteous" or because they don't believe as "real" believers believe...

Millennials Leaving Church...Because of Dishonesty in the Church

For any Christian or Church leader to continue insisting Joshua's God in the Old Testament is the same as Jesus' God of the New Testament feels to me like a deliberate misrepresentation of God. And, where I come from, a misrepresentation of truth is a "lie."

Hardly becoming of anyone who claims to be a Jesus follower, is it?

Maybe it's stuff like this that partially explains Millennials leaving Church.

This post first appeared on Dr. McSwain's own website blog.