Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Church Refugees", by Packard and Hope, examines why the faithful become "dechurched"


Authors: Josh Packard, Ph. D. and Ashleigh Hope

Title: “Church Refugees

Subtitle: “Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith
Publication: Loveland COL Lifetree Group, 2915, IBSN 978-1-470702791-8, 144 pages, paper, seven chapters

Amazon link.
 
I can remember, when I moved to New Jersey in the fall of 1972 to start working for Univac, attending a Methodist church in downtown Caldwell and getting an old fashioned landline phone call from a welcoming committee member glad to meet a young adult who still “goes to church”.

The book focuses on people who remain solid in a religious faith (as we usually understand it, with a specific denomination, especially protestant) but who leave the established church because it no longer meets their needs.   The authors call them “dechurched”.  The book reports a formal study of over 100 interviews, which are often quoted.

One page 7, the book distinguishes between the “None’s” and the “Done’s”.  The “Nones” claim no religious affiliation, but the “Dones” have reached the end of their roads in the established church.
Chapter 2 pays particular attention to “community”, which provides a place to belong (as in Martin Fowler’s book, Aug. 27, 2014). Community provides context for the personal development of self-giving love, of placing value on a relationship with someone who actually depends on you, a fundamental process in civilization which, if short-circuited, leads to instability and mass movements (Hoffer’s book. March 6, 2016).  Ever heard the idiomatic phrase, "I'm done with you."
 
Chapter 3 talks about what seems to start the undoing of a traditional congregation: excessive bureaucracy, what the Rosicrucian order AMORC (April 7, 2007) called “churchianity”.

But later, the book gets into boorish behavior by some congregation people, often seeming judgmental of others.  Think about it.  I may have an opinion about what would be well for you to do with you  life, and I may be “right”, but you will resent it if I barge into your life and tell you what you should do.  Who am I to say?  Pope Francis, for example, has admitted that the established Church does not give him a warrant to behave this way with people.
 
From pages 89-91 the authors discuss ideas like “collective difference” in motivating faith-based behavior, as compared to “religious individualism”, where people may invent their own theologies (which the authors name “Shelaism”) , sometimes merging it with science and cosmology.  But a community cannot be sustained from so many individualized accounts of the internals of a faith.



The authors also talk about the tendency of many more conservative congregations, present in almost every denomination, to condemn homosexuality.  In the past, personal homosexual practice was condemned, long before gay marriage became a real public issue.  Why the sexual orientation and personal practice of others becomes a concern for people in a church has always presented a bit of an enigma.  Modern interpretations of various passages of scripture (Leviticus, Romans, Corinthians, etc) hardly provide much of an explanation.  I think people face hardships, see connection into marriage and family and to church through family as a necessary adaptation to the demands of the real world for personal and social resilience; but it is much easier for people to accept their own accommodation and sense of sacrifice if they have confidence that others in their midst have to make the same psychic “sacrifices”.   Beliefs about what others outside the home are likely to be allowed to do seem to provide a context for marriage that makes it more interesting to some people.

There is a long interview of Packard by Rob Wilkerson on YouTube.

The book is the subject of a Wednesday night discussion series at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC.

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