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What Rachel, Brett, Johnny, Millennials, Pope Francis and Toby Keith All Have in Common

August 2nd, 2013by Bob Wurzelbacher

Talk about an innocent blog posting that goes viral.

It seems that everyone in the blogosphere (my apologies to Scott Rosenburg) is well aware of a recent blog written by Rachel Held Evans entitled, Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church. There have been so many likes, tweets, recommends—and whatever else they are called—that I don’t know if there is a computer out there that can count the related comments and blogs written to comment on those comments.

And, yet, I seem to feel called to add to that number.

Rachel certainly hit a nerve. It is never fair to summarize a 700-word blog in one sentence, but I’m going to try anyway. Rachel believes that Millennials don’t need churches to be more “hip” with Starbucks coffee, cool bands and pastors in skinny jeans; rather, they need churches to actually listen to them, talk with them, and invite them to utilize their gifts in the faith community.

Well, there were certainly those who agreed with her. But there were plenty who disagreed with her as well. Brett McCracken is among those who wrote a rebuttal blog, demonizing her for suggesting the Church needs to change its teaching to appeal to the latest generation. And there was even a pretty popular blog by Jonathan Fitzgerald that exerted Brett and Rachel are both wrong. His take was that we don’t need what Rachel says (“the Church needs to listen to us!”), and we don’t need what Brett says (“we need to listen to the Church!”), but that we all need a little less talk and a lot more action (ok, my apologies to Toby Keith, not that he will ever be caught dead reading a Catholic blog).

If you are still reading this, let me ask you a question: Does anybody still listen to anybody? These people talk like there is some big disagreement here.

Brett: Rachel did not say in her blog that the church needs to change her teaching to accommodate millennials.

Jonathan: Neither Brett nor Rachel said that we just need to sit down and have a conversation. They both believe in living out one’s faith.

Pope Francis: If you’re still wondering why your name was in the title, I’ll get to you in a minute. Sit tight, Your Holiness…er, Bishop of Rome-ness.

Rachel: Well, you seem to be a pretty good listener, but you started this whole thing. 😉

Toby: You’re probably still wondering why you’re in the middle of all of this.

Whatever it is that the Church needs to do to welcome back the droves of Millennials no longer occupying the pews, and whatever it is the Millennials need to do to become more what God is calling them to be, they both go hand-in-hand with what we all seem to be lacking in great measure: love.

If the Church wants people to pay attention to her again, we need to figure out what it truly means to love the person and hate the sin. Jesus certainly did it. He died on a cross for all us infidels.

If people want to see what the Church has to offer for their lives, try looking into it from a loving perspective rather than a defensive one. Jesus certainly did that. He died for all those hypocritical religious leaders too.

If you want to write a blog about how wrong somebody is, try reading it with a little bit of love. Try assuming the best of intentions first, rather than the worst. Try seeing first how you agree, rather than how you assume you probably disagree. That doesn’t mean that we all need to be caught in this 60s warped definition of love and acceptance and everybody is right. Love and acceptance are Christian themes, but they can also be defined in a way that is very un-Christian.

Pope Francis has it right. He hasn’t changed any church teaching, but he certainly has figured out how to preach the message in a way that lets people who disagree feel comfortable staying in the room. People have left because for far too long, far too many of us have lost that sense. The Gospel message is good news, and good news is very attractive. But all news needs a messenger, and how it is delivered matters…greatly.

Bob Wurzelbacher

Bob Wurzelbacher serves as Associate Director for the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. He also serves as Pastoral Associate for Liturgy at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish in Reading. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Cindy, and two young daughters.