Churches should be a Place of Study and Inquiry

One of my favorite columnists in the Times & Transcript is Isabelle Agnew, a high school senior who, for some years now, has been writing a weekly column in the Whatever section of the newspaper. Now, as a middle-aged pastor, I suspect that I am probably not the demographic she is seeking to reach in her column. Despite this, I find her columns very interesting. She’s an extremely gifted writer, can handle a cornucopia of topics, and always writes in a very engaging manner. I’ve particularly enjoyed the columns that she has written on religion. She does not describe herself as a Christian (in her column she has referred to herself as a “pagan”) but always handles religious topics in an honest and penetrating manner. Of course, I do not always agree with her perspective but I’ve appreciated the thoughtful and reflective way she writes.

Over the years, what has concerned me is the reaction that her articles on religion have gotten from the Christian community. In the comments I’ve heard and read over the years to do with Isabelle’s religious views I’ve seen very little grace shown. Why is it that we in the Christian community seem to provide so little room for people (young people especially) to search, question, and criticize our beliefs as they grow and form their own belief systems? Should not the Church be a safe place where people can gather and discuss and debate without fear of judgment or condemnation? Of all places, should not the Church (which I believe can stand up under the closest scrutiny) invite people to investigate who we are and what we stand for in a loving and affirming environment?

I was thrilled to read in Isabelle’s April 6 column that she has attended church with her boyfriend and is even reading through the Bible (something which a lot of Christians have never done!). I don’t know where Isabelle’s journey will lead (I don’t imagine she does either) but it saddens me to think that she may be investigating Christianity more in spite of her experience of Christians than because of it. Let’s fix this! Let’s make our churches places of study and inquiry. Let’s invite people to investigate who we are and what we stand for. Let’s make our churches a safe place for the seeking soul. The Christian life is as much a journey as it is a destination. Let’s encourage people in that journey.