I want to go back. Trust me, I really do. I wish I could close my eyes and pretend that everything is okay, that everything is normal. The Sunday morning routine would return – making a quick breakfast, putting on nice(ish) clothes, getting the baby ready, getting in the car, making a quick stop at Dunkin’, etc. I long to walk back through those glass doors and be welcomed by a smiling church member – someone who knows my name and genuinely cares about my well-being. I miss those friends I would see every week – from the long-time friends to the new ones I was in the process of making when this mess started. All of my hopes and plans with Church came crashing down with the rise of this pandemic.

Yet, there was a light in the midst of it all. Meeting online seemed to be a great, if insufficient, substitute. We gathered for a virtual service, which had its perks in getting to stay home and eat while attending, and then we would gather for Zoom meeting after the service to discuss how our lives were going. Sure, it wasn’t the same but it was what we needed to do to be safe. It wasn’t perfect but it was all we had, and that was more than enough for me.

As a staff member, I was being asked to call church members to check in on them, and those were some of the best conversations I’ve had during this time. Many people were open with me and I got to learn things about them that I wouldn’t have otherwise. These are people I had known about for my whole life but never took the time to actually know on a personal level. All of this was incredibly beneficial for me and I felt that through the turmoil, my faith had grown stronger.

So how in the world am I here right now?

It might have been the lack of attention to me. I was reaching out to others, but none of my superiors reached out to me. I wasn’t involved in any of the service planning nor did I have any clue as to what our plans were about when to return to in-person gatherings. It was quite a shock when I got word that we would be returning to church the last week of June – well before I felt it was safe to gather (I STILL do not think it’s safe). So it might be that didn’t feel loved or valued by my church.

I might have been that when I contacted leadership to express my feelings, I was responded to in a variety of ways, ranging from apathy to condescension to rebuke. Granted, my letter was strongly worded and it seemingly came out of nowhere, but it accurately reflected my feelings on the subject. I thought since I had never done anything like this before, and speaking up against the general consensus is one of my least favorite activities on the planet, I thought I would be listened to. And sure, I was given an ear to speak to, but I never felt heard. I felt brushed off and forgotten. I felt like I was 10 years old and the adults in the room had their minds set. They listened to me out of protocol, not with any interest in going a different direction.

Or, it might be the fact that they dissolved my position of a young adult ministry leader just a month later. They claimed that it wasn’t because of what I said, but because my ministry “didn’t produce the results they were hoping for” and that it “lacked momentum.” The sad part about this is that I believe them. They didn’t count my continued conversations with local high school students as “the result they were hoping for.” They didn’t count my growing relationships with college students and high schoolers as “momentum.” They dissolved my position because they didn’t want to put money towards high school and college ministry in an unknown time, which makes sense economically. But never once did they seem to consider the students in my ministry. It does not appear that they gave a thought to the 20-30 students who would no longer have any reason to come back to our church. Maybe they did but decided it wasn’t worth the cost. I think that is the reality that would anger me the most.

So perhaps it is my personal bitterness to one church in particular that keeps me from having any desire to watch any church service on Sunday morning. The most spiritually full I have felt in the past seven months was when I got the chance to preach at another local church for two weeks in a very socially distant and safe atmosphere. I had all the fervor and energy I could possibly want and my desire to be with the Church could not have been higher. Perhaps it is all a personal problem that I need to get over. Maybe I could find a new church to attend?

But see, the issue is that I don’t want to attend anywhere. I still don’t feel that it is right to be gathering in person. I understand how complicated it is and I know that many churches, including the one I preached at, are doing the best they possibly can. I understand the desire to meet together because where I am now emotionally is certainly a product of not being physically present with a church community. There is something special about gathering together – there is something holy and good.

There is, however, one last possibility for why I don’t want to go to church right now – it all seems fake. I tried to watch another service last Sunday and turned it off before the sermon because it felt fake. The worship leaders were genuine, the songs were theologically satisfactory, and the congregation seemed spiritually invested, but it felt hollow to me. How can that be?

In seven months, I have seen a variety of responses to the pandemic from Evangelical Christians, and very few of them have made me happy. Some think it’s fake and a government conspiracy to take away our freedoms. Some think it’s a real disease, but the danger of it is being blown out of proportion. Some think it’s real and is dangerous, but are willing to risk the life of fellow congregants in order to gather in person. My opinion has changed in these seven months, and I even go to work in an office now where masks are mandatory only in certain places. As I’ve already said, I preached in person for two weeks back in August. I am by no means free from hypocrisy in my analysis of this situation. But I am abhorred by the general attitude and hubris of most Evangelical Christians. They seem to be more concerned about their personal freedoms than the lives of their neighbors. 200,000+ deaths seem to be ignored or worse yet, explained away as if they don’t matter or didn’t happen.

On top of all this, racial justice issues have been the center of discussion since May, with protests and growing violence happening all over the country. There have been many pastors who have done a good job addressing these things from the pulpit, in person, and on social media. I am grateful for those who have stepped up and have taken their churches down this road with them. But too often in these past seven months have I heard sermons that were completely irrelevant to our situation. Too often have the words been empty and the meaning non-existent. Worse yet are those pastors who have tried to be relevant by explaining away the things that are happening or have tried to spiritualize it, as if somehow God is not at work in what is going on around us.

Not to mention the drastic rise in unemployment, the lack of access to quality healthcare in the middle of a pandemic, the outrageous hospital bills which financially destroy those without healthcare, the amount of evictions, the rise in white nationalism, the presence of far-right militias, the violence done to protesters by police, the lack of police accountability, the amount of property destruction, the continued wars in other countries, the drone strikes being ordered on civilians, the ethnic cleansing happening in China, and the growing concern of a fraudulent election posed by a narcissistic, ever-lying president who was elected mostly thanks to the vote of 81% of Evangelical Christians, a number which is very likely to stay the same this year.

81%.

Maybe that’s it.

Maybe it’s because I know that when I walk through the door of any familiar feeling church, four out of every five people I meet are likely to help elect this man to another term because they think he “will fight for what they believe in.” Four out of five people who claim to be my brother or sister in Christ believe in something that I think is explicitly anti-Christ. Four out of five.

I don’t know my family anymore. I don’t trust them anymore. I don’t even know if we worship the same God. How can I be with them? How can I gather with them? How can I walk right in through those glass doors and shake hands with a smiling person who knows me and pretend that there isn’t a problem? How can I watch another meaningless sermon about some random Bible passage which teaches me to “have more faith” or “be more loving” or “talk to God more” when it seems like no one actually cares what is happening to the neighbor that Christ told us to love?

Perhaps it is all of these things. I have never been more certain of God or of the Holy Spirit’s actions within the world. I have never been more sure of the Christ who died at the hands of the state to save the world from sin. This is not a faith issue. This is an family issue.

And I’m not sure I want to be a part of this family anymore.