Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“So many progressive church spaces are made up of people showing up, saying they want transformation, but again and again choosing comfort instead . . . the church is filled with people who want the beautiful outcome promised in the Gospel without any of the real sacrifice of change” —Andrew Lang
A colleague sent around an article recently with the provocative title, “Why Church Won’t Change.” It sounded like clickbait, so I hesitated to read it at first, but my curiosity got the better of me. Upon reading it, I wish it was something I could easily dismiss or whose argument I could pick apart. I also wanted to believe that the writer was overstating the challenges or was unaware of the exceptions to his belief that the church will not change. And yet, there is something prophetic about how he truthfully contends with the desire within many churches, especially progressive churches, for social justice transformation without changing anything about our habits, practices, and traditions. There does appear to be a gap between what we desire for our communities and places of faith and the level of effort and sacrifice we are willing to expend to make it so.
But I still believe the church can and will change. I think there are enough of us willing to imagine, experiment, and release in ways that break through apathy, caution, and resistance to experience fundamental transformation. Andrew Lang admits that “we are thirsty for intentionality, a dedication to real justice, an end to platitudes, and deep commitment to exploring the inner life.” This is fertile ground for change. Our intentionality and dedication can transform practices and move resources in ways that inspire change and invite people to take the church seriously again.
I know the church has found its comfort and success in religious tradition, institutional practices, and cultural realities that bind us to the status quo. At a time when our democracy is facing a moral crisis because of the politics of grievance and resentment, white supremacy, and abandonment of norms of political participation and representation, the church may be the last repository of a robust conversation about the work of justice and the power of sacred space to embolden the pursuit of justice. Lang concluded that the work of justice would “form around the dinner table and in organizing circles,” not in the church. But there is no reason the church can’t face its resistance and reluctance as part of doing justice work and making fundamental change. Perhaps that becomes the church’s priority over outsized considerations about growth and attendance: making the church the space for the intentional pursuit of the work of justice, not just talking about justice. It’s about challenging ourselves not to let buildings, committees, and traditions limit our imagination or intention. If we did that, the church could still change.