Ian Morgan Cron

Believers in Exile. A New Christian Diaspora?

I’m sitting in Starbucks in downtown Franklin, TN, talking to a new friend. He was once a well known Christian musician and songwriter, now he plays for a legendary artist in the secular music industry. He tells me early in the conversation that he doesn’t go to church anymore and there are lots of people just like him in Nashville.

“We’re ‘legion’,” he says, laughing.

“Why’d you leave church?” I asked.

It’s a question I probably could have answered myself. I’ve heard the same story over and over from friends all around the US and Europe. I’ve heard it more in Nashville than just about anywhere else.

“Our church became an echo chamber where the only voices or opinions we could hear were our own. People who questioned our brand of Christianity were considered suspect or dangerous. One day I went off the reservation and started reading books by thinkers I’d been told to watch out for. Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and Stanley Hauerwas were some that blew me away.

“Then what happened?” I asked.

“One Sunday I walked out of church and never went back,” he said. “I want spiritual community, I just don’t think the church as it is right now is where I’m going to find it.”

Most of the people I meet who are leaving church aren’t young. They’re in their forties and fifties. After years of reading off the same theological script they began yearning for deeper, more open conversations about faith that included considering diverse perspectives and conversations that widened rather than narrowed their souls. Their churches were either threatened by these folks or unprepared for their emergence.

My friend shared other reasons why people are leaving. They were edgier.

“Some of us began meeting gay people in committed relationships, and we couldn’t square what we were taught about human sexuality at church, with who we knew our gay friends were in real life. Others had neighbors who were raised in other religious traditions who lived out the values of the kingdom more consistently than we did.

One day I asked myself, “Isn’t it strange to tell these people that Jesus wants us to love our enemies and forgive seventy times seventy, but then he sends people to hell for not receiving him as their Lord? I kept asking friends and pastors at church what they thought about this stuff because it troubled me, but no one really wanted to talk deeply. They just went right to the scripted answers.”

“So you left church because you had too many questions?” I asked.

“I left my church because it didn’t honor my questions. I got pegged as having gone rogue,” he said, swallowing the last of his coffee and glancing at his watch.

“I’ve got to pick my kid up. Let’s hang again, OK?” he asked.

“Sure. I’ll call you,” I said.

After my friend left, I thought back to what I learned about the word ‘pilgrim’ when I wrote Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale. In Latin it literally means , “a person wandering the earth in exile, someone in search of a spiritual homeland.”

I keep meeting exiles from the church searching for a new spiritual homeland.  My friend Ben Dubow calls it, “Christians in the diaspora” (see his comment below). Something in me feels hopeful like Ben, like God is up to something wonderful.

75 Responses to “Believers in Exile. A New Christian Diaspora?”

  1. Isn’t there somehing wrong when we think or even expect to find our spiritual homeland here on earth?

  2. Great post Ian…. thanks. You capture well what many are experiencing…. Christians in the diaspora. Hopefully we will find new ways of being eclessia within the diaspora, just as the Jewish community had to reinvent worship after being cast into their diaspora… in other words, some good may emerge from this movement.

    • Ian

      Ben, I love the phrase Christian diaspora. Its an oddly hopeful idea. I recently heard Archbishop Rowan Williams say that “The Church is what happens when a group of believers come under the pressure of Jesus.” Maybe as the exiles feel the pressing weight of Jesus (in the most beautiful, not oppressive sense of the word!) good things will come.

      Though we’ve not seen each other in a long time, much love.

      • Jeff

        The quote form Williams describes my situation and what I’ve been longing for. I’m in my forties but have been searching for this for 20 years. Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out in the diaspora.

  3. Ian-Your post hits the nail on the head for a lot of us. I’m a newly-minted 64 year-old baby-boomer and have felt this type of exile from the church for a long time. How does one thrive in their spiritual walk under these conditions? Thanks to Michael Hyatt for tweeting the link to your post. Wes

    • Ian

      Hi Wes, as an AA friend says to me: “All things shall be revealed.” I’m not sure what a spiritual walk looks like under these conditions but I hope it doesn’t lapse into cynicism, but rather something more creative and life giving.

  4. Danny James

    Stunning,

    I experienced this back in time, but I had forgotten how important their questions are to them. I was one of them. Danny James

  5. Nate

    After growing up in the church with all its mis- and disfunction, I’ve watched numerous family and friends write Jesus’ story off as not for them. The biggest reason seems to be that most Christ-followers they’ve seen are afraid of the questions. But as I’ve wondered what has kept me coming back to the table, it’s that fortunately I’ve been exposed to many people along the way who have honored the bigger questions, and exposed me to a God who is big enough for my doubt and uncertainty. Good thing, because my doubts actually grow the older I get. And sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just God’s way of pushing me to look harder, see deeper, and long more for truth.

    • Ian

      Hi Nate,

      Thank you for telling your story. I’m sure many share some version of it. God bless those who receive and listen to us with love along the way!

      Peace, Ian

  6. Jax

    Your comment about leaving because the church doesn’t honor the questions of it’s congregation hits the nail on the head for me. Since childhod, I felt that Jesus expected us to question what we are taught, to make sure we understand our beliefs, to be sure they hadn’t become hollow words. Any questioning I did was treated with dismissal or sometimes anger.
    I miss something about having a physical church to be a member of, but I’ve found so many more spiritually fulfilling relationships outside of any church I’ve ever attended.

    • Ian

      Hi Jax, At some point maybe you could briefly share where you found contacts and how you connect with them for community. cheers! Ian

  7. Thanks for the post Ian… As an American now living in France and a refugee from the Church, Young Life and the Christian music industry, I have been on the outside looking in for several years now. My Christian faith defines me and yet I have found that my Christian “community” consists mostly of individuals that I have collected as friends or mentors over the years instead of an organized body of believers.

    I do not search out identically like-minded believers (nor do I want to be a part of another echo chamber of yes men) but it seems that asking too many of the “hard questions” quickly relegates you to the rebel/troublemaker pew.

    For me, and many other believers that I have encountered, my spiritual journey has become more of a solitary trip through the wilderness with moments of “community” that are more of a surprise than a regular occurrence.

    I look forward to picking up a copy of Chasing Francis the next time I’m in the states…

  8. Although I’m once again attending a church, I’m still a pilgrim.

    I left the church for much the same reasons as your friend. We are told to not judge, then we sit in Christian groups and judge. I questioned, and received no answers. And I’m still searching for those answers, most of which are not in the church.

    I’m not sure I agree with Ben that this is a movement. Nor do I want to be part of a movement. A movement inevitably gets organized with someone in charge making rules and we’re right back where we started.

  9. I, too, share some of the same sentiments that have been expressed here. However, I often think that the narrative of walking away from the church or organized religion in favor of pilgrimage is an unhelpful one.

    To be sure, there is much wrong in many local expressions of the body of Christ. Questioning is denounced as heresy, exploration of one’s Christian faith is feared as something that will only result in subversion and division. But what happens when those who are marginalized for their questions or exploration simply walk away?

    It galvanizes the micro-cultures of those churches that perpetuate the unhealthy, unhelpful “circle the wagons” mentality. Those whose perspectives are most needed in their congregations end up leaving disillusioned, hurt, and cynical.

    Too often that’s where their journey effectively ends. Community becomes an abstraction and injury and resentment (or Ressentiment) become the story.

    What might it look like, instead, to refuse to leave, to refuse to lose hope that God still wants to work in and through crippled congregations, beset with toxic leadership and a mentality of fear and opposition? What might it look like to stay and endure the slings and arrows that will sure come with questioning the institution?

    It might just look like Christ.

    • Ian

      Thanks, Andy. Its complicated isn’t it? I think the idea that some have a call to remain in churches to function as constructive yet humble critics or questioners of the ecclesiological status quo is an important one. Its true that if everyone ditches then the church will evolve into a theological ghetto that is worse than it sometimes is now. Thanks for the perspective.

  10. Has anyone hear read “Who Stole My Church?” It’s a great book and helpful to see both sides of dissatisfaction with church. It may be difficult to find, but there are churches not afraid to have people questioning what they’ve been taught.

  11. SP

    Ian:
    Your friend has exposed what is going wrong, or maybe has been, in the church for a long time. But I am starting to get this sense that the people who have the questions, such as myself, are beginning to look at those who think they have the answer, in the exact way we feel offended. What do I mean? Well, none of us have the right answer and just because someone like me does not believe that homosexuality is some mortal sin and forbidden by God, I should not look at the people who do believe such things as ignorant, old fashion or just plain crazy. The fact is, if they are being honest, it is their belief and they have come to that belief through a myriad of experiences and teaching. My belief that homosexuality is not damned by God. But that belief has come from my journey in life with a long history of different teachings, experiences and meeting people who are in committed gay relationships. My fear is this, as people like your friend, or Marcus Borg, or any one else including me leave the church, we begin to condemn the more fundamentalist believers just as they condemn us. And where does that leave us…divided once again. Some where satan is smiling!

    • Ian

      Hi Ethan, where do I apply to be an American living in Paris? You can get Chasing Francis in France off Amazon http://www.amazon.fr/

      Thanks for the story of how your spiritual life continues.

    • Ian

      All good points, Steve. Sometimes I think its almost impossible to move in any direction without offending or judging someone, even accidentally. Have you changed your tune a bit on this one?

  12. Ian,

    My real concern for the Diaspora is that so few of the people that leave church end up more passionate about Jesus. I see “Jesus” dropped for a more generic “god” in the blog posts, a pursuit of the Word replaced by a pursuit of “spirituality,” and their Facebook status updates that were once bible verses are now just random acts of koan-ness.

    I just don’t see people leaving church and successfully pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus. (I’m a Francis fan, and can’t wait to read the book, btw).

    • Ian

      Hi Bret,

      I see your point and in some cases you’re spot on. I keep thinking about this notion of “transitional communities” for people who can’t go back to church as it was but may not be alive by the time the next iteration fully blossoms (it might take longer than we think!). I have some thoughts t=on this that I’ll blog about soon.

  13. Dru DeWitt

    This resonates with me: The idea that sitting in a pew saying “YES!” to everything that comes out of the mouth of a preacher is NOT a healthy place to be. I loved reading the book “The Gospel According to Moses” several years ago, and one of the first ideas that shouted to me was that our Christian traditions do NOT encourage us to wrestle with our faith. To question. To even rebel a little and then return. Unlike Judaism where followers are encouraged to question and to even argue points of faith with passion.

    It’s a basic fact of strength training: resistance makes you stronger. I can only hope and pray that we find a way to strengthen our faith as we realize that our God is big and strong enough to encompass all of these things…

  14. Ian – exactly. And constructive criticism almost necessarily involves a long view of change and a desire to cast one’s lot where change has yet to occur. Great conversation developing in the thread here.

  15. Ian, I’m in the middle of writing a blog series on this very thing. Parts one and two of “Why I Stopped Going to Church” were posted earlier this week.

  16. Cassie

    Many great points made here. One thought that crosses my mind is when do we give credit to tolerance? People are different. True. Some people are gay. Also true. Most people judge people. All too true. But Christians are taught to judge not less they be judged. I left the Church in search of THAT community. And yes, people can still be committed and honor the Lord without walking through those red doors every week, of this I am certain. Not my preference, but it is reality for many. “Transitional communities” sounds like something I’d like to know more about.

  17. As one who “walked away” from parish church 10 years ago with a similar story, my only response was to start a micro-community where we could pursue these questions. We started out with the kind of “ressentiment” that Andy alluded to. Over time, we realized that this was not a big enough idea. We needed to “be” church, not be defined by our hurts or shortcomings. Now, 10 years later, our deepest desire is to be aligned with the parish church in our context, to honor the history of Church in our missional context. We are structured differently, perhaps more communally, but we stand in solidarity with every other expression of Church in our city. No longer walking away, we are walking towards and want to be a help in any way we can. In the end, its about Yahweh and his Kingdom, not our hurts. Love this conversation. peace.

  18. Joy

    Thank you for writing this post. It helps so much to validate my experience. I was in a BIG church for most of my life from age 16-40…
    I woke up one morning with questions I never had before or…maybe I never cared to think thru before. I instictively went to my leadership and was shocked to be quickly dismissed and labeled “negative, divisive, dangerous, treading the slippery slope” etc etc etc.
    The fear and isolation that ensued was awful I too gravitated towards online conversations and books by the heretical authors I was warned to avoid. In so doing…my world opened up and I realized I wasn’t CRAZY.
    My husband and I were actually asked to leave our church before we were able to come to terms of leaving on our own. Going thru that process really crushed my faith. My world view has completely changed and I am still trying to piece some sort of spiritual practice together that I can live with…but…I can tell you for certain that it will not be inside a church…at least not anytime soon.

  19. Carolyn

    I think Jax wrote my response to this. ;) And as I understand Andy’s concern about those that leave church being less passionate about Christ, I’ve personally found that not to be true.

    I’ve attended many churches and they all seemed to have a “mold” I was expected to fit into. I never found one I fit into so I quit trying. I came to terms with the fact that I fit Christ’s mold being just the way I am. I feel closer to Him than I ever have now, but still do miss the comraderie of a church community. I live in an area rich with Christians (of all kinds) and have found a community within a Christian homeschoolers group. God has blessed me greatly with this! So, while it’s not really a church, it’s MY church home.

  20. Great post! I sure can understand what your friend is going through. I am hopeful that God is up to something great because of it too!

    Btw, I’m recommending “Chasing Francis” to all my friends and family, it’s excellent and sooo reminded me of this post.

  21. The Christian off-ramp. Jesus before (or without) Christianity.

  22. A.

    Is it possible that the people in some of your churches may not be ignoring your questions to turn you to their “pat” answers, but instead trying to address your questions with the answers they and many others have wrestled with, tried, and found to be true over 2,000+ years? That they believe what they do, not by rote or by stifling doubts, but with passion and conviction in a God who is very real to them? That these may in fact be the answers they came to through a long journey of their own? And have they truly brushed off questions, or just offered answers you didn’t want to explore? Not saying the former doesn’t happen, but I’ve seen the latter happen, too.

    Please don’t leave the church to seek nothing. Only leave to seek Jesus, and to be sure, leave any church where you cannot find Him. Pray. Fast. Read His Word to you in earnest. Follow wherever He is leading you, whether to stay in a church and make a difference or to go somewhere else. Read what He says about church, & community, & love. Read about servanthood & sacrifice. Read about idols & priorities. Read the Old Testament because God’s character is the same forever, even while His mercies are ever new. Read what Jesus really said, & did. Don’t let politics, personality types, or personal annoyances make you forget why you were in church in the first place. Churches will always be imperfect & Christ’s followers will be, too, and some will even prove to be His followers in name only, but don’t let that distract you from the One who made you and wants to give you purpose. God can stand you wrestling with Him, the way Jacob wrestled with Him, but if you walk away from something without pursuing what is deep & true & eternal, you have everything to lose.

  23. Hi Ian,

    Johan from South Africa here. Great post – I posted something similar on my blog this morning and its also generating some interesting responses. Will definitely share your post on FB.

    I am one of the people who follow Jesus by not going to church anymore. This is influenced by an underlying philosophy and understanding that views the church as a people instead of a place or a program.

    This said, I have discovered a danger in the diaspora (or whatever else we may call it). Too often we become just another ‘us’ in the religious marketplace that perpetuates the ‘us vs. them’ mentality, continually competing for our market share in the Christian world as we try and convince others that our beliefs and practices (or lack thereof) is the answer.

    When we do this we are just as guilty as the so called ‘institutionalized church’, for we make church about something else than a community of people sharing a common life and mission under the headship of Jesus (which is my very short definition for ‘church’).

    Just a thought…

  24. Sean W

    Change will and must happen inside and outside the structure/institution. It is true of all the great social movements and spiritual awakenings. What is unfortunate is when violence is done to the people and not to the structures. There is a great and growing exodus led by those who have had violence done to them in the name of preserving structures WHILE WHILE THEY WERE HOLDING UP THE SCAFFOLDING. When the cathedral is built, the scaffolding is no longer necessary. Many of us can no longer hold the scaffolding. And if the cathedral falls, so be it. Something beautiful will arise in the void. The temple will be rebuilt. There is always resurrection. Christ IS risen indeed!

  25. Jax

    I find them in the random places. Standing in line to pay for groceries, going to a different park with my kids, and online. Some of my favorite people to discuss philosophy and theology are people that I’ve met on author’s discussion boards. I enjoy learning about religions and cultures different than my own, so I ask a lot of questions. I think what strikes me the most is the similarities between most religions. The most fundamental tenets are usually the same, it’s just the details that differ. I find that to be a comforting thought. If we could stop focusing on the individual trees, we might just see the forest. It’s an odd thing to quote, but one cable channel has a commercial where an actress says “I believe all paths lead to God.” I do too. We just have to find the path meant for us.

    I want to address what SP said, about condemning the fundamentalists. I don’t condemn them. I worry for them, for the anger that they spew and create. Thomas Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” The fundamentalists that scream for the country live by their beliefs cause nothing but harm. Jesus taught us to find our own personal relationship with God. To speak directly to God. Not to speak to him through Jesus, Mary or saints. “Our Father who art in Heaven”

    People who live good lives, follow the same basic tenets of faith – not the trappings of faith – are not in danger of damnation because they call God by a different name. We do not call God by the same name as the first Christians. We don’t even speak the same language anymore. Christians around the world speak different languages and use different words to worship.

    I struggle with this arrogant notion that ‘our way is the only way.’ It smacks of hubris, and it will bring the church, all the churches, to their knees. Jesus condemned the arrogance of the Pharisees and, quite franky, I see the churches of today full of modern Pharisees. It’s sad and frightening.

    • If you have a problem with “our way is the only way” then you have a problem with Jesus condemning the Pharisees. Jesus was in the process of setting out a “way” which he claimed was the only way.

      The Pharisees were arrogant and were condemned by Jesus because he didn’t like the god they worshipped. It was an idol. He was showing them the true God. So apparently it does matter what you worship.

      “live good lives”…this language gives me hives. Why do you think the Pharisees were arrogant and condemned by Jesus?? They too “led good lives.”

      Does not compute.

      • Ian

        Hi Nate,

        Thanks for reading and writing in your thoughts. I wonder, however, if the tone of your remarks isn’t characteristic of the spirit that makes it difficult for people to remain in churches.

        • Is it directness you don’t like, or disagreement? If “being nice” is what’s keeping people in churches, we have a much bigger problem than people leaving. I wouldn’t really alter what I said, or the way I said it.

          • Cassie

            I’m watching a similar dynamic in my workplace these days, where some people are confusing “disagreement” with being “disagreeable.” For me, one respects the other point of view, while the other won’t take the time to consider the value of a point before they disagree with it. When they know they can compose a sentence in opposition, they do. Inevitably, it creates division and leads to “us” vs. “them” points of view. With the people I’m thinking of, it’s a waste of talent, because they are very bright, but they waste time always trying to be the brightest bulb on the tree. I say “but we’re a team,” where we win together, or lose together, so stop wasting time being disagreeable.

            Now I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I have read my Bible, and completed all four years of EFM. I’ve been in organized religion most of my life, with the exception of a couple of “sabbaticals.” My memory of the Pharisees is they were Jews, who Jesus used as examples “religious” vs. “spiritual.” They obeyed the letter of the Law, to the point it became oppressive. Jesus’ point in referring to them was to teach the “Spirit of the Law.” That is, the higher truth, God’s own Truth. For me, in the final analysis, religion comes down to “how do we treat one another?” Not only in day to day encounters, but in our hearts. Is there enough room in our heart for Jesus to live there? What would that feel like?

            I think the faithful still wrestle with the same problem as the early believers: the battle between the Letter of the Law and the Spirit of the Law. Each set of beliefs exists on its own continuum. Sometimes they run parallel, and other times their paths diverge. It will take a lot of Love, and lot of listening, on both sides, to find (and maintain) a peaceful co-existence.

            Just my opinion…

  26. Several thoughts- first; books and websites-
    “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola, and “Reimagining Church” by Frank Viola. Really must do both as the first ones talks about things gone wrong and the second about things gone correct (notice I do not say “right”). Disclaimer- I like Viola, but do not consider his works to be gospel truth either. SimpleChurch.com, House2House.com, and housechurchresource.org, to name a very few.

    Second thought- to Ian Re: your comment to Bret on “transitional communities”-
    These are up and running. We have ran a Simple/ Organic/ Transitional group thingy for about 4 years solid now. We do not pledge allegiance to this or that church or denomination, but to our Heavenly Father. Christ did not choose sides between the religious factions of his day, neither should we.
    For pastors and leadership out there; please, please do not push people away! Please work with your communities, other churches, and Home/ Organic Churches for the glory of Christ alone, not for your own glory.

  27. Cronius Max,

    Clearly most of us want to push that fifth/sixth wall down, the one that is the scariest, the one of that leads to “universality”. To do it would cheapen the martyrdom of Endo’s hero, the sacrifices of Francis, Steven, Aquinas, Bonhoeffer, let alone the Cross and the Gospel itself. None of us want to do it but when I look at much of what I have been handed for the past 45 years, the more I think about it, the more I think that 67.8 percent of it is total horseshit. Hell, you can’t even start a club with 9 members without screwing it up and we expect a worldwide religion and a creed arrived at in Nicea by a bunch of well meaning individuals to be pure truth, let alone 2000 years later??? Come to the Alpha course and learn truth A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Let’s tell you what you believe. The inerrant word of God?? What does that even mean?

    Mmmmmmmmm. I will never throw the baby out but there is no more bathwater and the baby is cold. I am convinced that God is beyond us and yet, as we all seem to agree, he’s clearly available to us. That is the foundation upon which all of us stand. He is there in the strands of Haydn String Quartets and Adam Zagajewski’s Poems and even in Hitchen’s most beautiful rants, in Thom Yorke’s most dirge like moans. You can see him, the meaning inherent all around us but we aren’t even close to touching him. Clearly Jesus of Nazareth was and, indeed, he may well be the divine answer to every longing in every man’s soul but the wisdom of the East was here long before Christianity. In addition, it did not have the repugnant guilt ridden madness of “middle ages” theology nor did it have the “are you in or are you out” nature of our current churches.

    I will be done with church once I leave the one I go to now in a number of years. I will then visit regularly. I will contribute on a regular basis. I will compose for the church. I will seek churches to worship in now and again and I will remain a seeking pilgrim. That said, I have no answers to offer and I no longer accept the old answers I have been handed. They are sometimes hollow in the extreme and can often ring like mythology. Ever so occasionally they leap off the tongues of people who make Joseph Campbell seem like a hard boiled news reporter.

    Do we honestly believe in a God who would judge us on the subtlety of how our brain perceives religious truth or lack thereof??? Think about it?? It is not only silly. It is patently absurd. The little world I have grown up in has been shaped by the beauty and grace inherent in the Gospel of Christ and the writings of the New Testament. I am not running away towards some undiscovered country, but when I think about the church’s treatment of Homosexuality and gay rights; when I think of religious exclusivity and fundamentalism in general I realize the church in many ways, especially the mainline evangelical Christian church in America, is just simply lost and thickheaded to say the least.

    Within that tradition there are HEROES everywhere. I have met countless numbers of them. As you well know, I’ve produced Maranatha Gospel records, worked in Christian Music in Nashville for many years and even led worship for Promise Keepers. Think about Charlie Peacock and Michael Card and Frederick Buechner and even a true conservative like Steve Green. These are wonderful people.

    That still does not change the fact that what we all feel responding to this blog of yours is based on the fact that something is wrong in Mudville. I am sorry I feel this way sometimes. I would like to feel otherwise so that some of those whom I love DEARLY, who work and pray and live within that tradition, would feel a bit more comforted when I am around. I feel though that this newfound attitude is in many ways more real and true and right than where I was before. It feels like a coming into the light in many ways.

    I have heard much talk about the second naivete and admit it sounds interesting, a kind of reckoning with mystery and the beauty of old simple mysticism and ritual. That seems positive and has beauty within it. For now I’ll take Heaney, Mahler, Boulez, Stravinsky, Corigliano, Chris Smithers, Bettye LaVette, Berry, Saul Bellow, David Mitchell, Karol Szymanowski, Radiohead, Duke Ellington and Howlin’ Wolf and find God in there and the occasional re-reading of Owen Meany to my daughter.

    Speaking of, my prayer for my 15 year old Emma as I go to school with her every morning is: “Lord, we not only don’t have any answers sometimes, we often don’t even have the right questions. Still we pray for hope, joy, love and forgiveness. Help us to make the world, our world, a slightly better place in any way we can.”

    Love you my friend and grateful for your friendship, your giftedness, your ministry, and your passion. Rob

    • Ian

      As usual, Robbie M delivers a magnificent screed filled with passion and even a little humilIty…I said a little humility. I miss you. Sting doesn’t deserve to have you out for this long. Let’s make some more beautiful music together!

      Love you mad, baby.

  28. Something in me feels hopeful like Ben, like God is up to something wonderful.

    He always is. Or wants to be. That’s never changed.

    At any rate, I am equally hopeful and bothered about the plethora of alternatives being sparked and attempted these days. (“People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.” – movie)

    Nevertheless, God’s Hope is for Glory.

    Thanks for sparking new conversations, Ian.

    God bless us all…

    • Ian

      “People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.” Great quote! I looked it up and its from The American President (1995). That one’s a keeper.

  29. Mike W.

    Let me speak in defense of the church. To take off of Menninger’s “Whatever became of sin?” line. Whatever became of: rebellion, heresy, apostasy, lukewarmness, self-will? And, whatever became of submission, unity, deference?

    (1 John 2:19 NLT) — 19 These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.

    Perhaps the winnower is separating the chaff from the wheat?

    • Ian

      Mike, I’m not sure I agree but I appreciate your bringing that perspective to us. Its good food for thought.

    • It’s probably not as simple as that. Wheat and chaff are images representative of Jesus’ flock vs. those he never knew. There are both types inside and outside “the church.”

      “Speaking in defense of the church” as you put it, isn’t really specific enough. “the church” of course is a body of people that can be slandered or relationally ditched. “Church” however, as in the thing people stop going to on Sundays because they’re sick of the show, can’t be hurt and therefore is not in need of anyone’s defense.

      This fact really renders the (rather shallow) line “shouldn’t we stay in church and try to change it?” silly, since you don’t “leave” a group of people by not showing up to same ministry events or services as they do. You leave people by cutting them out of your life. LIke you stop having dinner on Tuesday nights, helping them with the garden, and listening to them when they’re in tough situations. It’s safe to say that plenty of people who would never think of “leaving the church” per se, never actually ENGAGED with anyone personally to begin with. We have to get our definitions right, or we’ll start saying things

      My two cents.

    • It’s probably not as simple as that. Wheat and chaff are images representative of Jesus’ flock vs. those he never knew. There are both types inside and outside “the church.”

      “Speaking in defense of the church” as you put it, isn’t really specific enough. “the church” of course is a body of people that can be slandered or relationally ditched. “Church” however, as in the thing people stop going to on Sundays because they’re sick of the show, can’t be hurt and therefore is not in need of anyone’s defense.

      This fact really renders the (rather shallow) line “shouldn’t we stay in church and try to change it?” silly, since you don’t “leave” a group of people by not showing up to same ministry events or services as they do. You leave people by cutting them out of your life. LIke you stop having dinner on Tuesday nights, helping them with the garden, and listening to them when they’re in tough situations. It’s safe to say that plenty of people who would never think of “leaving the church” per se, were never actually ENGAGED with anyone personally to begin with. We have to get our definitions right or we’ll start saying dumb things like “God loves the way we set up our chairs on Sunday” instead of “God loves people.” My two cents.

  30. Reading the comments and push-back, I think there are two different phenomena going on …. (1) is the church-hopper who is trying to find the better “country club” church and will keep switching; and (2) the folks who no longer want to be part of the “country club” at all (or, for a variety of reasons, have been kicked out of the club)… these folks are the diaspora. They are not consumers, but desperate ragamuffins feasting at the table of grace, longing for something better than sawdust spirituality…

    At least imho…

    BD

    • Is it presumptuous to characterize “folks who no longer want to be part of the ‘country club’” as the only ones who are “feasting at the table of grace, longing for something better than sawdust spirituality”? You risk setting up a false dichotomy that excludes the possibility of any local expression of the church from participation (much less facilitation!) in the “table of grace.”

      I understand coming to the place of wanting to throw up one’s hands in disgust (or defeat) and leave behind all organized religion. Yet over and over again in scripture God’s exhortation to those in exile or in diaspora was to journey through that time together, anticipating the day that he would draw them out of exile.

      That togetherness may not be found in the current church options that exist. I’ll grant you that. However, it cannot be found in solitary wandering, either. Throughout scripture we are exhorted to travel through life together. I think that there is something essential about being in the regular, physical company of those who are seeking faithfulness. Again, that doesn’t have to be the church down the road.

      As much as the blogosphere contributes to affinity and encouragement, to intuit that it constitutes community is going a bit far (and I’m not saying that you did that, Ben, but others will). We need to journey through this with others, even if that is only “two or three gathered in [his] name.”

      I agree that there is a big difference between “church-hoppers” and “ragamuffins.” I just don’t think that being a ragamuffin means wandering alone.

  31. Bob

    All this resonates very much with me. Both the pro and the con. I guess I’m officially an exile right now, but not satisfied with that. All the talk of organic church, micro-communities, etc., intrigues me, and I’m tired of simply nursing my resentments about the church as we know it. Wrote a little about all this at my own blog this morning: http://intheclearing.blogspot.com/2010/09/my-faith-walk-for-now.html

    I’m a first-time visitor here. Will definitely be returing.

    • Ian

      Hi Bob,

      I think you have hit on something very important and that is, no matter how we feel about church at the moment we must (imo) avoid cynicism, any unhelpful criticism or resentfulness towards the church. The only thing that does is turns us is make us smugly self-righteous–a very unattractive trait.

      As an Episcopal/Anglican priest, I would miss the liturgy and Eucharist too much to throw in the towel. I have a rector and a community I like at the moment. This being said, most of my friends are in the “I’m done with church” category and I’m wondering how to provide transitional community for them.

      BTW, I went to Bowdoin in Brunswick, which as you know is right up the road from Portland. Say hello to the beautiful state of Maine for me!

  32. As an ‘exile’ within organized religion, ‘defecting in place’, anger stifled my soul. As an ‘exile’ that finally jettisoned the ‘organized church’, loneliness compromised my soul. Eventually, I embraced the ‘inbetween’ – being ‘exile’ among other ‘exiles’, in intentional small community (communitas?), living in the dynamic tension between ‘separated, lonely exile’ and ‘connected, angry exile’. Exile, rather than descriptive of my position, became the Story.

  33. Cheryl Anne

    Welcome to Franklin Ian. I’m a neighbor. Loved “Chasing Francis”…it has circulated quite a bit at my church, Saint Paul’s Episcopal…we’re a very open, inclusive, friendly, rascally lot. Gets us in a bit of trouble from time to time. :-)
    I hope you find much to love about your new home.
    Deep Peace and Every Blessing!

    • Ian

      Hi Cheryl Ann,

      I live right around the corner from St Pauls and I’ve been going there for Eucharist on Wednesdays from time to time. What little I know of the church I love.

      Hopto meet you one day.

      Ian cron

  34. Ian

    You write…
    Post 1 – “I keep meeting exiles from the church searching
    ………. for a new spiritual homeland.”
    Post 2 – “the growing number of believers in exile from
    ………. the contemporary church.”

    Enjoyed your two posts on this subject. And the many comments.

    Left “The Religious System” early 90’s. Much pain, tears, “Spiritual Abuse.”
    But in Jesus there is always a benefit. All things do work for good. ;-)
    Realized “The Religious System” was NOT my native habitat. NOT my home.
    NOT ‘the Church of God.” NOT in the Bible. NOT for me.

    I would like to question the use of the words “exiles” and “church.”

    In the dictionary “exile” is defined as
    1 – the state of being barred from one’s native country.
    2 – one who lives away from their native country, from choice or compulsion.

    The definition of “Church” depends on which “Church”we’re talking about.
    1 – “The Church of God.”
    2 – the church of man.

    I left “the church of man” when I realized it wasn’t the real thing, the “Truth.”
    I was deceived, I believed the lie. “Church” is where you go and what you do.

    When you believe the lie you start to die…

    What is popular is not always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is not always popular.

    I never left, or went into “exile” from “The Church of God” where
    Jesus is the head of the body, (the ekklesia, the called out one’s), the Church.

    In the Bible, NO one “went” to church, “joined” a church, “tithed” to a church.

    Believers become the “Church.” “The Body of Christ.” “The Called Out One’s.”

    Best I can figure “The Church of God” in the Bible NEVER refers to a building,
    an organization, a denomination, an institution, or a $ Corporation.

    In my experience – People are frustrated with, and leaving “the church of man.”
    The 501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax $ deductible, Religious $ Corporations.
    In order to find Jesus. In order to find the “Truth.”
    They are NOT in “exile” looking to return. They know somethings wrong.
    They are looking for their true home. In Christ, in His body,

    Should we call a $ Corporation – “The Church?” AAARRRGGGHHH!!! ;-)

    Most of what goes on sunday morn is “Traditions of men” NOT in the Bible.

    KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition…
    ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition…
    NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition…

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear my voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for Truth… Jesus.

  35. Food for thought, as another unchurched Christian – not bitter about it, just another step on my journey.

    I was appalled that your friend was forbidden to read Thomas Merton – I’ve gotten more spiritual food from him than just about anyone else, except George McDonald.

    Leaving church was never an actual decision with me – it just sort of happened. A growing dissatisfaction with how political the American church has become, how unopen to ideas except for a few narrow viewpoints. Is it telling that most of my friends now class themselves as agnostics? Yet I have more interesting and compelling discussions about beliefs wth them than I ever did with other Christians when I was in church.

    But then I don’t think the system of churches we have now was what Jesus had in mind anyway. Yes, we need to gather nourishment from one another, uplift and help one another, but we don’t need buildings and bi-weekly scheduled meetings to do that. Indeed, I think the structure gets in the way of the Life. Too many times we think we’re Christian *because* we go to church.

    My relationship to God and Jesus is the same as it was before – unlike some of the commenters here, I don’t struggle with it. Where I am now seems right to me.

  36. hi ian,
    i saw you at storyline (won tickets to the conference from michael hyatt’s blog) and loved your wit and candor…devoured your book in a couple of days and then gave it away to a friend who is a catholic in diaspora.
    love this post…grew up just up the road from franklin in chattanooga…our church had a paddle hanging in the lobby which people were encouraged to use during the service, for our baby dedication days the infants received large paddles with satin bows on them with the admonishment..”spare the rod”
    for me and many of my childhood friends it is a constant struggle to believe in a god of love, grace and forgiveness. those words were hijacked by the pastors with the paddles, so they simply have no meaning. i say them, i think them, but i might as well be speaking mandarin.
    we are scattered and looking for a home. thank you for being a voice for us. look forward to more of your impact.

  37. [...] Following is a piece from Ian Morgan Cron’s blog entitled “Believers in Exile. A New Christian Diaspora?” To read the rest of the article and the comments, go here: [...]

  38. [...] can read Ian’s complete post HERE. An excerpt from a conversation Ian had with a friend who’d left the [...]

  39. Becki

    I am new to Ian’s writing and therefore new to this website and this conversation. It is interesting, however, and I want to say something to Milli about the “spare the rod”/paddle gift situation. Shepherds use rods to GUIDE sheep, not to BEAT them. I don’t know how this verse got so perverted by so many. We have to guide our children in the way they should go. I haven’t seen anywhere in the Bible that we should beat them.

    When I was in your position (seeking truth and looking for a home), I spent much time talking with God…asking for direction…asking him to show me the truth. He gently led me to a church that shows his love, grace and forgiveness in everything they say and do. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

  40. John Irvine

    True truth seekers cease to be disaffected christians – they become disaffected from religions – most of whom seek to have them believe the unbelievable – they read the best scholarship and find that these myths have grown over time, where the more unbelievable comes later than the straight story of human interactions.

    They read about other paths, discarding the fundamentalists, but still finding religion itself unsatisfactory – and ponder while Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita said to give up all manner of religion – and ask why the Indians have not done so..

    They read about atomic physics and understand that there are greater distances between atomic particles relevant to size than between planets in our solar system. They find that in absolute reality we should be seeing a play of light, not the green trees, blue waters of our everyday experience.

    They read quantum mechanics and find that primary particles occilate between existence and non-existence, and that they arise from the quantum field.

    They read biology and find that all sights and feelings we experience are mediated through the brain / mind, and understand that our minds actually indicate what we in fact see.

    Then they read Jung, who has come to the same answer through a different path – it is all about consciousness – this is a play of consciousness and our life journey is a journey in consciousness.

    If you want religions to become once again relevant to peoples lives, then give up the old erroneous doctrine of creation ex nihilo, and say that we are made our of God-stuff – our of pure consciousness.

    Cheers,

    John

    • Ian

      Hi John,

      Thanks for so many thoughtful thoughts and ideas! I appreciate you taking the time to write them up!

  41. Mike Smith

    I was senior pastor of a large and reputedly successful church (“large” only by Australian standards). I lost faith in “church” and have spent the last 12 years restlessly searching for a way that “believers in exile” can be church together. The journey is strange.

    On one hand – being church with fellow travellors has been rich beyond words. However – if we were commissioned to bear much fruit – I am wondering where it is. I sometimes think about a return to churchworld.

    I’m worried I would break churches though. I think the thought forms of the “believers in exile” have been used by the mainstream as marketing gimmicks for local churches and discussion starters for small groups. In terms of concrete action – when someone tries to change the core structures of church-as-we-know-it, the results (at least down here) are pretty sad. The exiles remain exiled, and their ranks are swelling with exiled pastors and leaders.

    Believers in exile are still church – possibly the largest part of it.

    Is there a way community can be formed, the sacraments celebrated and the word passed on without reference to the institutions that have served the faith so well for the last 500 years. The believers in exile have put their 95 thesies on the door – but we don’t seem to have found what to DO to make it all work despite some truly heroic attempts.

    • Charis Varnadore

      EXILE! YOu should live here in the Bible Belt of coastal South Carolina to experience the depths and frustrations of this.Good luck… Charis

  42. [...] can read Ian’s complete post HERE. An excerpt from a conversation Ian had with a friend who’d left the [...]

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