Come back, you selfish person, we’re not done hurting you yet!

This post, The Selfishness of Skipping Church, came across a progressive Christian Facebook group I belong to. I was, to put it mildly, not impressed. People don’t go to church, he argues, because they’re selfish and lazy, and view church like buying a car. He does say he isn’t criticizing ” the shut-in, the sick, or those who must work” but he also calls hurts, needs, and disappointments an “excuse” that apparently isn’t sufficient reason not to show up every Sunday, at a minimum.  He criticizes people who only go to church “once or twice a month”:

 Imagine if a construction crew showed up to a building site only once or twice a month.  Think of what would happen if physicians and nurses manned the hospitals and ERs only a couple of times a month.  Consider the problems in education if our teachers worked only two days a month.

How about considering that construction crews, nurses, and teachers have promised to work a certain job, day in and day out, and in exchange for that commitment are being paid. In contrast, church is something people need to fit in around the activities that actually pay their bills, and something that most people have made no promise to attend every time the doors are open.

To me, making it to church every other Sunday counts as pretty regular church attendance, but apparently it’s a “cold, lifeless” and selfish behavior. The author bemoans the fact that people used to go to church “weekly and even several times a week,” which is apparently the expected standard. It may just be my own church history, but when a church wants me to go to two and three services a week, it feels like a red flag to me.  Am I supposed to have hobbies or a life outside the church? If I try to have boundaries, are people going to respect them?

I would even be fine with railing against people who renege on their commitments, like volunteering to serve and then suddenly dropping the ball. But for this author, even serving in church isn’t enough, as he criticizes “church workers who only show up to church when they are scheduled to serve, teach, or lead.” These are the people who are keeping the church running, but that’s not enough if they ever skip church. They might get a pass if they’re sick but being tired, or wanting to go out of town for the weekend, ever, probably doesn’t cut it.  Likewise, if you’re actually scheduled to work the hours that church is in session, that’s okay, but if you just got off midnights Sunday morning, drink some coffee and drag your selfish butt to church because American civilization will be wrecked by “rabid hedonists, religious fanatics, and ignorant young socialists and progressives” if you don’t go to church often enough. This bit had me scratching my head, because I have to wonder what counts as a religious fanatic to someone who expects unfailing church attendance regardless of an individual’s needs. At least I know from the jab at ignorant socialists and progressives that he doesn’t actually want me at his church, which I’m quite okay with.

One of the worst things about this article is that it so narrowly defines valid reasons for missing church or leaving a church. It’s not even enough to attend church regularly; once you start going to a church, you and that church are married, and you aren’t allowed to even consider other churches, lest you be a selfish church-shopper, ” ungraciously and habitually leaving church after church.” No acknowledgment that some pastors are abusive, or that some churches teach harmful theology. No acknowledgment that people’s religious beliefs can change over time, and they might leave a church over serious disagreements, whether because the church changed or because they did. And certainly no acknowledgment that anyone might leave a church because they aren’t welcome, or literally aren’t safe. Nope, you’re just selfish and lazy, with a cold and lifeless faith and a greedy consumerist attitude.

But even worse, in my view, is combining that with the reasons that the author is so dead set that all Christians must attend church all the time no matter what:

The culprits in the current spiritual malaise and indifference in our country are the selfish Christians who fail to consider how they can help, assist, and encourage someone else by coming faithfully to church instead of focusing on and serving their own wants, preferences, needs, and schedules.  That single mindset of coming to church not for what you can receive, but for what you can provide is the key to a true spiritual renewal in our land. When you are not in church the gifts and abilities in you are not made available to others.

That is, your needs aren’t important. We don’t care about your schedule, or your other obligations, or your struggles, but we expect you to care deeply about ours. You must always encourage, assist, and provide, never expecting anything in return, and if you get burned out and want any kind of spiritual nourishment or encouragement for yourself, we’ll berate you for your selfishness.  This sounds less like the body of Christ and more like an abusive relationship.