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Sunday, April 29, 2012  

Why the Church Matters

I got a little ticked off that everyone from Andrew Sullivan's headline writers ("Forget the Church. Follow Jesus") to Christian Piatt to post-everything evangelicals are so down on the "institutional church," so I wrote a column about it:

So why do churches still matter? For one thing, a church, or any religious community, is a sort of first responder to social problems. Churches have stepped in where housing policy has failed, providing badly needed beds for homeless people in the Chicago suburbs. Church professionals are front-line mental health care providers, usually intervening in family crises more quickly (and cheaply) than a therapist can. Churches are the major cultural institution for a lot of Americans, the only place we sing or play instruments or absorb something like a public lecture. They provide space for all kinds of hermit-crab community groups, from Alcoholics Anonymous to after-school tutoring. And they offer access to social capital to people whose schools and extended families aren’t as helpful as they could be. Churches are, for many people, the only place where they mingle on equal terms with those of different generations, economic classes or political ideologies (though we don’t mingle too much across racial lines, unfortunately).

Quite remarkably, these things tend to be true whether a church is “liberal” or “conservative,” whether it exists under a priestly hierarchy or an egalitarian lay leadership, whether its prominent figures wear us out with their position-taking or avoid the political arena altogether. This is not to say, as politicians like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have recently suggested, that churches can step in to replace the social safety net. But in their own small, often invisible ways, local churches do something that I am tempted to call radical in our segmented, individualistic society: They ask us to bear with one another.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 9:36 PM
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