A larger part of the Church(1) has been hijacked by narrow fundamentalism, either rooted in tradition or in a literal reading of the Bible. All discussion is killed and all dynamism is stillborn in the average church. Windows of opportunities have been closed too quickly to let some fresh air in. Science is done away with as 'only theory', or as an alternative false religion; principles too easily take precedence over practical living; and most of religious life seems to be about drawing borders: who is in, who is out.
I will give you three examples in a random order that lie close to my heart.
1.The Church cares little about creation
The very first assignment by the Jewish God to people was to take care of the earth and God's creation. One needs not to be a Jew, a Christian, or a believer to understand that we are dependent on creation/nature. We live off it, we eat and drink off it... Even selfish reasoning would bring us to the conclusion that we need to care about the earth and all that lives on it.
But what has the Church actually done? Logical reasoning has been wasted with people being told to be preoccupied with other worlds than their own. According to even the most mainstream theologies the earth with disappear in an apocalypse, so why worry about the earth? I regret these theologies and even more the behaviour they induce.
By the same Bible, I could argue that man was made for earth in the very beginning, and his destiny is on earth at the very end. Why the one theological perspective has won over the other one is a mystery to me, but I think it is selfishness and perhaps a typically Western historical inclination to separate body and mind, spirit and matter; "it is spiritual redemption that counts, not bodily redemption."
2.The Church fails to care for its neighbours
The balance of the Christian contribution to the world's development is unclear. Even if the balance may be slightly positive, this does not compare with Jesus' devotion to the poor. I personally regard most actions as incidences of occasional charity as a short-term guilt relief. (I do not acquit myself.) For example, we are ready to give after hearing another heart-breaking story, but we rarely get to the point where we give even when we are not at the height of emotional stress; when we just need to press on because real help is not confined to financial help.
To give a simple example. Most Christians, when they vote, they vote for their own pride and wallet. We – en masse – fall in the trap of talk about so-called economic growth. We worry about a per cent more or less on our pay check. Moreover, we are citizens of such and such nation, so we vote for the glory of the nation we happen to belong to. So we have Christians supportive on each side of the lines of fire of many warring nations, because nationalism has become an idol. This has become even more of a problem with the world's most outspoken and powerful 'Christian' nation's imperial campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places.
It is important also to link the first point with the second point: caring for creation is inseparable of caring for your neighbour. A glaring example is the recent move to biofuels 'to save the climate'. Filling up your car has become an ethical question: drive and increase hunger? How will the Christian in the industrial West deal with this question? I don't know, but given the lack of discussion in churches, I am pessimistic.
3.The Church fails to stand up for the weak
I already – shortly – addressed the issue of poverty. But the poor are not the only who are weak, and most of the times the poor are also weak in different ways. They are single mothers, illegal immigrants, gypsies, blacks,... Some may not even be poor, yet judged and treated as outcasts non-believers, followers of other religions, atheists, gays,...
I do not speak out against churches with a clear target group. But honestly, why are most of churches filled with either rich or poor, either black or white? Why does it seem like most Churches have no gay people among them? How does that translate to Jesus example of inclusiveness?
In some cases the Church even actively weakens the weak. Without a closer consideration of a pregnant young woman's personal circumstances; abortion is out of the question(2). Women who underwent abortion are instilled with feelings of eternal guilt and fear of hell fire.
Or consider the discussions about gay people (rarely with gay people). No wonder so many gay, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals turn against the Church! In many churches, being gay is considered incompatible with being Christian. Consequently, gay people are being held up to unachievable standards (change your sexual orientation!); excommunicated and labeled 'pseudo-christian'.
Why is the Church so moderately or not concerned with the environment (creation), the poor and needy (its neighbours), and the outcasts? In my view, much of the capacity of the Church is spilled over irrelevant issues and damaging discussions. The Church seems to be preoccupied with (for example),
1. unconditionally supporting Israel and its allies, even if that means more conflicts, higher death tolls and possibly a (nuclear) attack on Iran.
2. denying people's sexuality. Portraying sexuality as something dirty, something external to a person's identity. Instead of accepting the reality and the glory of sex, many churches preach abstination and ignore teaching on contraceptives and safe sex. This 'principle' attitude has led to incredible suffering, in our own Western churches, as well as in developing communities.
3. arguing over who is and is not Christian. Not only churches are bickering over which is the true church, and regularly condemn other churches. The judging has become internalized. Even with the simplest actions Christians are fear-motivated, is it Christian to do so and so; am I still Christian? In the end, these questions may be very interesting from a theological perspective. But really, is it not another form of egoism, sheer self-centeredness to get things right (or at least better than the others).
I understand that my wording is blunt. I acknowledge that I do not have a clean sleet and I do not meet up to much of my own criticism. However, I'm addressing the relevance of the Church here. I my opinion, the Church – if not perfect – should at least encourage and help me to care for creation, the poor and the outcasts. The church should feed and encourage my identity, rather than deny it. If the Church loses is beneficial and loving capacity, the very reason of existence of the Church should be disputed. In many ways, this is already the case: how many people still take the Church seriously; how well filled are Sunday's Church benches? Few churchgoers, empty benches? – Perhaps better so, for now.
(1) I simply refer to the Church, while I also acknowledge there are considerable differences between congregations. Yet to make my point clear, rather than to offer a genealogy of the Church, I refer to general trends that I see in a larger part of the Church. I also hold an inclusive view of the Church; which includes denominations such as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the many protestant denominations. I admit that my knowledge of each of these denominations is limited and perhaps I know relatively better some moderately charismatic evangelical church congregations.
(2) In principle, I am also against abortion, but I am also willing to weigh the motivations and the life of the mother. And in the end it is not my decision!