This is my confession today: I watch TikTok.

Yes, I know it is owned by somebody in China; and yes, I know this connection makes it part of an evil empire. That what the politicians say.

But I watch TikTok, as do more than 100 million other Americans.

I know there is a lot of trash on TikTok, some of it far worse, apparently, than what I have seen. But that is the way of the world in general.

Like all social media platforms, TikTok has become a powerful tool for creativity and communication, for commentary on social, political, and religious things. Yes, religion. On TikTok, there is quite a bit of religion. Some very traditional: church-based stuff, clips of preachers (Adrian Rogers, no less!), and devotionals by ministers of all types.

But here is what comes up on my feed: refugees! I mean religion refugees. People fleeing the religion of their childhood, youth, or even adulthood.

I first heard that term Sunday afternoon, sitting on Main Street at the Black Bear Coffee Shop in Hendersonville. A person new to me was describing his life journey: from straight-as-an-arrow Church of Christ (non-instrumental), through a decade-long stint as a young minister, into a career as a university professor. When he retired, he affiliated with a liberal Baptist church.

“First Trump, then COVID,” he said, “and I haven’t been back.”

He paused for a bit. I was just listening.

“I don’t know if I believe any of the religion stuff anymore. I may be an atheist.”

If so, he needs to join the swarm of people giving their testimonies on TikTok. Most are coming out of either the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) or some form of white Evangelical Christianity. There may be similar videos from people leaving Roman Catholicism, or Islam, or even secularism. I don’t know; I haven’t seen any.

They call it de-construction, and it is the rage of TikTok and elsewhere—people confessing to the trauma they experienced in some form of religion and why they are dumping the whole thing. Refugees, he said to me on Sunday afternoon. Religious refugees. I was drawn immediately to the phrase and all that it represents. A tweak here or a twist there and I could have been among them. Others in my family and among my friends already are.

Which makes me wonder, as I said aloud Sunday afternoon, what kind of Christian faith and practice might touch the soul of a refugee from religion?

That is the minister in me coming out, wanting to find a way to connect people to what is true, and good, and beautiful about that which we call religion. After all, for every s.o.b. sitting on a church bench there is one or more—perhaps hundreds—of kind, generous, and thoughtful people, genuinely wanting to honor God, follow Jesus, and live in the spirit of love.

I have a lot of sympathy for religion refugees, those making videos for global consumption and those making confession on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I’ve seen a lot of meanness camouflaged as religion, a lot of bigotry and judgment and ignorance spewed out in the name of God. Some of that was shot my way, and, I suppose, I’ve sent back more than enough to drive good people away from church.

I watch these videos—short form, meaning three minutes or less, mostly by amateurs thrilled to be part of the emerging town square, to be talking with people around the world in ways unfiltered by authorities. I watch these videos and hear my self and my friends, I see my religion in what they describe: summer camps and stern preachers, narrow minds and emotional appeals. I understand why people flee such representations of God.

Jesus was a refugee of sorts, deconstructing the faith and practice bequeathed to him, trying to escape the legalistic walls of his own religion, the ethnic ways of his own teachers. They beat him to it and put him on a cross.

Which is why Jesus has a lot of empathy for those fleeing the church, posting a video, or simply talking at a coffee shop on a sunny afternoon.

Published On: May 9th, 2023 / Categories: Commentary /

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