In his 2018 song “Explaining Jesus” Jordy Searcy opens the floor to a solemn and honest discussion about evangelical church life.
He begins the song with lyrics that acknowledge some gay believers’ feelings of inadequacy when they consider their relationship with God. Searcy then leads into the chorus with a line alluding to the pressure Southern women feel to be beautiful, implying that listeners may seem happy in front of others, but that they “lie down feeling never good enough.”
His chorus is an apology. He sings, “I’m so sorry for how it’s been” as his audience reflects upon their experiences in the church.
In his apology, he calls the church broken. Specifically, the members of the church. In his last chorus, he apologizes once more for “all the wrongs” the church has committed. He finishes the song as he sings: “We’re broken singers with broken songs. We paint our pride and call it truth.” Searcy ends the song with the refrain, “I’m sorry no one explained Jesus to you.”
“We’re broken singers with broken songs. We paint our pride and call it truth.”
With his song, Searcy discusses the shortcomings of the church, comparing the ways in which church members act and interact with each other to Jesus. He juxtaposes the prideful agendas and actions of Christians today with the unconditional and welcoming love Jesus has for us all.
Searcy is apologizing for how poorly we have been “Explaining Jesus” to others. We are misrepresenting his identity, and it costs us in fellowship, love and acceptance with believers who feel they do not belong.
This idea, that the church has some work to do, is not just something we sing about. In his recent BNG article, Brandon Flannery discusses his research on why people are leaving Christianity.
When collecting data from respondents, the top two initial reasons for leaving, Flannery found, were LGBTQ acceptance and the behavior of believers, both topics Searcy mentions in his song.
For issues of LGBTQ acceptance, Flannery says this was an issue for Christians across the board, including those who were heterosexual and cisgender. About one-fifth, or 21.71%, of Christians said this was their reason for leaving. Respondents said this issue was important to them for various reasons, including views that “what Christians preached/practiced didn’t seem to align with what I knew to be the character of God.”
To use Searcy’s language, Christian preaching and practices are not explaining who Jesus really is. They are teaching and representing something else.
Respondents also reported the feeling that all people are created by God and thus deserving of mutual respect, yet the church does not adhere to this standard when it comes to LGBTQ folks. Instead, the church does little to welcome and care for these marginalized people, often teaching or promoting attitudes within church life that LGBTQ people, their identities and struggles are intrinsically opposed to Christianity.
Searcy alludes to this feeling in the first verse of his song when he calls upon believers who are “gay and over 85” and have felt their whole lives that God “messed up” at their creation.
The second most popular reason for leaving, the behavior of Christians, is a double-sided coin. One sixth, 16.10%, of believers leave due to the behavior of Christians, according to Flannery’s research. He says bad behavior can be “a massive stumbling block for people coming to the religion and walking away.”
He references Sheldon Vanauken, who said the joy and certainty Christians have in their faith is appealing for those exploring religious communities, yet the self-righteous and smug attitudes Christians often have is detrimental. When the church meets its congregation with judgment and exclusivity, newcomers have no desire to join the church, and Christians already within the community find themselves in search of freedom elsewhere.
Flannery writes that “Christianity is a religion that boasts about its love, but people are not seeing it, and they’re walking out the door.”
“Once they walk out the door, the top two things believers gain are freedom and love/acceptance of others.”
And once they walk out the door, the top two things believers gain are freedom and love/acceptance of others, two responses that seemed to go together.
When discussing freedom, respondents often referenced the ability to love anyone and everyone with “no strings (aka ministering) attached.” They felt their relationships were more inclusive and less limited than they were in the church, and they had the freedom to love others like God truly wanted them to.
Believers did not feel obligated to convert their atheist and agnostic friends, did not experience pressure to view LGBTQ people any differently than others and reported a sense of overall freedom to love others as people made in the image of God, unattached to other labels or moral categories the church would have assigned to them.
Searcy encapsulates this feeling in his song with his ending, which is an instrumental version of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
The song praises the forgiving and welcoming nature of Christian grace, which has the power to save even “a wretch” as they come to believe in God. It is a staple at funerals, perhaps due to its solemn undertone that alludes to the peace and security one may feel while passing from death into the Christian afterlife, knowing they will be cared for despite their shortcomings during earthly life.
Another verse states it is grace that will “lead me home,” a comforting assurance to listeners that because of their faith, although they may not have been perfect, God will surely love and accept them as they make this supernatural transition.
This is an interesting end to Searcy’s song because, while “Amazing Grace” discusses the comfort and peace faith should bring, he has just finished apologizing for everything that is wrong with the church. Specifically, he has just discussed how the church often fails to be a forgiving and welcoming place for new believers and is a space where many do not feel at home.
However, his lyrics encapsulate what Flannery’s research found: Christians do want to forgive and welcome each other. Christians long for freedom and relationships with one another, and once an institution stops acting as a barrier for them, they get to experience and give to others the grace that everyone needs, and the sound is sweet.
It is also solemn, as is Searcy’s instrumental rendition, because achieving this grace comes at a cost. According to Flannery, when asked what they missed about Christianity, 51% of respondents said they missed community.
This was the No. 1 response, and although they seemed to benefit from leaving the institutional church, many respondents felt “deeply alone.” They no longer associated with friends they grew up with in church, did not have a group of people who shared their religious beliefs anymore and found it hard to lose the support system that their church provided.
Searcy is right about this grace-filled freedom. It comes at a cost.
If Christians want to be free from a Christianity that fails to live up to the love of God, they must leave. And if the church wants to provide freedom within its institutions so members will stay, it must start “Explaining Jesus” more accurately.
Mallory Challis is a senior at Wingate University and serves as BNG’s Clemons Fellow.
I asked people why they’re leaving Christianity, and here’s what I heard | Analysis by Brandon Flanery