Stepping Away From the Church as Corporation
These days, young Christians in Orange County attend very different kinds of churches, some unrecognizable as churches at all. Laundry Love, a ministry in Santa Ana, is an ad hoc community of young Christians who gather monthly at various inner-city, coin-operated laundries and wash patrons’ clothes for free. The ministry is an offshoot of Newsong Church, a mostly Asian evangelical congregation founded nearly three decades ago by a pastor named Dave Gibbons, who sought to reach people like himself, mixed-race descendants of immigrants (his parents are white and Asian) who felt out of place in mainstream American society. Newsong now has branches in Thailand, England, Mexico, and India — all of which function like self-sustaining Christian communes oriented around humanitarian relief initiatives. Gibbons has emerged as one of a growing number of in-house critics of evangelical Christianity’s wholesale adoption of corporate American values. “The church has become involved in big business,” he told me by phone. “That’s why artists and creatives don’t want anything to do with church. What’s unique about how we’re trying to do things is we focus on people who aren’t like us. We don’t have to build our own brand.”
Jim Hinch, a religion correspondent for The Orange Country Register, has a piece in The American Scholar looking at the decline of evangelical megachurches, and what has been popping up in their place: pockets of Christians who are gathering and meeting in homes and rented office buildings and work with the needy, as demonstrated by the Laundry Love ministry above. Hinch also finds congregations tutoring low-income students, and providing services to the homeless. I’m not particularly religious, but this is work I can believe in.
Photo: Bruce Tuten