My father, Joseph Constant, worked his whole life, adored his wife for 45 years, and loved us no matter what. And I decided when I was 16 that as long as I was living under his roof, I would continue to be a full member of his church. He wanted to meet us again one day in heaven, and he believed that there was only one way to do that: by believing in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. My confirmation was a tribute to him, but it only went so far: After I struck out on my own, I lived as an atheist.
But I suppose that, technically at least, I’m a Catholic, one of the millions of Catholics whom American bishops profess to lead and, when the church inserts itself into our political process, claim to speak for.
Today, Bishop Malone, I am demanding that you excommunicate me. I cannot in good conscience belong to your church anymore; I do not want to be counted with the 200,000 Catholics in Maine, or the 68,115,001 Catholics in the United States of America, or the 1.1 billion Catholics in the world.
These are the words of Paul Constant. I recommend that all my readers check out the full post. It’s powerful and moving. Paul has done something that I imagine is extremely rare. Instead of just wandering away from the church, he’s actively breaking himself from it. He’s letting everyone know what he’s doing and why. That takes a great deal of bravery, and he’s to be commended.
As I was reading this article, a thought occurred to me. In the churches I attended as a youth and young adult, we were often kept updated as to the state of the membership rolls. Sometimes, we were given two numbers — active members and inactive. Other times, we were just told the total. But in all the churches I recall, church rolls were representations of everyone who had ever joined the church. In most churches, the rolls were purged every decade or so to account for dead people, but I don’t recall ever seeing much of an effort to purge inactive members. In fact, their existence was paraded in front of the congregation fairly often in an effort to encourage us to witness to the “backsliders” and get them “back into the fold.”
I wonder how many churches count me on their rolls? It could be as high as ten, if memory serves. Is it possible that when FOX News gives statistics on how many people are church-goers, I’m counted ten times? I have no doubt that the number of practicing believers in the U.S. is exaggerated, but I hadn’t thought about just how wildly it could be inflated. Most of the Christians I know have joined several churches in their lives, and I don’t think most bother to tell the previous churches when they’ve moved on. In fact, I imagine many of them consciously decide not to out of fear of embarrassment, or having to face people they don’t want to confront.
I don’t recall ever removing myself from a church roll. Furthermore, church rolls are not subject to any kind of official scrutiny. The government has no interest in weeding out double, triple, or quadruple memberships. They don’t have any horse in the race. Why would they? And for that matter, why would any church do it? Inflated rolls mean better advertising, both for the individual churches and for Christianity as a whole.
I think that on Monday, I’ll call all the churches I can recall being a member of and demand that they remove me from their rolls. What about you, fellow non-believers? Any skeletons in your closets puffing up the perceived size of Christian America? How cool would it be if we could start a movement! How far could we drop church rolls if everyone who has left religion actively and publicly removed themselves from the church rolls?
It’s a fun thought!