Much ado has been made about the findings of the Pew Research Center regarding religion in the United States. I recommend that you take a few minutes to look over the study to find a number of interesting trends that appear in this year’s survey, the first done by Pew since 2007.
Pew’s sub-title for the release of their research is, “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.” There’s a clear story being told there: The number of people identifying themselves as Christian has seen a noticeable downturn since 2007, and the number of people claiming no religion – classified as “nones” by Pew – has increased substantially.
Furthermore, the decline has been caused, in large part, by the fact that while the older generations (read: people who are dying) are overwhelmingly Christian, millenials are not even 60% Christian and have significantly higher rates of “nones.” In other words, young people are moving further and further away from Christianity and religion in general.
Of course this has caused a stir in a nation where 7 out of 10 people identify themselves as Christian. And, without a doubt, it should provoke us to ask tough questions and have earnest discussions.
There are reasons why this happening. Very good reasons. And no, Bill O’Reilly, you can’t blame this on rap music.
And, while many Christians will use this as the reasoning, this is not about America’s moral depravity.
This isn’t about Jersey Shore, Game of Thrones, Fifty Shades of Grey, marijuana, social media, Lady Gaga, liberals, feminists, Richard Dawkins, Kim Kardashian, Obama, the gays, Muslims, or college professors.
It’s not about putting so much emphasis on the individual that our society neglects community. It’s not about everyone having it their way. You can’t blame entertainers, educators, religious thinkers, or “the media.”
This is about Christians.
This is about Christians failing.
People are leaving the Christian faith for a life of theism, deism, agnosticism, or atheism, because the church of American Christianity (AC) is failing. Having grown lazy and complacent in a position of power in the most prosperous nation in human history, numerous problems have taken root in AC and choked out the light of the Gospel. Legalism, moral superiority, homophobia, racism, greed, conformity, scientific ignorance, sexism, religious bigotry, isolationism, revisionist history, child molestation, God Hates Fags, financial scams, archaic adherence to tradition, the gun-toting pseudo-religion of American Christo-Patriotic Conservatism, and more have all contributed to the decline in AC’s adherents and the effectiveness of AC in general.
Love. Love is the why.
Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
A religion built on love and mercy and grace has become built on being right and being successful.
Feeding the five thousand has become a means of creating dependency. Kill and eat has turned into trash the planet. The righteousness of foreign wars comes down to who happens to be in office. Finances, political ideology, and personal freedom have pushed away the priority of radical love.
Of course, AC is still doing a lot of great things and showing a lot of love. There isn’t a number that can measure the positive impact that Christians have had on their communities, whether that be organizing community projects, giving to the poor, or reaching out to touch the hearts of the broken and down-trodden. Locally and internationally, Christians are doing great things for people. There are, most certainly, many many Christians going hard for the Gospel and loving when it would be easier to hate.
But there isn’t one Christian who can’t do better. And many Christians are doing next to nothing for anyone outside themselves or their church community. If 70% of the country were as loving as the 1,000 most loving people in the nation, we’d live in a pretty amazing place. Because, and maybe this is the kicker, it’s not just people of faith who are doing great things in the world. Many of the most loving people out there doing things for their fellow human are people who do not claim any religion. I know many good people who are not Christians. So imagine if all Christians did what Christ calls them to do and joined their efforts with those who are concerned just out of being a decent human being.
And love is why I’m doing this. I’m not a doomsayer here to condemn the world of Christianity. I’m not looking to get a rise out of the conservative Christians that I know are going to object to some of the things I say over the course of the next couple weeks. I’m not here to make myself more superior, tout the rightness of Christians, or criticize non-Christians. Love is the why. I know that Christianity is not the religion of white supremacists, snake handlers, grandmas with kitsch in their front yard and living room, and Ned Flanders. I know it’s more than that, because, in a way, it’s less than that. It’s about Jesus Christ. And that means it’s about love, mercy, and grace. Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The second greatest, Jesus says, is to love your neighbor as yourself.
I want us to ardently pursue these two commandments. I want my fellow Christians to love God by loving their neighbor. I want them to assess their Christian life and accept that they might not be doing everything right. I want them to love. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Your life as a Christian should make non believers question their disbelief in God.” The best way to hate the sinner’s sin is to love the sinner.
And I’m doing this because I love God and I love people, and I want all people to know God. I’m not out to crusade against non-believers and convert them with a doctrinal sword. I’m not here to shout fire and brimstone and demand that they turn from their ways and repent. Non-believer, I want you to know God because I love God and I love you. One day this world will pass away and all things will be made new. I want to dance with all of you in eternity. And I know that, as it stands right now, AC isn’t making a particularly compelling case to join the dance.
Allow me now to preface this series of posts that will be coming over the next couple weeks, as well as any religiously concerned posts that appear on this blog.
I believe I am right, but I would never claim to be inerrant. I’m open to being wrong. I may someday change my mind as I learn more. But I do have some theological training and I have read the Bible and kept up with modern Christian thought, so I know a few things. I have been a Christian most of my life, but most of 21 years is not very long. For what it’s worth, I am part of Evangelical Protestantism, the branch of Christianity that has, from a numbers standpoint, fared the best since 2007. In that time, it is the only branch of Christianity to have more converts than departures, although the overall number is slightly down but at a lesser rate than other branches. I certainly have room to grow too, a lot of room, as a Christian and as a human being that actively seeks to make the world better. Far be it from me to claim I’m any better than you. Most importantly, I implore you to seriously consider the things I say. Please do not outright accept or reject my ideas. Rather, carefully consider what I suggest, and carefully consider where your own heart and mind are.
Let’s do it.
Soli Deo Gloria