Monday, March 16, 2009

Wake Up Call for the Church
maybe it's already too late?

The conclusions of a study of religious practice and affiliation (the American Religious Identification Survey) was just released affirming what many see in the context I serve in as a pastor of a Protestant church: people are interested in belief, pondering about God, seeking the divine in our daily lives and emerging world, yet a quickly growing majority of them are completely down on the church. I suspect that it's due in large part to the politicized and polarizing atmosphere that has overtaken our church communities and larger dialogues.

Conservative churches seem to talk about many things (sexuality, abortion, supporting the war in Iraq, voting against Obama, pro-Israel military stances, anti-Islam, fear mongering of potential terrorists, Proposition 8 and the evils of socialism) more often than they discuss God and the presence of God in our history. The decreasing church attendance is blamed on the liberals and the way that they are herectically infecting the church. The church focuses nearly entirely upon are you saved yet as opposed to how are we living a saved and saving life each and every day. This doesn't even mention the negative effect of so many disillusioning examples of hypocritical and arrogant Christian leaders in the past 30 years.

Liberal churches often seem so intent on welcoming everyone that they smooth over differences and diversity in the name of mutual tolerance. In the end not much is articulated and ventured in terms of what it means to follow Christ in our modern world. They are often so intent on reinterpreting the question of if you are saved that the challenge of portraying a saved and saving lifestyle (different than the rest of culture) doesn't arise. We are encouraged to simply embrace a eco-friendly metropolitan version of life that looks a lot like the average Democratic voting person in Berkeley.

Where is the middle way - the way that follows Christ, carrying his cross in life as a community? I find it hard to invite people to church. The inviting is easy, it's the getting people to even consider it. In fact most people assume when they meet me that I'm homophobic, Republican, pro-Israel, anti-other religions, non-drinking, non-smoking and deathly allergic to the sound of cuss words. Rarely do I have encounters where we actually can talk about the Divine, ponder the creator, fathom that maybe God is present in history. We're too busy trying to deconstruct the stereotypes that have been built up.

So is there hope? Maybe the church does have to die? Maybe it needs to die (at least in our context) in order to be reborn, or resurrected, as something else which escapes the shackles that we have placed upon the community we call our own as people of faith here in 21st century America?

Here's some reading about the survey

Good article in USA Today [Data]

Editorial by Leonard Pitts "I truly believe religion is driving people from God"

Official Survey Results

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