[great article link at the bottom of this post!]
Until recently, I lived in the most “unchurched” region of the country.
Now apparently, that designation has switched (very slightly) from the Northwest part of our country to the Northeast (though really “church” hasn’t been popular in either region for years). But, whether we are first in “lack of churchiness” or second, if there is one thing I know it is living in a post-Christian religion environment.
Which is why it interested me to read several articles recently that seemed to indicate what many of us have thought for years, that the rest of the country is catching up to us… in godlessness, that is. [see "The End of Christian America" and "The Coming Evangelical Collapse"]
Recent studies find that American people are exiting the Christian religion in greater numbers than ever. Be it evangelical, mainline, etc, America is losing it’s religion.
So what does this mean? Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask. Many people think that it isn’t exactly ideal. I have heard many well-meaning preachers proclaim it as the beginning of the end; the ushering in of Armageddon. Ahhh, you premillenialist friends are always looking for the signs of the end, aren’t you? =)
But, it isn’t among just preachers. There is panic among many everyday Christians. There is fear that what has been the driving force of morality in this country is going to erode and leave their children depraved and godless. I have sat in a pew next to many parents who feel this tension all too keenly. Even in Seattle (where we have a several decade head start in living in this environment) the church (generally), is characterized by great fear in this arena. It seems as though this decline in the Christian religion–at least in the form we are accustomed to–can only be a bad thing.
Now, before going any further, I’d like you to know that I understand this fear. I think I understand why many of my brothers and sisters, whom I love, feel this way. It is indeed scary to see the moral/religious fiber of your country shaken. I can sympathize with this uncertainty.
However, I think our fear may be causing us to behave strangely. If you read this blog, you know that I often call-out the apparent un-Christlikeness of the church. In doing so, I am not meaning to say that I don’t believe in Jesus. I do. I believe Jesus has opened the fullest and most meaningful way of life for all people. I want more people to experience this life, not less. And, I am not trying to say I don’t believe in the church. Christians don’t necessarily have bad intentions. I simply think we need to be very careful and think extremely critically about our methods of communicating a message. Too often, the methods have become the message. Too easily we believe that we should use any means necessary to convey our point and “the ends justify the means” should never be the attitude of Christ’s people. Especially as it relates to the fear of “losing our Christian nation.”
Fear of the end of Christian America.
Because of this fear, we have seen (I believe) many Christians behaving in ways that do not show love. Whether it is the polarizing political attempt to legislate Christianity, the stereotyping generality of protest signs or simply the attempt to shame those who are perceived as the danger through our bumperstickers, t-shirts and slogans.
Because of fear we have reacted poorly.
But, perhaps, we do not need to fear this decline so much as we have thought. Maybe what we feel we need to protect doesn’t need protected at all. Maybe, the cause of Christ could be advanced in a much more meaningful way if what we are scared to lose was really to disappear.
You see, living in Seattle, I have heard for as long as I can remember about how non-churched this region is. I grew up knowing that I was among less than 10% of my local population that attended any type of church each week. I heard these statistics as a teenager, while in Bible college and beyond in ministry. I was taught that I was the only beacon of religion in a depraved land.
But, as I’ve hung out with people, got to know them and seen many of them make decisions to follow the life and example of Jesus with their lives authentically, I have learned that these statistics are a bit misleading. The reality of my interaction with people in this “godless” land is not as dire as I had been made to believe. In fact, while we may be declining in religious fervor, I have found people here to be more spiritually open to discussion than ever before.
Almost no one that I meet anymore is unwilling to have a spiritual discussion with me, as long as it is honest and not aimed at “converting” them. And though this seems strange to some of you, I actually think that the message of Jesus is finding more traction in this culture that we fear than in the one we felt comfortable in previously. It is almost as if the dismantling of the “civic religion of Christianity” is helping people to rediscover the Jesus behind this cultural influence.
Of course we all know people that would label themselves “Christian” though they make no attempt to follow and model the life of Jesus. This country, since its beginning, has been labeled by the same generic label, “Christian.” It has become a cultural and national label rather than an affiliation with the personhood of Jesus. This faux Christianity, I contend, has actually made it much more difficult to lead people to authentic relationship with Jesus. And to see it decline, in some odd sense (to some of you) gives me great hope for the future.
I believe we live in the greatest moment for followers of Jesus in the history of our world (and country). I believe that this decline is preparing the soil (and has already) for a much deeper commitment to Jesus in the hearts of people than we have seen in our lifetimes. It is not a day for fear, but for great expectation. It is a great day to be a follower of Jesus!
I have included a link below to a blog by Greg Boyd. His excellent blog lays out several reasons not to fear this decline. Hopefully, it will be very helpful to some of you.
But he also has two excellent books on this subject. The second of which just came out last week and is fantastic. Both of these books should be required reading for Christians in America. If you haven’t read them, please consider picking up a copy this week.