Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Changing Religious Make-Up in America

A lot of talk yesterday about new Pew data on American religion.  For the first time in history, the US is less than 50 percent Protestant.

Why? What's growing?  Non-religious is the fastest growing segment.  One in five adults now have no religion at all--a third of those under 30.

Perhaps we should all continue to preach the same message anyway. Maybe our job is just to tell it like it is, regardless of the consequences. If you think so, then keep on keeping on.

But if there is a place for being careful here are some truths.  Things like Pulpit Freedom Sunday or our quest to stamp out gay marriage in the public sphere, these sorts of enterprises will accelerate the rise of the non-religious, and their animosity toward us.

It reminds me of some legalists I used to know who, as soon as someone would pray to receive Christ, would then instruct them in how they needed immediately to stop smoking, to dress differently, to stop eating out on Sunday, etc. They were absolutely convinced they were right... and a lot of those new converts left the church within weeks and had a bigger barrier than ever to return.

Again, maybe our job is just to keep preaching what we think is true, regardless of whether it pushes accelerating numbers away.  Sure, we may push those who would have been quite happy to co-exist with us into persecuting us. Then we can get sanctimonious about how we are suffering for Jesus, conveniently forgetting the role we played in bringing that persecution on ourselves.

If we wanted to be strategic--again, maybe that's just not the way we should be thinking--but if we wanted to be strategic, we would focus on doing good in the world.  We would focus on helping others. We would focus on making the world a better place for everyone. We would focus on observable, tangible acts of kindness with a sincere heart.

But maybe that's caving in.  Maybe our job is to tell the world how bad it is, how God's going to fry it if it doesn't repent and see things our way. Maybe it doesn't matter that we will only alienate the fastest growing segment of the American religious population.  At least it will make us feel good.


Jim Schenck said...

I think some of your thoughts relate to the prevalence of premillennial dispensationalism in much of the conservative Christian world. When our doctrine dictates that the world is supposed to get worse and the “true” Church is supposed to be small but pure, we are relieved of having to do good in this world. Just preach and take the heat. The heat is, of course, proof that we are doing it correctly!
I’m glad the younger generation of Wesleyans is embracing a stance that brings Christ’s goodness and compassion to people through good works AND the truth of salvation. It’s that balance that is key. In some ways, it leans toward the post-millenial view – Our work in Christ’s name to bring about spiritual salvation and positive societal change ushers in Christ’s Kingdom.

Ken Schenck said...

I agree... self-fulfilling prophecy sometimes...

John Mark said...

Jim Schenck, your comment brings me to an 'aha' moment. I have struggled to connect the dots between 1) how to respond to the culture, given my own background (very conservative), and in my fathers background (legalistic to the max) and 2) the prevalence of pre-trib rapture theology.
This, even though my own denomination is not dogamatic about this, and gives students a broad view of eschatology...thanks