” “A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us,” Mohler [R. Albert Mohler Jr.—president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary] wrote. “The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.” When Mohler and I spoke in the days after he wrote this, he had grown even gloomier. “Clearly, there is a new narrative, a post-Christian narrative, that is animating large portions of this society,” he said from his office on campus in Louisville, Ky. ” Quoted from Jon Meacham’s The End of Christian America.
My good friend, Daniel, posted a link on Soulforce.org to the above article in order to start a conversation about what “Post-Christian” might mean. Daniel, a former Assembly of God member now more comfortable with Buddha, has an attitude about Christianity that may best be descibed using Gandhi’s statement, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” One response to Daniel’s post is particularly pertinent to the discussion:
“I can’t help wonder if the percentage of truly committed Christians has changed all that much. How many people in the “golden age” of the 1950s really believed in the deep truths of Christianity, and how many were in the pews on a Sunday morning because they were expected to be there? Expectations began to change radically in the 1960s, and for the better, I believe. I’m not at all surprised that fewer people are self-identifying as Christian. And I’m thinking of a much broader definition of Christian than either fundamentalism or evengelicalism does. I believe that with very few exceptions the people who come to my church on a Sunday morning want to be there and find something for their hearts and souls. I like being with that group of people better than I would if the church were jammed with people who couldn’t wait to get out of there.” Ben L – Massachussets on Soulforce.org
One could argue, and actually many of us have, that the “crisis” facing American Christianity is neither new nor well-understood. Numerous polling organizations, including that of evangelical-leaning Barna Group, have been reporting for decades that religious affiliation in the U.S. has been on the decline. Over the last thirty years there has been an abundance of church-growth related publications and organizations that have profitted from the general fear that the relevance of church to U.S. culture has been waning. The problem has been defined as one of numbers – the solutions ending up being best defined as business marketing.
For evangelical church organizations the realization that was a “crisis” came late, although not as late as it did for Mohler. Much of the church growth material was written for and particularly suited to evangelical churches. Several years ago, however, some significant evangelicals recognized they have a revolving door problem not unlike the mainline churches, but different in one substantive way. While many have left mainline churches for more regulated evangelical ones, when people leave more conservative churches they leave church altogether.
As it turns out all the hype about seeker churches haven’t done anything except continue the outflow of people from church doors. The church growth materials actually ended up promoting something more akin to ecclesiastical cannibalism rather than evangelism in the sense of bringing new believers into the fold. As the figures show, the opposite effect has been the case.
I tend to think that Ben is write when he observes that maybe there aren’t fewer committed Christians now, just fewer people who feel the need to attend church for show. I also think, however, there is a growing population of people that have become disenchanted or even abused by churches.
“Hello, my name is Lucy and this is my first post in this Forum. I live in rural North Dakota, but am originally from St. Paul, Mn. I am not gay, but have always been an advocate for Human Rights. Just last week, the North Dakota House of Representatives refused to pass a bill which would make it illegal for gays and lesbians here in North Dakota to be discriminated against in jobs and housing. In otherwords, employers and landlords can legally fire gays and lesbians and refuse to rent to gays and lesbians in this state. Their reasoning being; “outlawing discrimination against gay and lesbian North Dakotans would protect behavior that can be changed and which God abhors”.Well, that is about the last straw for me. Throughout the last horrible 8 years of the Bush Administration, the so-called “religious right” has grown to be a terrible threat to the freedom of all Americans. Here in the “red state” of North Dakota, nothing has changed since the Obama Administration has taken over. North Dakota might as well be a “Christian Theocracy”. Unfortunately, the only reason that wouldn’t work here is that the many Christian religions can’t even agree with or get along with each other. Anyway, I am through calling myself a Christian. I was born and raised Catholic, but left the Catholic Church years ago. And why did I do that? Because all the Catholics I knew were hypocrites. Now I realize that all Christians are hypocrites. I will always believe in God. But never more in organized Christian religion. Does anyone else have any comments about this?” Lucy – North Dakota on Soulforce.org
Lucy’s story is far from unique, and its not just over issues of sexuality. Intolerance and moral finger pointing have become the norm for the visible church – the “church of the loudest voices”. The public personna of U.S. Christianity has increasingly become the shrill, naysaying, accusatory visage of legalistic and restrictive dogmatics. This is not just limited to evangelical churches, even though its leaders have been the most visible over the last decade. The attitudes and pursed lips can be widely experienced in abundance in mainline churches, as evidenced by most denominations having very public battles over orthodoxy.
Christianity has become a religion, publicly at least, of what we are against. “Pro-life” is nor understood as promoting life lived in abundance, but as fighting against abortion and stem-cell research. Pro-family values is understood as a euphemism for being anti-GLBT. We have become defined by what we oppose, as opposed to what we embrace and that paints a picture of intolerance, reactionism and rigidity that causes some to reject any affiliation whatsoever.
Now, my liberal friends, before pointing a finger and saying “I told you”, consider that the liberal church is now best known as being against the conservative church. Christianity has become better known for its internal and external squabbles than anything positive, even though there is so much positive to say about both mainline and evangelical organizations.
The picture, I hate to say, is relatively accurate. We are what we spend most of our time and energy on. On the whole, we do not invest the majority of our resources on achieving “good”, but on combatting “evil”. Can we concentrate so much on what we consider evil without being touched deeply by the very evil we wish to combat?
Jesus was a very political, radical figure, but Jesus’ personna was formed by healing the sick, embracing the rejected, freeing the captive and bringing sight to those who could not see. Jesus did distance himself from rigid and legalistic church hierarchies, as well as opposing the political powers that oppressed. In vacating the church as it manifests itself today, are people being post-Christian or more Christ-like? I think it is some of both, with unfortunately some people finding a more spiritual journey outside the bounds of the church than within.
I only wish that the church could be known for the good that it does, rather than the bad it decries.