Monday, March 5, 2012

LOSING MY RELIGION

~Please give this song a listen before reading~


R.E.M. just broke up as a group after 30 years of great music, they have always been one of my favorite groups. 
I have been doing a great deal of reading about the decline of churches in the Western World. Gallup did a survey in 2008 and the Barna Group did similar work in 2009 -- they came out with these results:
  • Between 1948 and 2008 the percentage of Americans who identified themselves with some sort of Christianity has dropped from 91% to 77%.
  • Even though 77% of Americans claim a Christian faith, only 59% are affiliated with any church.
  • America is now sharing the same rates of decline as Western European countries.
  • Church leaders from America and Europe are now asking Christians in Africa and South America why their churches are growing.
  • A good example is the Anglican Church, the Church of England. In all of the UK there are 13.4 million members professing the Anglican faith. The number in Africa is 38.6 million. (BBC)
  • Mainline Protestant denominations in America are also seeing a mass exodus.
  • The Catholic Church, rocked by the blatant cover-ups of child molestation, likewise are seeing their numbers drop in America and Western Europe.
There are two books have really caught my eye over the past few months. They are:
Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity ...and Why it Matters by David Kinnaman.
See below for link
And his second book: You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith.
See below for link
If you are a Christian, you should pick these up. You probably won't like what you read. These books were written after research was done with the age group from 16-29. These are the kids we raised and they heard us talk about family values, and saw divorce. They heard us talk about living holy lives and saw clergy and church leaders embroiled in moral catastrophes. They heard us say that the Bible is the Word of God and saw division, fracturing and in-fighting over stupid and minuet points of doctrine.  We would read to them about the simple life of Jesus and they watched us amass more and more of the trappings of a materialistic world. They, like many others - just gave up on the whole thing The main areas they find fault with Christians from Unchristian are these:
  • Hypocrisy ("Everyone in my church gave me advice about how to raise my son, but a lot of the time they seemed to be reminding me that I have no husband -- and besides, most of them were not following their own advice. It made it hard to care what they said. They were not practicing what they preached." Victoria, 24)
  • Get Saved ("Christians are too concerned with converting people. They are insincere. All I ever hear is 'Get Saved' I tried that whole 'Jesus thing' already. It didn't work for me before, and I am not interested now." Shawn, 22)
  • Anti-homosexuality ("Many people in the gay community don't seem to have issues with Jesus but rather those claiming to represent him today. It's very much an 'us-versus-them' mentality, as if a war has been declared. Of course each side thinks the other fired the first shot." Peter, 34)
  • Sheltered ("Christians enjoy being in their own community. The more they seclude themselves, the less they can function in the real world. So many Christians are caught in the Christian 'bubble'." Jonathan, 22)
  • Too Political (Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics. "Looking at it from the outside today, this message seems to have been lost in exchange for an aggressive political strategy that demonizes segments of society." Brandon, 32)
  • Judgmental ("Christians talk about hating the sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is. They hate the sin and the sinner." Jeff, 25)
Now before you get defensive, please read on. I am sure I lost some readers with just the list above.
I believe that there is a connection between the decline of Christianity in the Western World and among the next generation. When Jesus ministered to people, they were the marginalized. He spent his time with tax collectors, harlots, rough fishermen, political extremists - one disciple was Simon the Zealot and even some gentiles. The mainstream religious leaders opposed him at every front until they could orchestrate his public execution. Christianity began as a bottom up movement. It wasn't affiliated with the power structures of its day. Over the 2,000 years since that time, it became a major player in the powers-that-be. Even today, the Church does not want to give up its grasp on power. We are currently in an election cycle and we hear about the "Evangelical"or "Catholic" votes. Politicians placate to these demographics and are attempting to capture that power base. 
This is the same Church that Jesus described in these words:
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked.
'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'
He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said:
'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like
little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 18:1-4 / NIV)
The explosive growth of Christianity in South America and Africa should shame us in the Western World. The New English Bible translates the first beatitude in Matthew 5 as follows:
"Blessed are those who know their need of God, 
for to them belongs the kingdom of God"
The words of Jesus still resonate with those who have been marginalized. The Western World stands amazed that the Third World is embracing Christianity. We are so sophisticated, educated, scientific and intellectually superior - we have no need of God.  As for our young people, what do we expect? Aside from the list above, they have been raised with MTV, the Internet and instant access to knowledge. Our kids have grown up skeptical. If we could abandon the whole; Who has the biggest church? Who has the most followers? Who is right? -- and focus on the ministry Jesus called us to, we may just start to see that Christianity is relevant. Jesus called us to be servants not masters. He called us to be a source of love acceptance, reconciliation and forgiveness, NOT prejudice, judgment, division, elitism and various political agendas. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I pray that I can be more like Jesus in the ways I interact with those around me.
In the meantime -- love your kids and one another!
Peace, ~Al