Monday, March 21, 2016

Handwriting on the Wall: What's the Surprisingly Good News about the Decline of Religion in the US?

by Nomad

A interesting podcast about one man's call for an open discussion at a Christian website and the surprising results.
News about the overall decline of religion in American actually may be good news for a Church that has disconnected from the real world. 

The Impossibility of Dialogue

If you've never heard of On the Media,(OTM) you might need a small introduction. It's one of NPR fastest growing programs and is now heard on 300 public radio stations. These weekly one-hour shows cover a range of topics focused primarily on how the media shapes our lives and our opinions.

In the featured podcast, we meet a young man named Will Rogers from Texas. After discovering a website named GodTube- a kind of YouTube for Christians, The site is sponsored by Liberty University, the old stomping ground of Jerry Falwell.
After exploring the site, Rogers was disappointed at seeing how the people he met there seemed so  cut off from the larger world. Quite literally, they were preaching to the choir.
Where was the dialogue in that?

To rectify what he saw as a stumbling block of his faith, he set out to start a dialogue of different perspectives. What happened next, Meredith Haggerty reports, was not exactly what Rogers had anticipated.

Here's the podcast.

Pew Finds Empty Pews

Roger's story provides context for the finding of a recent Pew Research Center poll that shows that the percentages who say they believe in God, pray daily and regularly go to church or other religious services all have declined modestly in recent years.

That survey also made another equally important discovery.  
"...religiously affiliated people appear to have grown more religiously observant in recent years. The portion of religiously affiliated adults who say they regularly read scripture, share their faith with others and participate in small prayer groups or scripture study groups all have increased modestly since 2007.
It implies a slight trend of shrinking isolation, a growing distance from anybody who doesn't share exactly the same articles of faith.

As Rogers learned, even an open dialogue and free discussion is seen as something unwelcome or something that needs to be "fixed" and, perhaps, a sign of a lost soul. 
And roughly four-in-ten religiously affiliated adults (41%) now say they rely mainly on their religious beliefs for guidance on questions about right and wrong, up 7 percentage points in seven years."
All this implies that religions by and large are having a stronger impact on fewer people. 

The Millennial Exodus

In terms of Christianity, the news is even worse. A Pew Research poll showed that, in a survey of 35,000 American adults, the Christian percentage of the population has been dropping precipitously, to 70.6%. While this is high for any other industrialized country, it represents a sharp decline for the US.
(All graphs on this page, by the way, come from this site and from information collected by Gallup.)

That Pew Research Center finding about the decline of religion holds true in "almost every major branch of Christianity in the United States." All Christian sects have lost a significant numbers.

The chief demographic responsible for the decline is, you guessed it, young people. It's mostly millennials that are tuning out the Christian message.
More than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points since 2007.
As CNN reported last May,  millennials are not the only people exiting the church:
Whether married or single, rich or poor, young or old, living in the West or the Bible Belt, almost every demographic group has seen a significant drop in people who call themselves Christians, Pew found.

Rejecting a Church Based on Intolerance

But where's the millennial's beef? To answer that requires making some generalities that could be exaggerations or inaccurate.

“Our generation has been advertised at our whole life, and even now on social media. Consequently, when a company isn’t being authentic with their story we can easily see through this. If the church isn’t giving you the whole story, if it’s sugarcoated and they’re trying to put on an act on stage, people in their 20s will see through this. This causes us to leave. We’re good at seeing when people are lying to us.”
It doesn't help perhaps when evangelist groups enter into the disgusting, dread-inspiring world of politics, taking positions which are seen as intolerant or discriminatory. 

The coming generation argues that to be a Christian cannot mean to love (or even speak to) only people who think, dress and act like you do. If that's the product you are selling, then millenials prefer to leave it on the shelf.

A closer look also tells us that millennials have a very different idea of diversity than the Baby Boomers. It is "in stark contrast to older generations that view diversity through the lens of morality (the right thing to do), compliance, and equality.” 

Diversity isn't just a kumbaya moment beside a fire, a bottle of wine on the beach. Diversity is a way of living together.
this generation is already comfortable with the idea of diversity in a traditional sense and they’re looking to expand the definition, which could be a good thing.
For people who have accepted fully a diverse culture, any religion based on isolating dividing up people will have problems keeping millennials. Too many Christians, millennials seem to be telling us, seem eager to judge first than to listen respectfully in silence. 
In any event, rejecting people isn't a very practical way to increase the size of a congregation. 

Take the issue of same-sex marriage. One editorial from the Church of the 20somethings points out the hypocrisy of pretend Christians. While the Internet was bursting at the seams with "Love wins!" messages on social media. 

However, that's not what many Christians were saying. When they heard the news of the Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage in all 50 states, they went into fits.
These were, the writer notes:
The people who were commanded by their leader to love one another above all other things. The one's who will be known as Jesus's disciples by their love. In fact, I've seen a lot of the exact opposite from Christians. If we are supposed to be known by our love, Jesus must have had his head in his hands 
The point of the editorial wasn't to offer a debate whether homosexuality was right or wrong, the writer stresses. It was about truly accepting the principle of love that the Church was supposed to be based on.   
If you want 20-somethings to stick around your church, you have to love people. People includes ALL people.
You can't welcome people into the church and then tell people they don't qualify to be loved because they hold different opinions and lead different lives. Hating on people, gay or straight, Muslim or Jew or atheist, black or white, rich or poor, is not going to work. 
"Above all, love each other deeply," the Bible tells us. "because love covers over a multitude of sins."

Until that attitude changes, there will continue to be a mass exodus of young people.

Actually, looking at it in another way, this isn't really bad news. It could be interpreted as a sign of hope. It could be argued that this is a normal reaction to a Church that apparently has forgotten its core principle: that love conquers everything but hate destroys from within.