There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about the biggest issues affecting Christianity in the United States. Most denominations are bleeding members and therefore bleeding money that is used to support not only local churches, but many of the vital ministries they try to carry out. But why is this happening?
First off, let me say that I am no expert on this. I don’t claim to have any kind of revelation or anything like that. I’m not any kind of authority. What I am is an everyday guy who works an everyday job with a lot of everyday people. I wear a cross necklace, and people ask me questions and give me their own thoughts on a fairly regular basis. You can launch all the studies and do all the polls you want, but at the end of the day I really believe what people tell you when they’re relaxed and inquisitive in a non-threatening situation usually hints more at truth.
First off, let’s talk about a couple of things that I DON’T really believe are major issues threatening us. Many people will point to the seeming rise of the “new atheists” and intellectual movements. The argument goes that the more and more people learn science, the less they will turn toward things like spirituality and religion. I believe that this is partly true, but it’s not a new issue. As Marcus Borg wrote in his book “The Heart of Christianity,” this is something that Christians and all religious faiths have been coming to grips with since the dawn of the Enlightenment.
But that doesn’t seem to be taking much root in the United States though, where our children tend to score low on science exams and the like. If there were a perfect correlation here, you’d expect our young people to be overly religious, but they’re not. Despite the shrillness of some in the “new atheist” movement, young people in America are not abandoning religion in general and Christianity in particular because of the revealing power of science. Most regular Americans will never read a book by Richard Dawkins, whether or not that is unfortunate for them is up for debate. (I’ve read several).
I am not anti-science in way, shape, or form. In fact, I love science! I have a degree in Forensics which is all about applying science to criminal investigations. I see two issues though. First, as we’ve seen with some botched forensics in big cases, the science is only as good as the person doing the science, and therefore it will always be subject to the error and whim of it’s human wielders. The nice thing about science is that unlike religion, it DOES come with a mechanism to correct itself when it is found to be in error, but that mechanism, the Scientific Method, is still wielded by imperfect people with their own agendas. Second, despite all the advancements made in science: the world income gap has grown, many people all over the world still go hungry everyday and lack potable water, and the advancements of science still seem to be busy coming up with newer and better ways for us to kill each other. Science has ended some wars in our world, but it has never addressed the issues that start them.
Science will not save us, and religion will keep walking alongside. It’s a pity that so many people think that the two have to be mutually exclusive.
The other thing that many people seem to think is the biggest issue facing Christianity is the so called “Culture War.” In the Culture War, we’re expected to pick sides on a multitude of issues and protect the so called “Christian stance” on these issues. The two biggest issues seem to be gay marriage and abortion. I’ll deal with each one in turn.
First off, the battle on gay marriage is over, whether you like it or not. It’s been weeks now since the Supreme Court legalized Marriage Equality throughout the country and despite all of the dire predictions the sky has not fallen, we have not been incinerated in holy fire, and churches are not being forced to marry gay people. There sure was a lot of fear mongering though. Let’s face facts. You still get to go to church where and when you want. You are still free to believe that gay marriage is some mortal sin. The government is not going to bash down your church door and make the pastor perform gay marriages. People aren’t going to “turn gay.” We’re not going to see a radical drop in population because “everybody is going to turn gay” (though a few less babies in the long run might be more sustainable for the planet….). You still get to go on your merry way and worry about what two adults do in their bedroom if that’s what you want. Killing gay marriage isn’t going to “save the church” and it certainly isn’t going to bring young people back to the church.
Now lets talk about abortion. Yep, we’re back on that now. With the culture war battle over gay marriage ending in defeat for the “Christian stance,” the would be holy roller warriors have returned to familiar ground trying to gain traction on the abortion issue, which is the definition of a useless political football. This has been given new life due to some undercover tapes of conversations with the president of Planned Parenthood (Satan’s own corporation don’t you know) that seemed to indicate that they were making a profit from selling parts of fetuses obtained in late term abortions. The tapes were shown to be heavily edited to distort the conversation, but since when have facts mattered in the culture war?
Look, I don’t like the practice of abortion. I generally find late term abortion to be especially detestable unless it’s medically necessary to ensure the life or health of the mother. But I don’t believe you have scores of women lining up all over the country to kill their unborn children out of convenience either. So many Christian “pro-lifers” that I talk to seem to have this picture that an abortion clinic is some place where evil Dr. Mengele types prey on teenage girls who wouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place if they would have just read their Bible.
No. I believe that many, if not most, women seeking a non medically necessary abortion are facing a tough circumstance in their life I believe that it’s often not an easy decision. I believe that many of them will have issues to face after the fact whether they carry the child to term or not. It’s just not as simple as we want to make it out to be. Should we require a rape victim to carry her assailant’s child to term? No it’s not the child’s fault, but it’s not the mother’s either. The mother is ultimately responsible and I believe that these things should be left to the woman and her doctor. It does not make me “pro-abortion.” It makes me “pro-choice,” and I believe that the job of Christians is not to condemn these women, but to seek to serve them and love them in the name of Christ, no matter what decision they make.
At any rate, banning abortion isn’t going to “save the church,” and it isn’t going to bring young people back either. Don’t forget that probably the best way to reduce abortions is to promote safe sex and a working knowledge of contraceptives, but that’s something else most “Christians” are against.
In fact, I think the biggest issue facing Christianity has to do with our response to these “culture war” issues. Most kids in America are brought up in what is at least a nominally Christian house. They hear the stories and they learn about Jesus. As kids grow up they begin to evaluate aspects of their lives and thought and see if they match up with what they observe in the world.
They don’t tend to see racial divides unless they’re contaminated with that ideology.
They don’t tend to believe that their gay friends are any different than they are.
They hear talk about loving God and loving neighbor.
They hear talk about feeding the hungry, serving the poor, and healing the sick.
They hear stories about Jesus doing those things.
AND THEN EVERYTHING THEY SEE IN MAINSTREAM CHRISTIAN CULTURE GOES AGAINST ALL OF THAT.
You see what I’m getting at? It’s hypocrisy of the highest order. It’s not practicing what you preach. Most Christians don’t have time to do deal with racial injustice, or they think black people being murdered at the hands of police deserve it. The loudest “Christians” in the United States spend many hours and many dollars degrading and dehumanizing our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and treating an unborn fetus in a womb as infinitely more important than the life and well being of the woman carrying it. Many of us have done away with serving the poor and feeding the hungry as we proclaim a gospel of prosperity that shouts from the Mountaintops:
“GOD WANTS YOU TO BE RICH, AND HE WANTS YOU TO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET THERE. BEING RICH MEANS YOU ARE BLESSED BY GOD.”
We have no desire to heal the sick either. National Healthcare? Of course not, you don’t expect me to give up some money out of my paycheck to help poor people with no job, do you? In that light, it’s interesting that that is exactly what the early church did in Acts. They gave up their own money and resources for the good of everyone. God didn’t like it when you held back selfishly (and lied about it) either. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5: 1-11).
No. Almost everybody I talk to who isn’t a Christian or who has left the church has the same complaint: “I like the teaching of Jesus a lot, but you don’t follow it. How can I believe in him and your message when you don’t act like you believe it either.” I know this argument well because it was MY ARGUMENT for nearly ten years, and I hear it nearly everyday from others.
No, science, gay people, and pro-choice people aren’t wreaking havoc on the church, Christian hypocrisy is doing fine all by itself, thank you. You can’t preach loving God and neighbor and then turn around and act like you don’t love anybody.
I wish we’d forget the anti-science attacks and the culture wars and spend more time putting our own houses in order. Only then can we “regain our saltiness” and truly carry out our mission for Christ.