I just read an article this morning about the latest Pew Study on Christian Religion in America. Today 25.4% of the population considers itself “Evangelical” versus 26.8% seven years ago. “Catholics” made up 24%…now it’s 21%. “Protestants” were 18% and now they are down to 14.7%. Twenty-three percent of the 35,000 people in the study are considered “Nones” …”None of the Above” …that is up from seven years ago when those who were “unaffiliated” made up 16% of the survey.
In a way those numbers don’t surprise me. nor does it surprise me that the number of people who call themselves atheist or agnostic are each up slightly from 1.5% to 3% and from 2.5% to 4%.
The most striking statistic to me is the discrepancy in the percentage of people who consider themselves to be Christian who were born from 1928-1945 versus those people born 1990-1996. Of the older generation, 85% of those surveyed considered themselves to be Christian. Only 56% of the younger generation considers themselves Christian (11%”Mainline Protestant” and 16% ‘Catholic”).
…But eight out of ten of the “Millennials” were raised in “religious” homes. What is happening? What is turning the younger people “off’ or “away”…what is going on here?
A quote from the article said, “Older generations of Americans are not passing along the Christian faith as effectively as their forebears… Christianity in the U.S. hasn’t done a good job of engaging serious Christian reflection with young people, in ways that would be relevant to their lives.”
I see this. All the time. Even in my own church and with my own kids. They are not going to accept the pat answers of the past. There is too much information for them to sift through and try to accept as true or false to take up anything that doesn’t ring true to them…and “Faith” has been one of the hardest things to try and explain to people who don’t “get it” or have not “gotten it” in a very personal way …usually it comes through a terrible trial or hardship…where an “un-explainable” outcome unfolds or an “un-explainable” peace is felt …except for the certain “un-explainable” knowledge that God has his hand in the workings and was “holding”us through it all.
That kind of experience is not transferable. It must be experienced first hand.
People who live a life of health, prosperity, comfort, being coddled…may have no concept of how that feels…
I had a conversation with my sister a couple of days ago. She is up in Boston at Seminary. It has been an interesting year for her…the first time in her life that she has lived outside of Tennessee… back after being out of college for 25 years…adjusting to a new town, a new school for her daughter, a new house and neighborhood, a new group of friends, a new church… and dealing with the worst winter that Boston has EVER had…
She has always been thoughtful…actually she is brilliant…and her new environment is wonderful and amazing and challenging and enlightening…but it is also raising all kinds of questions.
We didn’t talk for long, but she said that she was really looking forward to coming back “home” this summer to Tennessee to talk to my mom, and her pastor, and some of her close friends and me about a few things that she is having problems wrapping her head around (my words, not hers). First…segregation and racism.
That sounds a little crazy to me. I have basically always lived in the South…and for a good part of that time in a state that is known world-wide as historically one of the most racist places in the entire USA.
But maybe it isn’t really.
It sounds like we might get a really “bum rap” down here. You see, most of us white people are so ULTRA aware of our sordid past and the sins of our Grandfathers and Great (or not-so great) Grandfathers that we bend over backward to show that we are nothing like that…that we are open-minded and accepting and that we have learned from those mistakes
…that people are people no matter what color their skin is. Nobody down here is Truly White or Truly Black anyway anymore… most of us are shades or beige or coffee with lots of cream or a little cream.
I am not saying that there are no ugly thoughts or actions anymore and that everyone is hugging and loving on each other and every weekend we get together at mixed gatherings…but it is kind of like that. Sometimes
The most divisive separating factor is not race …but economics. There are elements of extreme poverty and of extreme wealth…and often-times down here in the South, that is what divides the races the most. It is more a lack of access to different…kids don’t have much of a chance to interact… except when their high school teams go across town to play each other on the field or in the gym. And to be fair…I think that the kids who don’t have many white kids at their school or kids who don’t have many black kids at their school don’t dislike the other race…they just don’t understand one another. And their own ignorance makes them uncomfortable.
It sounds like Northern Segregation and Racism in the year 2015 might be a different kind of thing than what we experience down here
…and then it sounds like Religion might be “a different kind of thing” too.
My sister attends what she considers a very affluent church in her community. My sister is not affluent. She is just “regular”…she makes enough money to pay her bills. Me too. And for some of us, that in itself is a huge blessing!
But this is the situation…another thing that makes me stop and pause…kind of like the way that it never occurred to me that the North might be more segregated and racist than the South…
People in the South generally go to church. It is just part of the cultural identity. You were raised Baptist….you grow up and have kids and take your kids to a Baptist church….or a Methodist church…or a Presbyterian church. There aren’t many Lutherans or Catholics in my neck of the woods…but there is a New Phenomenon….HUGE MEGA CHURCHES that are non-denominational. I completely understand the appeal. Usually the music is amazing…you can be anonymous if you want to be… or join in a “small group” if you want to have a ready group of women or men or couple friends that will meet regularly and talk about a topic you are interested in…or hike…or go to movies and dinner together. And the preacher at these Mega Churches is usually amazing. I am going to put in a plug for a local church here in Birmingham called Church of the Highlands. If you do not have a church home…and are not really looking for one…or if you live to far away to come to Alabama…watch Pastor Chris Hodges on-line. Seriously. Go back to several years ago (Like to the “Fresh Air” series of sermons…and then watch until you catch up…)
These Mega-churches become mega for a reason.
According to my sister, where she lives in Boston, people don’t really go to church unless they are true believers…unless they really want to be there.
In the South showing up at church can be a social club type thing…Who will you see? What will they have on? or a guilt trip type thing… If I don’t go they will know I stayed out too late last night…They will think that I am a terrible parent and that my kids are going to be heathens…
Or it can be a wonderful place to worship God with other people who love God and each other.
Apparently in the North, church is a place to plan out how to make the world/ community a better place.
But it sounds like, as is often the case with churches who have members who are wealthy and comfortable, the way to make the world a better place is by writing a check or showing up on a designated Saturday morning to help build a Habitat House.
Those are definitely good works…that absolutely serves a need. But where is the personal touch? Literally. Where is the personal connection….the seeing and meeting and talking to and listening to and understanding and caring about the Person? That is an investment…That to me is what we are supposed to be doing…the Following Jesus’s example part of being a Follower of Christ.
But what if that is not what people do…what if the culture of the Wealthy Believer is to help in the way that is simple and clean? Pen and check book out…Voila. No sweat, no tears, no mess.
When we remain comfortable (except maybe a slight strain on the bank account) we don’t get to experience the part of being a Servant that is the most meaningful…the connection. The heart to heart, eyeball to eyeball, soul to soul connection. And the interaction is not just for the receiving person…but for the one who is stopping what they are doing and making the person in front of them the most important person in the world…at least for that time. For that time, nothing else matters.
How can we ever understand what it is to love our neighbor if we don’t know our neighbor?
And too many of us don’t know our spouse or our kids or our parents or our siblings or our coworkers or the person beside us on the church pew or even our own self…much less the random person that we come into contact each day that would be considered “our neighbor”.
Love takes time and an investment and a sacrifice.
My sister asked hypothetically…”How do you change a culture?”
This is the replay given with complete certainty…
One person at a time.
…be gracious and generous. Stop and listen. Pay attention to the small child who is tugging on our pants leg … bend down and look at them in the eye and give them our undivided attention. Notice the moment that we are in. Stop missing the potential “appointments” with beauty ….gifts of nature given just for us to enjoy and to fill our heart. Stop seeing the people around us as a blur of humanity but see each person as an individual…Who needs to be noticed and seen? Who has been put right in front of you…or me? Have we considered that they are there not only because of what we can “do” for them…but perhaps what they can “do” for us? What might we learn from this old man…or this frazzled lady…or this little child? Do they seem to be unapproachable? Broken? Hurt? Sad? Distant? Alone? Angry? Afraid? Lost? Do we need to offer them something of our self? a smile…or word…a moment to see if they might have a word for us…Can the old pathway that has fallen into disrepair from lack of use be reestablished from their smile to their heart if only they experience that feeling again…will you help them rebuild? Give them a reason to smile again?
Are we missing these moments of connecting with the world around us because we are distracted? thinking about something that happened in the past or planning for the future? What if we stop worrying about how big the problems of the world …the country …the day …our lives are for a moment?
…and give the bird or the sunset or the breeze… or the Person who has come into our presence…our complete and undivided attention.
what would that look like?
Beautiful- ness. I can’t imagine anything more lovely.
It would look like Care. Hope.
And… it would be such a powerful message that Every One and Every Thing is special and important that the giver of the moment and the recipient of the moment and the Giver of All Good Things would be tied together…even if briefly…in a union that could heal. It would heal. I know it. It could heal the world one person at a time. And then each newly made whole, newly restored, newly transformed person would go from being the Receiver to the Giver. The transformation would occur in both the giver and receiver…and the feeling would be so powerful that it would not be possible to contain for either. Over and over each person who had experienced this connection of heart and soul would be awakened to the power. They would recreate and emulate the moment. They will give away what they experienced…a gift…generosity of time and attention. Connection. Care. Hope. Love.
And it goes on. And on. And people no longer will just be satisfied writing a check or building a home for an unknown person in need. There will be a desire to not just change a circumstance but to change a life. To heal…together. To love one another.
When our heart desires above all else to be like Jesus, then we will change the world. One person at a time.
When we begin to live like Jesus with the care and the concern and the love for our fellow human, then I will not be overly concerned with the Pew Study. We won’t need to take a survey to see changes in human opinion or behavior…we will actually see changes in human Living.
That will be beautiful -ness.
I can’t wait. I see it coming. It starts with me. And you.