Friday, May 15, 2015

The future of the American church

What will the Christian church in the United States look like in the next generation? And who will be part of it? Only God knows for sure. But, as the song goes, “the times, they are a-changin’.”

The Pew Research Center, which measures numbers, noted that the results of a survey released earlier this week indicated that the percentages of Americans not affiliated with any religious group has risen sharply, nearly eight percentage points, over the past seven years, driven largely by the so-called millennial generation. The survey didn’t try to explain comprehensively why this is happening, but I have my suspicions.

I suspect too much of an emphasis on and expectation of maintaining “tradition.”

Long gone, of course, are the days where you were born, reared, married and died in one singular faith tradition without questioning. But it seems to me a lot of that has to do with the growing lack of insularity between different traditions, with people moving among them as never before around the time I was coming up. (Until 1998 I was a lifelong Presbyterian of a fairly conservative bent; while I still think of myself as Reformed, that theological school is not a “test of fellowship.”)

I do get concerned, however, with my generation’s emphasis since the 1980s on a national “Christian heritage,” with a couple of state legislatures working on bills to make the Bible their official book. And I wonder if people in their 20s and 30s — those who would be the ages of my children if I had any — are rebelling against that because a higher percentage of the “nones” come from that generation than the population at large.

You see, “tradition” implies “establishment,” to which God never called us as a church because when you become establishment you invariably also become liberal, watering down some Biblical essentials for the sake of getting along in society. What became the religious right beginning in the 1970s and drove the culture war some 30 years ago melded conservative politics with liberal theology, with the fight against “gay rights” actually fitting into that category because all the Bible has always said about homosexuality is, in essence, “Don’t bring that into the church.” Trouble is, our efforts to marginalize gays then have in fact backfired tremendously, with even a number of evangelicals supporting same-gender matrimony.

Some folks are already saying that American society will crumble if people stop going to church; I question that because Europe has been pretty secular for decades, if not centuries, but tends toward stability. I suspect they fear a loss of privilege, an understanding that their values aren’t to be challenged or even questioned. But to me, it also signifies a lack of trust in God to preserve His people, especially since many of them cry “persecution” at the drop of a hat. (Truth be told, you can’t be persecuted if you’re in a position of power.)

I can’t say with any certainty just what the future holds for the church in American society. But I do know Who holds that future so I’m not worrying about it, and we may simply need to adjust.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Praying against Hillary?

In 2008, I received a chain email imploring Christians to pray that Barack Obama would be defeated. (I responded that it was an appropriate request that God wouldn’t honor.) Next year, faced with the near-inevitability that Hillary Clinton will take the White House, I’m sure that some will pray the same useless prayer.

So if you’re praying now that someone will defeat her, stop it. Tout de suite.

To understand why, consider the motivation for people to pray for the defeat of another: Lack of trust in God to preserve His people. In fact, the eyes of those do so are clearly not on Him; they want to tell Him what to do so that they can live in this country under the assumption that their convictions rule the culture. In other words, it’s about nothing but self-preservation, and when He’s not trusted He’s under no compulsion to act.

It could be that things could get even worse the more they pray. Not only will she have access to an ark of cash, which people will gladly give her, and an unprecedented army of volunteers, but any complaints from her enemies will be — and in fact are already being — met with derision. That is to say, the doom-and-gloom scenarios about which they “prophesy,” I would say falsely, will cause people to vote for her to spite them and make her even more popular. I thus predict that the manufactured email and Benghazi “scandals” will come to naught. If anything, her candidacy could be a boon for Democrats nationwide.

Bottom line, if you have to spend your time and energy denouncing the person you don’t like, that means that someone you do like must not have all that much, in anything at all. You’ve thus already lost, sorry to say.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Baltimore — a game-adjuster?

Another urban riot of course has taken place as the result of a death of an African-American man in police custody, this time in Baltimore. And of course, the first thing people think about is white racist cops out to brutalize the black community.

What’s different about this is — well, much of Baltimore’s political leadership is black. And, in a twist, six cops have been indicted on homicide charges. Oh, and by the way, three of the cops are black. So what may be going on here?

I have two theories.

One, if my experience is any indication, the black community in many cases suffers from social isolation — some of that, frankly self-inflicted. I grew up in a black neighborhood that wasn’t “ghetto,” and yet I found few neighbors in many of the places that I frequented as a child. (Mom, not being a native of Pittsburgh, used to take us to a lot of cultural events, such as a “Nutcracker” performance every Christmas, a marionette theatre troupe and a local conservatory that to this day sponsors a quarterly flower show.) I personally loved going to Three Rivers Stadium to watch the Pirates play but as a teen routinely went to games alone.

Which, for me, raised the question: Why didn’t we go to such places? And it seemed that because I enjoyed such events, and still do, I was persona non grata among my black peers for being too “white.” (You wouldn’t believe just how much of an issue that was back then.) In fact, some years ago I learned that many black residents of the Los Angeles area have never seen the Pacific Ocean despite being a relatively short drive.

According to another article, I think in The New Republic, many African-Americans in the ‘hood have roots in the South, which subscribes to an “honor culture” where, if you’re offended, you literally take the law into your own hands because of lack of trust in the political system. That explained a few things, such as their unwillingness to “snitch” on drug-dealers ravaging their communities — and, if one chart is to be believed, the states with the highest number of deaths per capita are in the South, with Louisiana at the top. This may be why “Stop the Violence!” marches, of which we have at least one in Pittsburgh every year, have precious little effect, not to mention mistrust of the cops.

Needless to say, such issues don’t lend themselves to easy solutions. But at least they may open some eyes.