The more Evangelical Christianity attempts to directly influence the culture surrounding it, the more people respond by running away. That’s the inescapable conclusion of thirty to forty years of The Gospel of Self, what we taught at CBN during the 1980s, along with the rise of televangelism in the U.S. It’s a heady thing to be thrust into the spotlight with massive audiences, absent the governors of tradition and introspection, and then use such pulpits to steer the culture into a radically conservative direction. It has shredded the tapestry that is America and given us a president who tickles their ears to get what he wants from them. People not so inclined to march in lock step with their politics are fleeing this version of “the church” at record levels, especially young people.
This is evident in a massive new study of religion in the U.S. ― America’s Changing Religious Identity ― by the Public Religion Research Institute, PRRI. Here are the 14 key findings from the study:
White Christians now account for fewer than half of the public.
White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics.
Non-Christian religious groups are growing, but they still represent less than one in ten Americans combined.
America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian.
The Catholic Church is experiencing an ethnic transformation.
Atheists and agnostics account for a minority of all religiously unaffiliated.
There are 20 states in which no religious group comprises a greater share of residents than the religiously unaffiliated.
No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi.
The cultural center of the Catholic Church is shifting south.
Jews, Hindus, and Unitarian-Universalists stand out as the most educated groups in the American religious landscape.
Asian or Pacific-Islander Americans have a significantly different religious profile than other racial or ethnic groups.
Nearly half of LGBT Americans are religiously unaffiliated.
White Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party.
White evangelical Protestants remain the dominant religious force in the GOP.
Alexis de Tocqueville wouldn’t recognize America today, for the biggest religion in the U.S. is now none at all, which doesn’t surprise observers like David Hayward, the Naked Pastor (”a virtual pastor for the unshepherdable”). Much of his life today involves dealing with the dissatisfied and disenchanted who’ve left affiliation with “the church” but not necessarily their personal faith.
I see this phenomena daily on my blog and across my social media platforms. This is largely my audience, and they are pretty much the only ones who “get” what I do. The “unaffiliated”, or “nones” as some call them, is a growing number as the church continues to become increasingly irrelevant in relation to justice, social and personal needs, and ideology. It’s increasingly out of touch! Some churches try to make a virtue of this and become more faith-centric. But more and more people will no longer tolerate the cognitive dissonance the church demands.
The view of those unaffiliateds is further explored in another new study by the Baylor Religion Survey, “American Values, Mental Health, and Using Technology in the Age of Trump.” Two-thirds of those with no religious affiliation believe conservative Christians want to limit freedoms, and one-third believe these Christians are an actual threat to their safety. This is a powerful statement about how far Evangelicals are seen to have taken their cultural protests politically. They are Donald Trump’s core support at a time when over six in ten Americans disapprove of the job he’s doing as President.
An Obsession With Sex
It’s always been intriguing that Christianity can search everywhere except in the mirror to understand its current state, and nowhere is this clearer than in its intractable and contemptuous views of humanity when it comes to sex. The controversial Nashville Statement is a document about sex, as is the current controversy in Australia about same sex marriages (ssm). Even the argument over abortion is, at core, not really about the “killing of babies” as much as it is about sex. The abortion rate is now lower than it was when Roe-v-Wade became law, but we don’t talk about that progress. Why? Because it’s largely due to birth control, a matter about which the church still largely disapproves.
The Australian High Court ruled 7-0 last week to dismiss challenges to the Federal Government’s $122 million same-sex marriage postal survey, clearing the way for it to go ahead. The paper, which is going out this month, will ask: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Opposition to the measure is revealing, as in this statement by Kathy Clubb, editor of The Freedoms Project:
We’re concerned that children are exposed to highly sexualised school programs. And most of all, we’re concerned that redefining marriage is more about limiting the rights of Christians than about letting homosexuals marry.
Those “rights” are clarified by Neil Foster of Law and Religion Australia:
whether religious celebrants will be required to solemnise same sex marriages;
whether other celebrants, not formally associated with a religious group, will be so required;
whether religious groups will be required to host same sex weddings on their premises;
whether public servants who are employed in registry offices will be allowed to exercise their religious freedom to decline to solemnise such marriages;
whether small business owners in the “wedding industries” (such as cake makers, florists, photographers, stationary designers, and wedding organisers) will be permitted to decline to use their artistic talents for the celebration of a relationship that God tells them is not in accordance with his purposes for humanity.
There have been a number of significant cases overseas … where business owners (a florist or a baker, for example) have been perfectly happy to provide general business services to a same sex attracted person. But there is a world of difference between selling someone a meat pie for their lunch, and being asked to devote artistic talents to the “celebration” of a relationship, at the core of which is a rejection of a Biblical view of appropriate sexual behaviour.
“Appropriate sexual behavior!” So the matter, again, is about sex and not Christian freedoms or civil rights for same-sex couples. Conservative Christians seem to see a demon under every rock when it comes to anything other than copulation within the marriage of a man and a woman. Political zeal to this end knows no bounds, and one who attempts to view the issue with an open mind is left to wonder if this group believes that approval of anything else means they’ll somehow catch what they view as a kind of infection.
Once again, I’m not a theologian, but I don’t think a theological explanation is required or even desired here. Plain and simply, a religious faith that was designed to attract people through the loving behavior of its disciples is actively pushing them away instead, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of brainpower to figure out why. By emphasizing politics, Evangelical Christianity has shifted its focus from dependence on God to dependence on its own ability to manage the world around it, a recipe that has gone bad even before it was fully baked. We fool ourselves with the belief that nobody’s paying attention while we try to live life on our own terms, but our young people - and others - are not so deceived. We fool ourselves into thinking that we’re “loving” people around us by leading them in “the right direction,” when we’re actually hating them with everything we’ve got. Forever pointing judgmental fingers at others, we read every occurrence in the world - every earthquake, every hurricane, every flood - with apocalyptic eyes, confident that it’s all designed to make us come out on top.
In human relations, it doesn’t matter what WE think; it’s about how people respond, and their clear response is to walk (or run) away. Don’t we get that? Maybe rather than pushing people away, we ought instead to give space to thoughts about why. No one is above criticism or critical thoughts and comments. No one.
Of course, there are many Christians who see this rigidity as totally virtuous. Moreover, any rejection of their view is explained away as persecution for standing up for right versus wrong. The turn-off is inevitable, they think, because the world rejected Jesus before, and He warned that in following Him, we would suffer that same rejection. And so they march forward with eyes blinded to any other possibility, including that they are walking into a pit that has been dug for them by their own need to save themselves from eternity in hell, no matter what. I call that the gospel of self.
So who cares if we turn people off in the process? At least our own asses will be saved.
Or maybe not.