Very often, I get emails from strangers who have read one of the many things I've written over the years for the Huffington Post on the fate of the Church in America.
I got another email again yesterday. This time, the inquirer, himself a writer himself for a major religious publication, wanted to know whether I thought the Church in all its communal expressions would have a brighter and more hopeful future than it appears today.
Here was my immediate response. I could have said much more. But what I did mention to him and recorded below would be good places to start in my opinion in the creation of a more hopeful future for the Church in America.
It is not so complicated either. I have written about this before. But here is a refresher for those who, like me, believe the Church is dying, or at least on life support, and must change or it will die.
Is the Church Dying?
1. First, If the Church wishes to have any kind of viable future, it must stop pretending the Bible is an infallible book written by God and dictated through Divinely-inspired and inerrant writers.
There is no such thing as an infallible Bible, just as there is no such thing as an infallible Koran. Which many fundamentalist Muslims believe.
This matter was settled by scripture scholarship decades ago. Frankly, I, for one, am so over this religious nonsense perpetrated still on the masses of uninformed but sincere religious people by nothing less than ignorant Biblicists and even dishonest religious leaders.
It's time religious people grow up and stop reading the Bible, if they read it at all, like it were a rule book dropped out of the sky by God herself. Furthermore, the Bible is not a book of magic which, when quoted in "the name of Jesus" suddenly becomes a magicians wand enabling to pull whatever proverbial rabbit you need from a hat.
Is the Church Dying?
2. Second, the Church will have to end its losing war with science, biology, and anthropology, if it expects to have any kind of reputable future.
These are not the Church's enemies.
You might not like what Darwin taught. But the only reason any Christian would not is because Darwin all but ruined our little creation myth in Genesis we had been telling ourselves for centuries about the origins of the universe.
Religious people wage a losing war with what Darwin and the entire scientific community world wide knows and accepts today - and, that is, that human beings are like everything else in this universe, an evolving species.
Does that mean Darwin got it all right? Of course not. No more so than you and I always get everything right.
But the Church does itself no favors by pretending he was wrong about everything.
In fact, it makes the Church the laughingstock of the world when religious leaders in the Church seek to perpetuate the myth that there was a time in history when humans were perfect or created in perfection from which they fell. This is the myth we told ourselves for a long, long time.
Then, Darwin appeared.
He showed us that there was no such time in human history. Now, if you want the truth, that's the truth. You don't have to like it. But eventually, if you care at all about the future of the Church, you will either have to update your theology...your anthropology, too...and, instead of fighting Darwin, you will have to instead find a knew way to explain the human condition. In other words, the old, old story does not work anymore.
The Church will have to find another way of explaining what went wrong with humans than by trying to make the myth stories of Genesis into little scientific treatises on the origins of the universe and the explanation for the "fall." I'll write about an alternative way of understanding the human story, as well as human sin, in a future HuffPost article.
Is the Church Dying?
3. Third, the church has lost its war against gender and race and sex and the discrimination it has waged in those contexts for decades.
Those days are over.
Any institution, including the Church, that continues to perpetuate this discriminatory madness is on the wrong side of history and will be discredited, disregarded, and avoided by the majority of thinking people.
In fact, such institutions, including the Church, that continue to perpetrate discrimination against people the institution may pretend to "love" but despises or resents overall, will disappear.
The death of these institutions is not likely to happen in your lifetime or mine. But, slowly, observably, and, ultimately, those churches and denominations that keep waging this war will lose and die. It is part of the widespread declines we have been observing in churches of all stripes for decades. The declines will only get steeper.
The Church has all but died in many places in Europe already. Most churches, as almost anybody knows who has visited there in the last four decades, are mostly just museums kept open only because they are government funded, tourist attractions.
Now, having said all of this, here's what I think on the other side of this question: Is the Church Dying? The answer is an unequivocal "Yes." However, I also believe, if the Church would just make the changes implied in the three observations above, then it is possible the Church's future would be brighter than it is today.
But, even it it chooses not to change, there is a remnant within the Church that recognizes this grave dangers already and that remnant of persons are aggressively seeking to change things. I meet this remnant all over America. I consider myself part of it. Which is why I have not given up on the Church entirely.
Although, I confess, there are many days I wonder if its worth the effort.