Monday, March 24, 2014

Why Saying Goodbye to Christian America Is a Good Thing

Pew Research on Religion and Public Life has been monitoring for some time now the gradual decline in religious (particularly Christian) commitment in the U.S. The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown in recent years. 

About one-fifth of the public overall–and a third of the adults under age 30–are religiously unaffiliated as of 2012 when this research was conducted. A full one-third of U.S. adults do not consider themselves a “religious person.”

Recently David Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, wrote an article for ABPnews/Herald titled, “Saying Goodbye to Christian America.” He observed that there was a time when Christian symbols and values dominated American life. 

Gushee wrote: “The town square said it all. With the First Baptist Church catty-corner to the courthouse, and the same people essentially running both, not to mention the schools and the Chamber of Commerce around the corner, this was a pretty cozy little world. . . . The city council opened its work with prayers by the Baptist preacher, juries were instructed with Bible quotes and politicians ran for office exuding Christian rhetoric. And the kids were led in the Lord’s prayer over at the elementary school. There was one more or less coherent moral world, and it was drenched in semi-official Christianity. All of that has been changing visibly since the 1960’s . . .”

There are some, perhaps many Christians mourning this loss of power and influence, feeling worried, fearful, and insecure. I’m not one of them. 

It seems to me that whenever Christianity becomes enmeshed in the dominant culture and social power structures of the day, it loses its distinct message and transformative impact. Jesus too easily is made to conform to the prevailing dominant social and cultural landscape.

As we observe Lent and make our way to the cross, it’s important to remember that Jesus was rejected and crucified because he confronted the religious and social culture with an alternative vision of a just world and challenged conventional wisdom and practice.

Maybe the current state of Christianity in America is good for Christianity. It seems to me that the church always exhibits more spiritual power when it functions as the yeast, rather than the dough.


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