Response to “America’s Empty-Church Problem”

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

Source: America’s Empty-Church Problem – The Atlantic

This piece does a good job in summarizing the overall tilt towards secularism in America and its effects across the political spectrum. I agree with the above sentiment that the decline in church membership is helping to steer our country towards an atmosphere of conflict and zero-sum games.

However, there’s a good deal to unpack here. For one, there are all sorts of overlooked privileges incorporated with projecting that “things were better when we all went to church.” Second, conflating complicated movements like Trumpism, Bernieism, and Black Lives Matter into causations based on church attendance is problematic at best. Third, we can’t overlook the very real damage that many churches and associated hierarchies have done to children and adults over the last century, from misogyny to blatant racism and sexism to sexual abuse of children and young people.

My main pushback, however, would be the first sentence in the snippet above. Hierarchy, authority, and tradition are certainly values that some churches instill in their congregants. But, as someone from the Baptist tradition, I bristle at such overarching statements about what values churches instill. Our tradition emphasizes religious freedom over hierarchy, soul competency of each believer over authority, and congregational determinism over tradition. Of course, that has led to a whole host of problems for us in Baptist life, but it’s a reality that doesn’t get expressed when all of American Christendom is pitched into one descriptive bucket.

I would have ended this piece in a way that framed church as an opportunity to experience a different reality (I’m coming at this from someone who is ordained in a faith tradition, of course) and how it’s good for each of us to hear that we aren’t the center of the universe, we should be kind to each other no matter what, we should consider the lilies more often, and the ability to love others as themselves is the ultimate measure of a person. Those are things we Americans need to hear more often.

Oh, and wear a good suit at least once a week.

 

Published by Sam Harrelson

I'm the head of Harrelson, where we work with churches, nonprofits, and businesses on marketing strategy and consulting. This has been my personal blog about marketing, tech, religion, art, history, scifi, family, and life in general since 2006.

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