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.

 

Church Marketing and Political Issues

Six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Americans – adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – say the questioning of religious teachings is a very important reason for their lack of affiliation. The second-most-common reason is opposition to the positions taken by churches on social and political issues, cited by 49% of respondents (the survey asked about each of the six options separately). Smaller, but still substantial, shares say they dislike religious organizations (41%), don’t believe in God (37%), consider religion irrelevant to them (36%) or dislike religious leaders (34%).

Source: Why America’s ‘nones’ don’t identify with a religion | Pew Research Center

One word: Marketing.

Why People Do or Don’t Go To Church

Interesting stats about the reasons Americans attend or do not attend church regularly…

“For instance, two-thirds of people who cite logistical reasons or that they “practice their faith in other ways” as very important factors in keeping them away from religious services identify with a religion (primarily Christianity), as do 56% of those who dislike features of particular congregations or religious services. Roughly half of those who say they practice their faith in other ways also report praying every day, as do 44% of those who name logistical reasons as key factors in keeping them away from church and 36% of those who dislike elements of services and congregations. By contrast, just 15% of those who do not attend religious services due to a lack of belief say they pray daily.”

via Pew Research Center Religion and Public Life

Romans 13 and American Appeals to Authority of the Government

Good read on the historical uses of Romans 13 in American history to justify obedience to the government in light of our Attorney General’s use of that text today to defend the deplorable and immoral and utterly un-Christian internment camps we’re setting up along the Mexican border for children that we’re forcibly separating children from their asylum-seeking parents…

As I wrote at my own blog, I’m not sure we should “act as if the New Testament has any kind of authority over the religiously plural officer corps that protects a democratic republic that separates church and state.” But Pence is hardly the first prominent American to make such public use of these Christian scriptures — though what they mean has been hotly contested since even before the Republic won its independence.

— Read on www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2017/05/mike-pence-romans-13/

“Where did Angels come from?”

I got asked that question during a Sunday School class on Old Testament conceptions of the divine a few years back. I struggled to gather my thoughts quickly and do that Middle School Teacher “Well, actually… it’s very interesting you see…” thing.

But it is a long and interesting history to process how we went from the regional deity of Yahweh to having monotheism to having the middle tier of gods deleted and the lower tier of gods transformed into individual angels with specific names and identities etc.

It’s hard for modern Christians to hear, but we shouldn’t always take the easy route of reading our own modern conceptions of the divine spheres back into texts like Genesis…

Good post here with more of the history behind the concept:

Since they no longer posed a threat to Yahweh, angels began to gain individuality, leading to the explosion of interest in the angelic and demonic worlds in late Second Temple times. The shift to a single-god system led to another late Second Temple split with seeds in Genesis 6 and a full flowering in the Christian New Testament: the lowest divine tier further divided into good angels and bad angels or demons (see, for example, Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7-9). These beings fight not over supremacy in heaven, but rather over the souls of humanity. This final movement established the basic framework shared by Christian and Islamic monotheism—a single, universal god whose rule is contested by demonic figures.

— Read on www.asor.org/anetoday/2018/06/Making-of-Monotheism