Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Decline and Fall of Christian America

A lot of buzz has been generated by a recent article published by Newsweek magazine. Every Christmas and Easter, journalists often feel the need to write articles that celebrate anything that undermines Christian faith. Articles like "the Real Jesus" appear when Christian celebration is at its best.

The article came as President Obama was speaking to a group of Muslims in Turkey about religion in the United States. He was speaking to a group of people for whom being a Christian is a crime. So, it made sense to talk about our idea of the freedom of religion, and the fact that our government does not endorse any religion as the "state" religion.

I don't see what the big deal is. Statistics have shown for years that since the 1960's, when all institutions were under seige, that those who claim to be Christian has gone down in number. How to explain?

First of all, the assumption is that whatever the public thinks is popular must make it right. In other words, if fewer people believe in and practice Christian faith then that shows it is just not true. The writers say that it is not relevant. Well, who can claim, really, that a life of self-sacrifice is relevant to people whose lives are built around self-worship? If by relevance we mean that something is popular, then the only thing that is popular is money and greed. The value of self-worship is always relevant to the worldly culture.

Second,we are growing more secular. You could say that this is a result of a concerted effort by the media and schools, etc., to reduce the influence of religion. Or, to put it more clearly, when children are taught at school and on television every day, by the absence of any talk about God, that God either doesn't exist or that Christians are just well, stupid, we are seeing those children grow up without any knowledge of anything religious. Parents who want their children to be Christians will have to work harder to teach them. Churches will have to do a better job of teaching children about faith.

Third, some of the decline of Christian faith in our culture can be blamed on Christians and the church. When we say we believe in God and Christ and still live just like everybody else, when we are just as violent, just as racist, just as hateful as everyone else, how can we expect others to pay attention to our faith.

Someone told me recently that in a church in New England, he stopped in to worship and the pastor really said this: "Now, you know I don't believe in God, but if there is a God..." Christian churches who believe nothing, and give nothing, and live nothing can expect nothing as a response.

Having said all this, more people will be in church tomorrow, Easter, than at any other event in the world at any time. Detractors may wish for the demise of Christian faith, but Christian faith, God in Christ, will never be without a witness- even in America.

Dave Nichols

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Thanks for checking out my blog. I'm new to this, as you can probably see. But, I, like you, have convictions and ideas worth sharing. I hope this will be an opportunity to connect with others who are Christian and/or religious. I am happily United Methodist. I am committed to the basic teachings of our church, and to the compassionate outreach to the world.

I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.

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A graduate of Newberry College and Duke University Divinity School.  I have served as a pastor in the United Methodist Church since 1975.

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