Standing For Something

Rev. Dr. James McLeod

Last week, in what has become a near annual occurrence, the results of a survey, this time conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, showed that the number of active churchgoers and those for whom religious devotion is important has remained in decline. A statistic that began to mark the great exodus from the faith in the 1950s, picked up speed in the 1970s, now simply declares what anyone with eyes can see to be true—the Church, in particular, and organized religion, in general, has continued its unabated movement towards oblivion. In this case, the top line number was that only “16% of Americans say that religion is the most important thing in their life,” while, “36% say religion is one among many important things, 18% say religion is not as important as other things, and 29% say religion is not important to them.” Within the mainline tradition, our decline has, somewhat, planed out with 42% of the nation affiliating with one of the traditional denominations. This number matches the percentage from the previous year’s survey. That being said, it is clear that the driving force within religion and Christianity, in particular, is that the church possesses a far smaller influence upon the general population than at anytime in our history within the United States. Whatever efforts individual churches have made to rejuvenate stagnancy while reaching out into the community with different programs and ministries has, at least in terms of the national picture, fallen on deaf ears.

One of the most telling findings of the study comes when surveyors ask why church has fallen so considerably in its influence on the lives of adherents while running formers members out. After one has factored out scandals that often plague congregations (and denominations) and the well-earned assessment that the Church is hypocritical and hyper-judgmental, the leading cause for exit and decentralization comes when the church no longer speaks to the lives lived by its adherents. In a time in which so many of God’s children are crying out for relief, love, and grace, the Church has been curiously quiet about these matters (except when it has been vociferous in its condemnation of anyone who doesn’t live into its ideal standard). In a moment in which the proliferation of weapons of war has led to one mass shooting after another, the Church has been largely silent even as we are called by the Messiah to be peacemakers. In an instance in history in which so many of God’s children have been relegated legislatively to the place of just less than human based on who they fall in love with or how they choose to present themselves and their appearance, the followers of Jesus have neither sought to loose the bonds of injustice nor care for the least of these among us. More often than not our response has been either staggering silence or the embrace of a twisted version of the faith to cloak our bigotry and hatred in righteousness. Is it any wonder that an increasing number of our population, especially younger folks who care nothing about one’s sexuality or gender but are deeply invested in going to schools and not getting shot want little to nothing to do with our gatherings?