Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Science, reason, space aliens and LaodiceansStand Firm by Timothy Fountain http://www.sfgoodshepherd.org 
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Rod Dreher shares and analyzes a map of religious participation by U.S. counties.
Not a lot of new info.  The Coasts show less observance than the interior.  The upper middle of the country, where I reside, shows heavy participation, driven mainly by the Lutherans.  The South shows the expected pockets of Baptist vitality and there are some interesting Roman Catholic enclaves.
Dreher quotes a Washington Post hack who interprets it this way,
Let’s put this simply: America is secularising just like Europe – and all that talk of “American exceptionalism”, the free market in religion that kept it thriving, has turned out to be hogwash.
Dreher then goes on with his own interpretation of that interpretation,
That statement — “hogwash” — may be overbroad. But the trend really is hard to deny. And it’s having — and will continue to have — profound effects in law and public policy.
I agree as far as that goes.  America isn’t secularizing - our tradition of freedom of religion allows for all kinds of movements and credulity.  Folks who say they are “secularizing” and reliant upon “science and religion” can tell you about their space alien abduction experiences and how this or that pop star’s music is “my spiritual experience.”  They vote because they heard about a “war on women.”  So there’s all kinds of “religion” if we’re talking about communal expressions of faith claims.  It just isn’t Christianity.

But Dreher is looking only at the political dimension.  Yes, public policy will change.  But so will our churches.

Even here in the Upper Midwest, I see all the signs of declining “religion.”  Younger people are shifting to “attractional” non-denominational churches that look more like shopping malls and sound more like concerts.  The Lutherans appear robust but much of that is inertia based on intact ethnic identities and extended families.  And the ELCA churches are teaching all the humanist/social gospel stuff that the rest of the declining mainline spouts - it won’t be long until folks realize that you don’t need to hang out in a church to worship that.

A parishioner came back from attending an Advent/Christmas event with some of her family at a larger mainline church in town, and remarked on how there was absolutely no Biblical content in the slickly produced, well attended program.  So even where there is “religious attendance,” there isn’t necessarily Christian proclamation.

My own church is a “growing” Episcopal parish, but that means a few families here and there.  We’ve been climbing up from 80 ASA to around 100 for a long time.  We have most of our active adults involved in solid Bible study groups, the men of the parish are an active force, and we have a good number of folks who are not shy about inviting neighbors and friends to “come and see.”  But a family moves to warmer climes, we suffer a couple of deaths and we tumble back down like the eensy weensy spider.  We are hanging in there but the same forces that eliminate many modest congregations are with us - the cost of keeping up aging facilities and of sustaining staff threaten to become an unrealistic burden on the congregation.  Plus some of our members, like so many in smaller churches, style themselves a “friendly family” and push back against growth from time to time.

So my analysis is that the Upper Midwest will wind up like the Coasts, it will just take awhile longer.  Places like Minneapolis are there already.

So what’s the Good News?

Well, it’s lurking there in the Daily Office today, as Jesus chastises the church in Laodicea,
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)
There are going to be Christians and non-Christians in America.  Nominal Christianity has no future now that various cultural props are gone.

Christians will have to be disciples of Jesus, not members of clubs based on old ethnic, neighborhood and family functions.

Which means that along with the intensified pain of all the change and marginalization, we stand to gain the intensified power and joy that come with discipleship.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

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