The number may vary but the trend line is consistent: The Christian church is in decline. From church attendance to those who identify as Christian, all numbers are heading south.
Is Christianity the new middle class? Has it become an amorphous term to describe something that most assume they understand but carries no real meaning?
There are myriad reasons for Christianity’s downward trajectory. My focus is the public face of Christianity.
Ironically, it has become a faith defined more by its willingness to exclude.
If one reads the Gospel narratives, the teachings of Jesus clearly indicate love, inconvenient love, is at the epicenter of the faith. Observers of the faith are placed in a paradoxical bind in that its difficulty is rooted in its simplicity — the simplicity to love burdened by the difficulty to achieve it.
As a result, Christianity is dominated, at least in America, by an ethos of oversimplification that seeks not a self-reflective inconvenient love, but one that places its focus on the other.
Historically, Christianity’s post Enlightenment participation in the public square is a mixed bag. The church was on both sides of slavery, the Civil War, women’s suffrage, Jim Crow segregation, the Holocaust, and South African Apartheid.
We’ve recently witnessed for profit corporations hiding behind the veneer of the amorphous term Christianity seeking laws that come uncomfortably close to the type of dehumanization that necessitated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which some describe as a law that opens the door to discriminate against same-sex couples, while others offer that it would give people more freedom to follow the dictates of their faith.
Evangelical leader, Franklin Graham is calling on Christians to boycott gay-friendly corporations. Graham recently announced that he is moving all the bank accounts for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association out of Wells Fargo because of its ad featuring a lesbian couple.
However these issues are adjudicated in the short term, the long term prospects can only do additional harm to the public face of a faith already in decline.
A nation committed to a “more perfect union” must to some degree be in a constant state of flux. History has proven unequivocally the trite use of biblical justification is a less than worthy adversary when one decides to drink from the well of equality that was originally dug by the Founders.
Moreover, it is a mistake to compare Christianity’s recent public efforts with those of the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s. The purpose of that movement was not to move the country to the limited contours of its particular doctrine, but rather to move the nation toward the promises it already made to all of its citizens.
The viewpoint that is deemed in the best interest of the church in its private morality cannot be the rationale that justifies denying the civil rights of individuals in the public morality.
The primary failing within much of American Christianity’s latest pursuits in the public arena is its inability to see where its faith and the Constitution coalesce.
The Bible does not offer a commandment to “like” something, but it does command that one love. Doesn’t that suggest that in the Christian tradition one must embrace the arduous task of loving that which they may not like?
Likewise, the Constitution was not written based on what the majority approves. I would argue the barometer for one’s support of the Constitution is to embrace the concept of something that involves a specific issue they may philosophically oppose.
Both are difficult endeavors. It is understandable that one would advocate for a simpler path. But an honest examination suggests no such path is unavailable. Even if it were, it is unable to make the individual better.
The Christian church at its best is an institution that offers guidance through the complexities of the human condition, humbled by the reality that there are some questions for which “I don’t know” is the only appropriate response. Failing to pursue this valiant undertaking creates an arrogance that undermines its best intentions.
And any religion defined by its worst attributes of its own making can only look in the mirror to seek the guilty party for its demise.