Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Decline of Evangelical America

Any cursory reading of this blog makes it readily apparent that I believe many of the problems in this country stem from the political influence of evangelical Christians who among other things (i) seek to force their religious views on all citizens, (ii) want to gut social programs that aid the poor and disadvantaged, and (iii) seem to revel in constant war and religious crusades against non-Christians, Iraq and Afghanistan being but two examples.  As for the Gospel message, these far right Christians seem more and more the antithesis of the Gospel of Christ and if anything increasing constitute modern day Pharisees best know for their hypocrisy and hatred of others.  The good news is that perhaps the power of the evangelical Christians  is waning and some of their denominations are losing members, especially among the younger generations. At least that is the premise of a piece in the New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

IT hasn’t been a good year for evangelicals. I should know. I’m one of them. In 2012 we witnessed a collapse in American evangelicalism. The old religious right largely failed to affect the Republican primaries, much less the presidential election. Last month, Americans voted in favor of same-sex marriage in four states, while Florida voters rejected an amendment to restrict abortion. 

Studies from established evangelical polling organizations — LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Barna Group — have found that a majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church, and often the faith, entirely. 

First, evangelicals, while still perceived as a majority, have become a shrinking minority in the United States. In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans. (Other research has reported that some 25 percent of Americans belong to evangelical denominations, though they may not, in fact, consider themselves evangelicals.) 

But while America’s population grows by roughly two million a year, attendance across evangelical churches — from the Southern Baptists to Assembles of God and nondenominational churches — has gradually declined, according to surveys of more than 200,000 congregations by the American Church Research Project. 

The movement also faces a donation crisis as older evangelicals, who give a disproportionately large share, age. Unless younger evangelicals radically increase their giving, the movement will be further strained. 

Evangelicals have not adapted well to rapid shifts in the culture — including, notably, the move toward support for same-sex marriage. The result is that evangelicals are increasingly typecast as angry and repressed bigots. In 2007, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, in a survey of 1,300 college professors, found that 3 percent held “unfavorable feelings” toward Jews, 22 percent toward Muslims and 53 percent toward evangelical Christians. 

We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“euangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury.

I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views — many observant Muslims and Jews, for example, also view homosexual sex as wrong, while Catholics have been at the vanguard of the movement to protect the lives of the unborn — and more to do with our posture.

I do not personally see evangelicals changing in ways that will stop the decline - which is a good thing in my view -  and, if anything, expect to see more stridency and extremism as this toxic from of Christianity lurches toward a much deserved death.  Meanwhile, the younger generations will continue their flight from the hate and prejudice that are so pervasive among far too many evangelicals.

1 comment:

Jennie LN Martin said...

Very brave, and well said.