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A new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that a record number of Americans (19.3 percent) have abandoned faith and now consider themselves unaffiliated with any particular religion.
If you want to understand the reasons behind this trend, take a moment to read a disturbing letter that Twin Cities Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt sent to the mother of a gay son. In it, the holy man told the mother that her "eternal salvation" might depend on whether or not she embraced the anti-gay teachings of the Catholic Church, thus rejecting her own child. Talk about family values!
Such a callous admonition might have worked in the past, when people had little education. It might have resonated in bygone eras, when gays and lesbians were invisible and easy to demonize as the "other." It might have held sway had the Catholic Church's credibility not been left in tatters after the church spent more than $2.5 billion to clean up the wreckage wrought by pedophile priests and their enablers.
While Nienstedt's arrogance and cruelty stands out as particularly odious, it isn't just Catholicism that is in decline. In a world that is increasingly more complicated, with infinite possibilities and pitfalls, as well as seemingly unlimited access to information, the idea that one faith owns absolute truth is a notion that is slowly becoming obsolete.
Religious extremists have long claimed that the acceptance of homosexuality would bring down the fundamentalist church -- and they have been proven correct, albeit not for the reasons they proffered. The downfall occurred not because gay people stopped heterosexuals from reproducing or recruited their children. It didn't happen because LGBT individuals hate families, which they have always been part of. And it didn't happen because homosexuals despised faith; the abundance of deeply religious gay people proves that this is not true.
The fundamentalists undermined their legitimacy by worshiping anti-gay bigotry long after it had been exposed as a false God. In this unholy obsession the sacrifices left bleeding at the altar were truth and justice. When people see their own sons and daughters and friends and co-workers coming out, it creates a crisis of credibility for religious institutions. It leads to countless situations where mean-spirited men like Nienstedt demand blind, irrational obedience and say "take it or leave it" -- and more people are now following their consciences and walking away.
The political coalition of the future is non-dogmatic, mainstream people of faith and the Nones. In the coming decade these two groups will forge bonds and create a dynamic force that rivals the holy-book literalists who presently hold power disproportionate to their numbers. This will be a much-needed correction to the outmoded ideas and celebration of ignorance that is holding back our nation's promise and progress.
Yes, there are many good and decent Christians. I lease space to the ELCA Bishop of Virginia and I see daily the quiet good works that denomination undertakes. Sadly, the hate and bigotry of their fundamentalist brethren is what is seen by the younger generations in particular. To survive, the decent denominations need to stand up and challenge the hate merchants and they need to be more visible in their good works if Christianity is to survive.