As you may be aware, currently about 20 percent of adult Americans say they have no religious affiliation.
Author and religion scholar Diana Butler Bass, (pictured here) speaking in the Kansas City area this past Friday evening, offered three primary reasons:
1. Churches (or, more broadly, congregations) are too focused on money and power "and not focused enough of faith and values."
2. Churches are too focused on rules, and getting people to follow them.
3. Religious institutions are too overtly political.
If you know those things, she said at a weekend event at Village Presbyterian Church, "it might not feel very good. . .but we should also be able to recognize that much of what this critique says is true."
Diana suggested that behind the reasons listed by the unaffiliated for not being part of a community of faith is a belief "that churches should unify people, not drive them apart. . .There is, deep within the complaint, a hope or a vision" for what a church really should be.
In fact, she said, Jesus himself had complaints about institutional religion. Indeed, many of his complaints mirror the complaints of the unaffiliated today, and "a good percentage of these people are apparently not wanting to be part of institutional religion for the same reasons that Jesus once criticized institutional religion."
She also noted that today many people describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious." And that description often gets dismissed by people of faith as evidence that those who describe themselves that way must be lazy or unable to make a commitment.
But, she said, "if you're trying to get someone to join a church, it's probably not the best plan to insult them."
Well, institutional religion still has much to learn about the context in which it operates and the reasons people sometimes give up on faith communities. And if they don't start learning soon, their future is dim indeed.
By the way: Diana's subject, the future of Christian churches, will be the topic under discussion at a free symposium from 2 to 4 p.m. this Saturday at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, 67th and Nall in Mission, Kan. For details, click here.
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AN OLD HATRED RISES AGAIN
Antisemitic acts are on the rise, especially in Europe, Israeli researchers have found. A forthcoming book, Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives, edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, describes this phenomenon in sickening detail. It will be published in June. Watch for my review of it in an upcoming issue of The National Catholic Reporter.
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P.S.: Again this year, through the AIDS Ministry of my church, Second Presbyterian of Kansas City, I'll be participating in the annual AIDSWalk KC. Please help me by making a pledge at this online site. Lots of folks are depending on your help for the AIDS Service Foundation of KC, which supports the work of several AIDS organizations in our region. In fact, after you pledge, make a note to come walk with us the morning of Saturday, April 27, starting at Theiss Memorial Park across from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Folks from my congregation this year will be joining up to walk with representatives of Hope Care Center, a 24-hour skilled nursing facility that my church helped start in 1996.