The running story about Christianity in the United States for at least the last half century has been about decline in church membership coupled with a growing segment of the population that identifies as religiously unaffiliated. In short, the American religious landscape has changed quite noticeably for many reasons.
But we need to remember that we're dealing with a wide range of faith communities. And as the author of this article suggests, perhaps there are things to celebrate about this otherwise distressing story of diminishment. And he's not entirely wrong.
As Tom Krattenmaker writes, "there needs to be some specificity and disaggregation before I can say whether I am saddened or gladdened by the shrinkage of congregations and other religious communities in this country."
Krattenmaker, who identifies as a humanist, says, "If you tell me membership is plummeting at a right-wing evangelical church in your town that has led crusades against vaccines and spread lies about the 2020 presidential election, I’ll take it as welcome news. On the other hand, if I learn that a progressive church in your city — one that affirms LGBTQ people and sends parishioners to protect-the-climate rallies — I’ll be saddened to learn that budget problems have forced it to close."
In other words, he judges churches by how their theology informs how their members live in and relate to the world around them. Which can quickly become political. In fact, the Christian church really can't be Christian unless it is in some way political. Not partisan, but political, which is to say engaged in broad discussion and action that affects whether people are treated with equity and justice.
As I've said before, the very first statement of faith of the early Christian church was directly political. It said this: "Jesus is Lord." What that meant, of course, was that Caesar is not lord -- and Caesar knew that's what it meant.
The problem with Krattenmaker's standard of judging churches, however, is that it seems to pay little attention to the often-personal deeply spiritual needs of people and to the details of what it means that faith communities are the only organizations in society that offer structured worship. Humans, after all, have proven that they will worship something. Institutional religion tries its best to make sure that such worship is directed at the divine, not at power, wealth or status.
So even the kinds of churches that Krattenmaker (and others of us) won't miss if they close still offer something that people need. Even Krattenmaker.
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ANTISEMITISM JUST WON'T GO AWAY
A new survey by the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee in the Kansas City area reveals some resurgence in antisemitism among students in schools, mirroring the experience elsewhere in society. Here are the two key findings:
Only 25% of students said antisemitism was “not a problem at all” in their school.
35% of students said antisemitism in schools has increased over the past two years. 41% of students said antisemitism had “stayed the same,” and 8% said it had decreased.
Christians should be particularly concerned about this because many of the roots of antisemitism and anti-Judaism are found in Christianity, from its beginning, as I show in this essay, located elsewhere on this blog.
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P.S.: Just for the record, this is my 5,000th blog post since I started this weblog in 2004. Maybe you have missed a few posts along the way. But fear not. Every single one of them still can be found in the "Archives," located in the far-right column (that's a location, not a political position) of the blog's opening page. At least you can find the Archives there when you open the blog on a desktop or laptop computer. When you open it on a phone, say, that far-right column seems to disappear. So today's post begins the second 5,000. Maybe.