The whole church needs to stop complaining about the hostile atmosphere of today, when so many people are anti-religion. The church of all stripes: Catholic, Evangelical and Mainline Protestant—must own up to its share in what has gone wrong. We could paraphrase Nietzsche and say, “the church is dying and we have killed it!”
Over the last twenty years the whole world has watched the unfolding sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church with horror as priest after priest was sheltered from any inquiry or simply moved to a new parish where he could continue to abuse children. No parents were warned in the new area. The bishops and the hierarchy simply protected their own, not the children in their parishes. Talk about a loss of faith in our spiritual leaders!
Over the last forty years as the Evangelicals aligned themselves with conservative politicians and tried to force a political agenda that was anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-contraception with hostility and anger against what they saw was wrong with America. From the advent of the Moral Majority in the late 1970’s to today’s activists, they have touted their beliefs, claimed their superiority in the loudest fashion and managed to divert our country’s attention from some really pressing needs.
The Mainline Church is struggling to bring itself into the 21st century, trying to find a way to engage our neighbors in a religion that no longer holds much sway with the population. Most people now seek spirituality, turning their backs on religion as too flawed to have any value. People may drift through our churches looking for something undefinable, but just as often they drift out again.
Many of us in the churches practice a hands-off religion that allows us to live in the modern world and not have to live our beliefs. As long as we show up on Sundays, we can live our lives however we want. We do lots of “good works” through our churches without experiencing any sort of call from our God.
In this modern era the whole church is leeching members. It’s not just the leadership who have lost their way, but it is us Christians who have not raised our voices in the national debate, who have not spoken up in our churches against what we see is wrong. We have been more apt to become disillusioned and leave the church than to fight for what is right. We’ve gotten used to the watered-down aspects of religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, become complacent, left it up to our leaders to fix the problems, or just continued our complaining.
We need to go back to Jesus, the very substance and essence of our churches to see where our values should lie. Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple and stood up to the Pharisees and scribes. He did call them “Hypocrites!” But mostly he hung out with the disenfranchised, the poor, those who had no place in Jewish society—he offered healing to them, did miracles in God’s name and said repeatedly to “Follow me.” He wasn’t saying, “believe in me and you will be saved.” He called us to follow his way, his relationship with God, a close personal one. He asked us to live as he did with his eyes on God and God’s purposes, then reaching out to help those in our path. He lived a congruent, integral life.
Am I doing that? Is God first in my life, his aims and purposes? Or is it my own agenda I serve? Do I act always with love? Or is the only love I know “Tough Love?” Am I helping those with real needs? Am I just doing service the easiest way I can.
If the church has lost its way in today’s society, then all of us share the blame. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is already working on this problem of a watered-down religion. I’ve heard that 20% of people attending worship do so in “house” churches, small groups who meet in homes, going back to the early church model. The Emerging Church movement is seeking to answer some of the problems of the modern church. Are you in tune with what the Holy Spirit is asking of you? Are you catching the drift of a new excitement and promise? What is God asking of you now?