This column was published by UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on August 21, 2006
“WAKE UP CALL! Christianity in America won’t survive another decade, unless we do something now!” This is according to a bit of junk mail that recently crossed my desk. Billing itself “a call to arms,” the flyer asked Christian “Generals” (presumably pastors like me) to unite, heeding the battle cry by paying good money to attend one of several meetings organized by a traveling road show of prominent evangelical speakers alarmed by the dwindling number of youth projected to be evangelical adults in the not too distant future.
According to the flyer, a study has suggested that only four percent of what it calls “this generation” will grow into evangelical adulthood, as compared to the current crop of evangelical adults, who claim a full 34 percent of America’s grownup population.
The conferences, or “Battle Cry Leadership Summits” advertised in the flyer are endorsed by a who’s who of evangelical hotshots including Chuck Colson, Jerry Falwell, Jack Hayford, Josh McDowell, Pat Robertson, and Ted Haggard.
It’s only one piece of mail, but the presentation and impressive list of endorsements had the unfortunate effect of reinforcing all of my negative stereotypes about the religious right, which is to say, the flyer didn’t reflect much of the religion I read about in the Gospels. This was not good news preached to the poor; there seemed little aspiration to be the blessed meek destined to inherit the earth.
The flyer asks its readers to imagine an America where only a fraction of the population is evangelical: “church attendance dwindles!” “Tithes and offerings at an all time low!” “New church buildings sit empty!” “Life-giving sermons go unheard!” “The role of church leader becomes irrelevant!” It is telling that these bullet points all show concern for the fiscal health and temporal influence of Evangelical institutions. There is no concern expressed for the Church’s charitable work or for the care of souls. This is a call to arms issued for the sake of politics and money.
And the whole premise is troubling. To suggest that American Christianity won’t survive another ten years is either to betray a singular lack of faith in the Christian God, or to embrace a definition of Christianity that is so narrow that it disallows the possibility that God may be calling the Church to grow and change.
Either way, if prognostications of a shrinking Evangelical America are correct, it may be because American youth have no interest in a church that is unwilling to accept change, that cannot trust God’s spirit to preserve a body of the faithful for generations to come, and that cares more about institutional preservation, money, and political power than it does about human beings, their physical needs or the state of their souls.
If that’s the case, than it would be good for the Religious Right to listen to voices from the generation they hope to reach and drop the martial rhetoric of fear. After all, when, at the end of the Gospels, Jesus sent his followers into a hostile world, it wasn’t with an admonition to build and preserve an institutional power base from which to engage in cultural warfare. Rather, Jesus invited the earliest Christians to be people of hope, comforted by the Spirit of God whose love would never leave them.