What are the real reasons people are abandoning Mainline churches but not Evangelical ones? How are Americans likely to respond to a rapid increase in the number of Muslims here?
These and other questions are addressed in an informative and interesting Q and A article by David Masci of the Pew Research Center on the large “Religious Landscape Study” they recently released. It is an interview with David Campbell, co-author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us and author of other books. You can find the article here.
The only question I’ll comment on is the one posed as, “Why have mainline Protestants continued to decline dramatically, while evangelical Protestants have shown only small declines?”
I will summarize Campbell’s answer as saying it’s not as theological as we might think. More social… in this sense: Evangelicals once needed and now tend to retain a stronger sub-culture that bonds people closer and makes leaving less attractive or “practical”. Since Mainline churches were always a more integral part of broader culture, secularization tends to hurt them more. It weakens the “glue” holding them to traditional beliefs and church “ways”. And Campbell calls Evangelicals “highly innovative, entrepreneurial, and adaptable”. Mainline Protestants not so much.
I might add that there is more energy in Evangelicalism, both “positive” in terms of social bonds, commitment to God (and country, usually), and “negative” in terms of fear and anger about “where the country is going”. And that tends to include determination to do something about it (witness how much the Tea Party overlaps with Evangelicalism). To me, if we could combine the intensity and enthusiasm of Evangelicalism with the compassion and development/justice focus of Mainliners it would be “unstoppable”!
I’m about to finish Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Incredible book! (More coming on that later.) His central point about the nonviolent God revealed by the nonviolent Jesus is absolutely crucial for a healthy faith both personally and on a community, societal or global level.
The point for today’s post is that God can be totally nonviolent (against the “common sense” of most people) if God is unthreatened and loves unconditionally (as “orthodoxy” and most Christians state).
So earlier today I saw that Kathy Escobar’s latest blog post, “Underneath Anger”, here, is closely related to nonviolence. It’s part of a “synchroblog” and links to another great post by Michael Roden titled “Anger is not a Godly Emotion”, here. By the title Michael means God does not have such an emotion, not that we should expect ourselves never to have it.
The logic is very tight. He is correct.
However, this raises major issues for most Christians, which I address in the comment I posted on the thread as follows:
Great article! Important insights on the source and control of anger. And I fully agree: God has no occasion for either fear or anger.
But, for “believers” and all readers of Scripture this immediately raises the question, “What about all the passages in which God IS angry, jealous, punishing, vengeful?” Either one must jettison the kind of God you rightly describe or acknowledge that Scripture writers often projected HUMAN emotions and traits onto God… created God in our image.
Even the way Jesus is sometimes “quoted” and portrayed in the Gospels and in Revelation shows this same distortion. It creates irreconcilable contradictions in what he said and was. It really leaves us no choice than to recognize the human flaws in the Bible; and to do the emotionally and intellectually HARD WORK of “critical reading” of the Bible. Only then can we have intellectual integrity in discerning that the “revelation” in it is of the truly unconditional, unthreatened love that is God’s nature… which precludes ANY anger, wrath, punishment, coercion, etc.
How do you deal with the biblical passages and the common conception of most that God is often angry, either with us personally or with our society, our world?
Have you heard of “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization”, a conference, June 4-7, in Pomona, CA? If not, I think you’ll want to at least know about it – see what it’s covering, who will be there, etc.
There are a number of reasons. To begin, I understand the Evangelical world, having “lived” there to age 45 or so… and I yet follow it enough to know its powerful influence in U.S. culture, politics, environmental issues, etc. And that influence extends around the globe. It is tough to accomplish much legislatively, at least on a national level, without some level of Evangelical “buy in” or support. And lately Evangelicals have been helping to elect many who are not environmentally wise but often oppose important directions we need to go on a national level (as well as other levels). And what about creative solutions, potentially from Evangelicals as well as others, to widely-recognized problems? (Climate change being just a leading one of them.)
If they become so-minded, Evangelicals could offer much more leadership on stewardship of the earth, care for those most affected by ecological disasters that are not always “out of the blue”, etc. Also, Evangelicals, and especially the open and searching among them such as “Emergents”, will here have opportunity to see the intensely earthy and practical side of Process theology and philosophy which can seem too complicated to many. So I’m hoping I will see them in good numbers at this important and high-powered conference in just a few weeks, although I’m not optimistic… for reasons I won’t go into now.
My main purpose in this post is to strongly encourage anyone to attend who can possibly free a long week-end in early June… or even one day or two, for those living near enough. Plenary sessions, with internationally known speakers such as Bill McKibben and Indian physicist Vandana Shiva, are free and open to the public. Single-day registrations are also available.
But even if you can’t come, I think you’ll find it worth your time to look over information about the conference on its website here. Many professions and academic disciplines are contributing, offering their members and others interested an amazing variety of topics both theoretical and practical. There are 82 groups (or “tracks”) organized under 12 sections. That means 82 simultaneous sessions at certain hours of the day… the tortuous aspect being that you can only be in one each session (switching between tracks is allowed but not encouraged).
I was privileged to go to an early planning session for the conference, as an outsider, well over a year ago. I was impressed that they were working hard on ways to maximize the practical results of the conference; create effective follow-up and follow-through. So I expect that this will not be just another feel-good (or perhaps bad) seminar after which everyone goes back to mostly whatever they were doing and little of lasting value happens. Here will be gathered passionate people who are willing to rattle cages and take action, many in the habit of doing so for a long time already and seeking synergy to multiply their efforts.