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Please Stop Trying to Explain Why People Leave the Church

June 10, 2015

Howard Pepper:

This article is thoughtful even if provocative to some. Holly expresses what I know is the experience of many. My own has many parallels. I’m one (of quite a few) who DID choose to return eventually… to a progressive form of Christianity, for reasons I won’t go into now except to say that I believe I can do more good “inside” than “outside”. But staying out is a fine option in my mind. I respect people like Holly who make that choice and support them in their efforts to do many of the same loving things many followers of Jesus who stay in churches try to do.

Originally posted on Holly Baer:

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Christians, I understand your panic. As you see numbers drop in church attendance and fewer and fewer people self-identify as Christian, you fear the flames of Christ are being snuffed out by idolatry and ignorance and you frantically search for reasons as to why anyone would leave the church and its savior. There has been no shortage of articles trying to explain why people are leaving:

“6 things people need to hear from churches (but are rarely said)” 

“Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You” 

“Six Reasons People Leave Your Church” 

“Losing My Religion: Why People Are REALLY Leaving the Church (It’s not what you think.)” 

“10 Reasons Why People Leave Church” 

You’ve got to stop this; you’ve got to stop trying to explain away why people are leaving the church in droves.

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A Critical Cause for ALL Kinds of Spirituality

June 8, 2015

Is there a form of spirituality or a religion that is uncaring about the earth… the quality of its air, water, conditions of health for all?

I think all such systems do care about these things.  However, some are largely oblivious to both local and worldwide serious problems.  Or they put so much emphasis on “heaven” or individual well-being that there is little attention left for pressing needs of preserving the environment that sustains us.

Not so for the 1500 religious as well as non-religious (including atheist) people who gathered last Thursday night to Sunday night to learn about, envision and move actively toward systems of agriculture, energy production, etc. which can reverse the powerful materialist momentum that presently degrades our environment… threatening to make it unlivable for perhaps some of us and almost surely for our children or grandchildren if it is not reversed.

The conference was “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization” Let’s break that down, starting at the end.  Ecological civilization is really the only viable option left to us.  Anything not substantially ecological (or “sustainable”) will not remain “civilization” but become some kind of chaos full of terrorism-on-steroids.

“Toward” – We can’t be sure we will get there, but as one presenter said, he’d sure rather go down swinging than with bat on shoulder.  We have to try.  To continue the status quo is to take that third strike.

What is the “alternative”? Actually a beautiful linkage of interdependent communities of various sizes working in mutual support and in harmony with nature, perhaps without much change in the national and other forms of government we may either like or believe still have potential.  But food and energy production must radically change… and the means to do that have recently emerged, giving us genuine hope.

“Seizing” – We won’t get there without determined, persistent and immediate action.  I’ve been inspired to join the “movement”… the interlinking of the many strands brought together in the conference and others not present… and am looking to see what new actions I can best take.  (I already recycle, conserve, etc., but know I can do much more.)

I encourage you to request the newsletter and follow the website of Pando Populous, the organizing site following the conference which will have many incredible sessions posted, have interaction for connecting and supporting various groups and missions, etc.  Below is a brief explanation from their home page.   Have a look and please share your reactions or involvement back here!

Pando Populus is a platform for people who care about big ideas and the Earth. Our aim is to create an ecological civilization.

We’ve taken our name from the largest and oldest organism on the planet — a giant quaking aspen tree, spread over more than a hundred acres, thousands of years old, connected by a single root system.
Various movements and organizations focus on one aspect or another of ecological concern. We endorse and celebrate their work.
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What’s New in the Pew Religious Landscape Study?

May 28, 2015

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”!

Can God Possibly be Angry?

May 22, 2015

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? 

Will I Meet Evangelicals and Emergents at “Seizing an Alternative” in June?

May 17, 2015

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.

 

90-year-old John Cobb Inspires with a Brilliant Summary of the Bible and Message of Jesus

May 15, 2015

Ninety years of learning and wisdom like you’ve never heard it before! And not abstractions but the distinctives of Jesus’ message and why we should follow it… stand in his prophetic tradition (even if we’re not “Christian”).

Besides his 90th birthday, the setting for this incredible brief talk (not really a sermon though given in a church) is the upcoming “Seizing an Alternative” conference – June 4-7 in Pomona, CA.

So I have two powerful reasons to link to Dr. Cobb’s message below.  First, because it is more than worth your time to hear it… a clear, compelling explanation of Jesus’ call to live out the “Kingdom of God” right now which fits with a broad range of Christian theologies and incorporates some people who don’t even identify as Christian.

Second, because the long-planned conference he has had a major role in organizing (he’s only “retired” on paper) is fast-approaching and I want to do my small part in promoting it.  Even if you know you won’t be attending, you should take a look at what this large and impacting conference is about… both why and how an alternative must be seized to the “business as usual” systems which threaten our spiritual and our physical welfare now more than ever before. 

First, Dr. Cobb’s talk is here

Second, check out this incredible conference here

And report in on how Dr. Cobb’s talk has impacted you and if you plan on attending the conference… PLEASE (I’d love to link up with you there).  

Can Evangelical Christianity Be Saved from Itself? An Interview with Rachel Held Evans

May 8, 2015

Howard Pepper:

If you’re not familiar with both Valerie Tarico (interviewer and author) and Rachel Held Evans (interviewee and author), you should be! I know them both a little and it’s wonderful to see them interacting. This interview is loaded with wisdom and hard-gained insights.

I stopped identifying as Evangelical many years ago, unlike Rachel, but I grasp and respect her stance, given its openness, thoughtfulness and graciousness. People like her are very valuable in the process of helping many others either mature and become more healthy in their faith or gracefully transition to a belief-system and type of community that fits them better (including leaving “religion” entirely).

Originally posted on ValerieTarico:

Rachel Held Evans BibleRachel Held Evans has been called “the most polarizing woman in Evangelicalism.” She is a New York Times bestselling author of three books and a popular blog in which she wrestles honestly with the cruelties and contradictions in her Christian tradition from the standpoint of a loving insider on a quest to understand God and goodness more deeply. Her most recent book, Searching for Sunday, brings readers along as Held Evans, still a self-identified Evangelical explores and embraces the liturgical ritual of the Episcopal tradition. It is a loosely connected collection of musings structured around the seven traditional sacraments of the Christian tradition: baptism, confession, communion, holy orders, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.

In this interview, Held Evans discusses both the book and her broader faith journey.

Tarico: My readers know me to be post-Christian, a self-described spiritual non-theist and ardent critic of the Evangelical fundamentalism in…

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