A couple of months ago, Cathy Lynn Grossman wrote an article that was based on the Pew Research Center's latest report on the religious demographics of America. The Pew report was entitled America's Changing Religious Landscape. Grossman's article (click here) basically said that Christianity is losing its grip on America. Yes, it is still the top dog (70% of the people are affiliated with some sort of what is classified as Christian faith). But, according to the latest statistics, it lost 8% of its adherents between the years 2007 to 2014. And the biggest reasons for the losses have to do with a generation gap and politics.
Now the 8% loss for those in the Christian faiths were not across the board. Evangelicals lost a smaller percentage of people than the Catholic Church, the Mainline Church. In addition, the percentage of Evangelicals who were also minorities increased during that time. While the Catholic Church overall lost believers because their number of converts was low.
During the same time period, there was an increase in the percentage of people who both belonged to different faiths or those who didn't have any faith at all. The latter group was called the 'Nones.'
There were other statistics but there was no real exploration why the numbers changed the way they did other than what was expressed above. So this post, rather than critiquing Grossman's article, will theorize as to why Christianity, especially Evangelicals have lost believers as reported.
It is the contention of this blog that what is hurting Evangelicalism in terms of numbers is also what is preventing it from addressing social justice issues. Considering one of the reasons cited was because of the political identity most associated with Evangelicalism, what will be said here may have more credence than what might be expected for this blog.
This blog is going to propose the following hypothesis. There are 3 reasons why Evangelicals struggle with both evangelism and social justice today. Those reasons point to the fact that Evangelicalism struggles with controlling its authoritarian tendencies, with limiting its penchant for syncretism, and overuse of deduction in interpreting reality.
We should note that despite how many of our relationships are described in the Bible, authority plays a big role in how we get along with others. God has authority over all of us regardless of what we believe. The Church is to submit to Christ. The husband is the head of the wife. Children need to obey their parents. Employees need to listen to their employers. We are all suppose to submit to the government. Thus, when it comes to relating to each other and those who are different from us in society, we Evangelicals have the most difficult time with turning that authority switch off. That inability to appropriately react to others as equals rather than as superiors or inferiors can be called authoritarianism.
There are a number of traits of those who are authoritarian (click here). Here we should note that while it takes 5 narcissistic traits to qualify a person as being narcissistic, authoritarianism shares 4 traits with narcissism. This might suggest that authoritarianism and narcissism are at least somewhat related. And if that is the case, then we Evangelicals could obtain a big enough reason for cooling our authoritarian jets.
What we should note here with regard to the subject at hand is this, those who are authoritarian test truth by looking at the credentials of the the source. So if the source belongs to an approved list of authority figures, the authoritarian will tend to accept what the source says without testing it. The correlative to that is if the source does not have adequate credentials, then what is said by that source can be discarded. And what can destroy the credentials of a source is previous disagreements. So those who believe that some adaptation to evolution provides the best possible explanation for how we got here have all but lost their authority to speak on all other subjects. Or suppose a person accuses the U.S. of being terrorist state, that person, according to many American Evangelicals has some kind of liberal and that means someone who knows nothing.
We should also note that Americans Evangelicals embrace a syncretism consisting of the Christian faith and certain American traits and beliefs. Those Americanisms consists of the belief in rugged individualism, American Capitalism, and American Exceptionalism. Now syncretism occurs when one tries to force together two belief systems that have parts that don't go together. In other words, syncretism occurs when one tries to pound a square peg into a round hole. Certainly, if one hits the peg hard enough for a long enough period of time, one can get the peg to fit in the hole. But one cannot do that without doing damage to both the peg and the hole. So when one tries to merge Americanisms with the Christian faith, yes, you might modify some Americanisms. At the same time, you can no longer avoid doing damage to what the Christian faith says for itself.
Now the syncretism mentioned above does not necessarily hinder us from promoting social justice and evangelizing by itself. What it needs is the misapplication of the belief in Sola Scripture. Sola Scriptura is the Christian belief in the authority of the Scriptures to be the ultimate judge on all matters pertaining to doctrine and living life. But not only are does this belief say that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority on doctrine and life, it says that the Scriptures alone can serve as such the only judge. The Scriptures alone.
The misapplication of Sola Scriptura comes when we believe that we have nothing to learn about life, especially the lives of others, outside of the Scriptures. This misapplication occurs when we apply our deductive powers to the Scriptures to interpret all of life before living it. And this is most irritating when we interpret all of life for the life of others without listening to what others have to say for themselves.
So if we combine the syncretisms mentioned above with the belief that we only need to read the Scriptures in order to learn about every part of life, we begin to believe that we can deduce what life is all about from our reading of the Scriptures as well as from applying the Americanisms that have been joined to the Christian faith. And thus those Americanisms, like what we have read in the Scriptures, become both unassailable and sources of ultimate authority in interpreting reality. \
The short of it is this, when we combine authoritarianism, the syncretisms mentioned above, and the misapplication of Sola Scriptura describe beforehand, we end up with religiously conservative Christians who are more than willing to talk, but absolutely refuse to listen. Thus, we find too many religiously conservative Christians who believe that they have the gift of teaching, but are unable to learn. Of course the refusal to listen and the inability to learn depends on whom we are listening too. We can easily listen to and learn from approved of Christian teachers and fellow church goers. But when it comes to the outside world, too many of us religiously conservative Christians have the learning disability of intentional deafness.
Thus, when the world comes to us religiously conservative Christians and says here are our problems, too many of us confidently say 'NO'! Your problems are because you haven't listened to us. And the same procedure occurs when the world, while trying to work with us to find solutions to its problems.
Thus, we end up talking down to others. Such communication assumes a hierarchy that too many of us have eagerly embraced and that is repulsive to postmodernists as well as educated and thinking people. To apply a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, we Evangelicals who have embraced authoritarianism, the syncretism of Americanisms with the Christian faith, and have misapplied the basic principle of Sola Scriptura, believe that we have become the fount of all wisdom and thus have no need to consult with others. It is this not listening to others that prevents us from not only understanding what social injustices have occurred in the world and not knowing how to share the Gospel with them, it has caused us to burn the bridges of credibility necessary for us to become witnesses especially to those who are significantly different from us in other ways than our faith.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10