Almost 1,600 years after St. Augustine founded the first Roman Catholic church at Canterbury in 597 C.E., the British people have been told in no uncertain terms that they’re no longer living in a Christian country.
A sensational report released this week by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, challenges this country’s time–tested moral and public values system. In language that raises eyebrows — and tempers — the report says United Kingdom (U.K.) should cut back the Christian tone of major state occasions and shift toward a “pluralist character.”
Events such as a coronation should be changed to be more inclusive, it said, while the number of bishops in the House of Lords should be cut to make way for leaders of other religions.
America’s oldest graduate seminary is once again blazing a trail for other mainline Protestant institutions to follow. But this time it’s a path many would rather not travel.
On Nov. 12, Andover Newton Theological School announced plans to relocate and sell its 20-acre campus in Newton, Mass. The move will be part of “a bold new direction” for the 208-year-old school as it struggles with big deficits.
“God is doing something new in this time,” said Andover Newton President Martin Copenhaver.
“We have to figure out what it is and get with the program.”
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” —Arthur Schopenhauer
I’m visiting Las Vegas this weekend, one of several stops on my postChristian book tour. I’m staying with my aunt and uncle, who are also in ministry, and who I don’t get to spend time with nearly often enough.
My aunt JoLynn was reading aloud a story about the shipping company UPS and how their trucks don’t make left turns. Of course my first reaction was, “well, that’s stupid.” It seems entirely counterintuitive to send trucks on a roundabout circuit when they could much more easily cut the route short by hanging a left. You need to go right, turn right. Need to go left, turn left for crying out loud. It’s just common sense, right?
UPS has a proprietary navigation system that helps drivers plot out all of their stops in a day and the most efficient way to get there. And based on their research, left turns result in more wasted time and more accidents than they’re worth. Drivers end up stuck at long lights when they could otherwise be turning through a red light making a right turn and making another drop-off. Plus, without left turns, trucks don’t have to cross oncoming traffic, which means fewer collisions.
They save time. They save money. All it took was thinking differently about how the delivery routers should be configured without all of those high risk, time-consuming left turns.
Historically, Christianity hasn’t been very open to the idea of being influenced by other religions. In the early days of the faith, we borrowed from Hellenism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Judaism and various “pagan” religions, repurposing their symbols to mean something new. Following the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, we focused more on converting others to our faith, or at least denigrating the legitimacy of other faiths to establish ours as superior.
Oh, but times, they are a’changin.’
Our numbers are down, our influence continues to wane, and we’re struggling with what I call in “postChristian” both an identity crisis and a credibility crisis. The good news is that, in this newly humbled state, lies a glimmer of opportunity. Not the kind we’ve had previously, to once again dominate the cultural landscape. That time has passed. Rather, as more of us within the Christian faith take less for granted, we’re asking harder questions:
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that Christianity is in decline in the western world by all accounts. From progressive mainline churches to evangelical mega-churches, most institutional religious bodies are experiencing precipitous drops in attendance and giving. Meanwhile, the Christian voice in the civil and political conversations is also giving way to other perspectives, be they Jewish, Muslim, or secular humanist. It’s no longer a dark mark on one’s social character to say they don’t go to church, or even that they’re not a Christian.
For many leaders within organized Christian circles, this is all a call to arms, a warning shot across the proverbial bow to wake us up from our slumber and engage the impinging culture war with renewed commitment.
But as I suggest in my new book, postChristian: What’s Left? Can we fix it? Do we care? It’s actually good news. Granted, it may not slow the decline and closure of churches anytime soon, and we Christians will likely continue to lose some degree of political clout, but I argue that this isn’t the point. It never was. And in fact, our numerical, political and even financial success in recent generations has taken us far off track.
I’m asked pretty often what I see for the future of organized religion, and Christianity in the West in particular. Given the fact that I am in the process of completing a book called “ postChristian ,” some people make assumptions that I am convinced it’s all going away.
Granted, Christianity has experienced precipitous decline, and the drop-off likely is far from done. Before we see any leveling-off within the institutional church, there will be many more church closures, consolidation of shrinking denominations, and an increasing number of people called to, and already working in, ministry who supplement their income with some non-ministerial side vocation.
So what do we, who still operate within the system of a declining religion, do about our situation? Some of this has little or nothing to do with anything the church has done or can do. Our increasingly distributed, decentralized, and accelerated culture has forced churches out of the center of American social life. Also, changing cultural norms have made it much more socially acceptable not to go to church.
I’ve long suggested that many of the folks filling the pews during the so-called heyday of the Church some 40 to 60 years ago were there under some duress. They went because of community pressure to do so, because their spouses made them, or because it was a great place to do business networking. But honestly, were we any better off as a faith to have our buildings full if the folks who were there didn’t really want to be there?