Almost every Christian denomination in the U.S. shows signs of growing diversity as white Christians, once the majority in most mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations, give way to younger members, who tend to be of different races, according to a study released Sept. 6 by the Public Religion Research Institute.
And American evangelicals — once seemingly immune to the decline experienced by their Catholic and mainline Protestant neighbors — are losing numbers and losing them quickly.
Hear my teaching, O my people;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
That which we have heard and known,
and what our forebears have told us,
we will not hide from their children.
We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.
He gave his decrees to Jacob
and established a law for Israel,
which he commanded them to teach their children;
That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn;
that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
So that they might put their trust in God,
and not forget the deeds of God,
but keep his commandments;
And not be like their forebears,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
and whose spirit was not faithful to God.
I'm pondering the first few lines of this Psalm. They strike me as remarkably different from much of what we're saying these days about generations and faithfulness. It is, it seems, always the younger generations who fail us, who are stubborn and do not recognize the gifts of God. Every so often someone will throw the Baby Boomers (I mean, that's fun, right?) under the bus, but the majority of our attention has been on the future generations or those who are simply young now. We who analyze religious trends are practitioners of religious prognostication.
Nowadays, "values" is no longer just a code word for the religious right's assault on cultural trends they don't like. "Values" are cropping up in all political and cultural camps. The acquisitive life simply isn't sustainable. Consumerism becomes dull, and non-stop partying seems shallow.
Interesting people read books, play challenging games (Scrabble is surprisingly hot), and enjoy long meals in quiet places. Even in colleges — the last bastion of anything-goes — poetry readings, bike treks and mission work are encroaching on beer blasts. Canning your own vegetables is suddenly en vogue.
The dynamics are similar to our growing distaste for religious extremism and the politics of hatred. We have seen ourselves up close and decided we can do better. Pouring a lifetime of earnings into showy living becomes embarrassing. Turning religion into shouting matches and rampant bigotry doesn't pass any gospel sniff test.