My blood pressure raised a few points when I read MSN’s front-and-center headline: “The End of Christian America.”
The article reported that according to the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey the number of people who claim no religious preference nearly doubled to 15 percent from 8 percent. The biggest change happened in the Northeast.
The article, reported in Newsweek, sought out Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., who’s always good for an inflammatory quote. One might have expected him to dispute the facts or argue that America is still a Christian nation. Instead he said, “Clearly, there is a new narrative, a post-Christian narrative, that is animating large portions of this society.”
So is it really the end of the Christian era? Or is it a repudiation of Mohler’s particular brand of Christianity? Mohler has been front and center in Baptist politics and the culture war. These politics have badly divided the once invincible Southern Baptist Convention.
While people may be tired of religion and angry religious politics, that does not necessarily mean that they’re not craving a genuine spirituality. I do think that fewer people are going to church, but that doesn’t mean they’re not looking for God.
What they are looking for are churches with leaders who are genuine, transparent and humble. They’re looking for churches that genuinely care about their needs. They want help with their marriages and their kids and even with managing their money.
People have grown weary of pastors beating one another over the head with Bibles. They want churches that make a difference in their communities.
A few decades ago I proudly called myself a Southern Baptist. I still love the theology and belief system. I just don’t want to be identified with the petty bickering and fighting. I want to be known for what Christians are and not for what we are against. We fought the “battle over the Bible” and lost our integrity and ethic. We also lost a generation of people who were looking for something that they could not find in our churches.
In the days before Easter, our church presents an interactive Easter drama called “The Path to the Cross.” I like it because there’s an inherent purity in it. The script is firmly planted in the scriptures. We are a group of amateur actors with minimal sets and good costumes who do what we do because we believe that the power of what we do comes from the story and not from our talent.
We truly believe that the Holy Spirit is present during the performance and that lives are changed. This is no play or pageant or drama. It is an interactive worship experience. As a person who may not know Christ walks “The Path to the Cross,” they see that it is a gospel for all people of all ages.
When I see the people whose lives are changed when they experience “The Path to the Cross,” I know it’s not the end of Christian America. Maybe it’s just the end of a certain brand of fundamentalism and secular/religious politics? One can only hope.
The gospel often thrives in tough times like these. It is still good news when people see what Jesus can do. And it helps when their view of Jesus is not obstructed by those who have narrow, self-destructive political views and strategies.
Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.