The first stream consists of recent data about participation in the life of the Church in the U.S. and folks’ decreasing identification as religious. The second stream comes from a conversation about intellectual integrity.
At the outset, let me state as clearly as I can: I am a Christian. I take Jesus as paradigmatic of the Life God would have us all live and the Way God created us all to Be. In Jesus I see the face of the Divine – Son of God, if you will. I am a person who also wants to do more than just follow Jesus. I believe we are all called to the kenotic work/the letting go work that will more and more reveal the Christ within us all. All of this, and much more, I learned in Church.
Most persons formed in established religions share in the care and compassion and forgiveness I learned from Jesus. So when I look at the recent data from the Pew Foundation I am concerned.
Their July 2, 2013, report says that “the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown in recent years; indeed, about one-fifth of the public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – are religiously unaffiliated as of 2012.
Fully a third of U.S. adults say they do not consider themselves a “religious person.” When I read this I wonder how people (young ones especially) are being formed, and even more, into what they are being formed.
As my good, honest, caring atheist friends know, I do not believe religion is essential for the formation of good people.
I do believe, however, that religion, even though it has been used to support hate and violence has also been at the heart of much social good. This is where integrity comes into the picture.
Jesus stayed true to his Jewish faith, but he did not take the teachings at face value. He went to their heart.
He remained true to both himself and to the Truth he found there. And, he was not afraid to speak that Truth. Should we who are Christians be any different?
Sociologists are quick to tell us that young people these days can smell inauthenticity a mile off. They’ve been marketed to since they were infants, and they are sick of it.
They want Truth/ what’s Real. And living in such a rapidly evolving world (think technology), these young people know that change and new knowledge are the way of things.
They also know that the religion that so much of Christianity is trying to pass on to them does not hang together in light of the Truths revealed by science. And they are not buying it.
We, who find meaning and hope in the person and teachings of Jesus, must consider the heart of our faith, not just the doctrinal wrappers in which it was handed to us. We must experiment with new ways to pass on old truths. This does not mean hip music and big screens. It means a return to the heart of Jesus’ teachings –the practices of radical inclusion; care for everything and everyone; and non-violence – so that we become the face of Christ in our world.
Folks who might be drawn to religion, especially younger ones, want to know that we are not going to ask them to leave their evolving world.
They are not willing to move into a static community based on ancient mores and social structures and an outdated scientific understanding of creation.
For us to hand the heart of our faith on to them we must be courageous enough to reinterpret the Scriptures that have been handed to us, like Jesus did.
We must admit to living in a world where everything evolves. And we must be people of integrity, so that they know we are not trying to sell them worn-out goods.
Ours is a world in which scientific language and knowledge thrive; in which society is changing; and in which the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. Mystery and change. Without embracing them, we Christians will not have even a foot in the door with those who are questioning “the way it has always been.”
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.