Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Counter Movement

This week’s cover story of Newsweek has captured many peoples’ attention with its dramatic title (“The End of Christian America”). I found Jon Meacham’s article, however, to be thoughtful and fair. His basis for the story is the recent release of the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). Among its findings: From 1990 to today,

* The percentage of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation has increased from 8.2% to 15%.

* The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen from 86%to 76%.

* The number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has risen from 1 million to 3.6 million.

Another piece of data intrigued me: Fully one-third of Americans identify themselves as born-again Christians.

And my favorite factoid: A fifth of “atheists” in a recent Pew Survey said they believed in God!

The source of this last revelation is a rebuttal opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (4/6/09) by John Micklethwait and AdrianWooldridge titled, “God Still Isn’t Dead.” They make the correspondingly thoughtful case that “Betting against American religion has always been a fool’s game,” and part of what we are seeing is evidence of peoples’ growing distaste for “the fusion of religion and political power.”

I don’t want to downplay the ARIS’s findings, lest I manifest the same complacency and denial General Motors executives did in the 1960’s and 1970’s when they took the view that, “Yes, our market share has fallen, but we still dominate.”

Here is how I see it. American culture is definitely moving away from its de facto partnership with the Christian church and “Christian values,” but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The simple historical fact is that the Christian movement has floundered when it has the patronage of society’s power centers and flourished when it had to rigorously assert itself in the midst of cultural and governmental antagonism. Whenever Christianity has been the preferred or even mandated religion of a government and culture, Christians have become lazy and the “movement” has faltered. As Micklethwait and Woolridge put it, “Religion, no less than software and politics, is a competitive business, where organization and entrepreneurship count.”

Isn’t it significant that, again quoting the WSJ article, “in Latin America, Pentecostalism has disrupted the Catholic Church’s majority, five of the world’s ten biggest churches are in South Korea, and in China more people (about 100 million) now identify as Christians than as Communists.” This is Christianity at work as a counter movement!

We celebrate today the heart of the Christian faith, that the Christ who died for our sins to reconcile us to God has risen. He has risen indeed! And he sends us into the world as his followers to winsomely live under his Lordship and enthusiastically tell others about Him. When we do these things, no one will wonder if it’s “the end of Christianity” any where near us.


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