Embodiment, Resistance to Change, and Slow Death
Embodiment, Resistance to Change, and Slow Death
I was in Barnes and Noble the other day to relax with a mocha. I was poring over the periodical section and found a magazine about how evangelicalism is declining. The article talked about the Crystal Cathedral being sold to the local Catholic archdiocese and how the “nones” (religiously unaffiliated folks) are now a greater part of the American landscape than evangelicals. I was taken aback.
I shouldn’t have been. I knew the Crystal Cathedral was in bankruptcy, but was unaware of its being sold to Catholics. I allowed my subscription to Christianity Today to lapse for two reasons: I stopped feeling I was a Christian and I didn’t want my Michigan address on any more mailing lists because I had no idea I would still be here. I had heard about the rise of the “nones,” particularly among the youth.
I am old enough to remember the Crystal Cathedral, oops, the Christ Cathedral now, in much better days. I’ve purchased Robert H. Schuller’s books in the past. They were about Positive Christianity. Perhaps a little negativity would have sounded the alarms at an earlier date and saved CC from bankruptcy. A little “pessimism” (aka, a reality check) might have saved their legacy for future generations. Perhaps evangelicalism is an American spiritual fad, the magazine article hinted. I see how true it is now.
As to the “rise of the ‘nones’”, one little tidbit I managed to miss was that the percentage of self-identified evangelicals was 9% (http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/) in Democratic-leaning registered voters, while the “nones” are 24%. Even 11% of Republican-leaning voters are among the “nones.” And you can guess what the trends are: more “nones” and fewer evangelicals over time.
I’ve been a part of the American religious landscape for most of my adult life. First, I was evangelical, then Eastern Orthodox, and now either a “none” or an aspiring Buddhist. Frankly, when it comes to American religion, I have “been there, done that.” I have greatly emotionally, spiritually, and financially committed myself—to my detriment and anguish.
I suspect many of the “nones” have had abbreviated versions of my spiritual journey. The article states, “The new Pew Research Center/Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly survey finds that about three-quarters of unaffiliated adults were raised with some affiliation (74%).” I may not have been raised within any religious affiliation, but 74% of the “nones” were! I found religion as an adult due to one crisis or another, but was a devout Protestant starting when I was about 23. In other words, my adulthood has been strongly religious. Anyhow, I had problems from the start. My desire to believe was exceptionally strong, but I had the same problem in churches that I had had in my family: a lack of role models.Churches love me until I grow beyond their level or expect them to actually live the values they espouse. They love me because I am intelligent and willing to work hard for what I believe in. I am in their pocket—until I question some unquestionable belief, offend their ego, or actually back off when I am treated poorly. The next thing is know is that people are advised to stay away from me. I expect integrity from my leaders. When they fail, I look for sincere “fruits of repentance”, which never occur. I am reviled for my “lack of commitment” to them, which is actually a total commitment to my values and integrity. They push me and I exit. I don’t push back because there is zero point in doing so. I’ve never seen them change, just talk.
Don’t religious leaders see how ominous it is that such a large group of unaffiliated Americans were raised within a religion? There is no evangelizing someone that has spent years in Sunday School and was at one time a member in good standing of a church. The issue may be theological, thinking the doctrines intellectually questionable. The issue may be loyalty to their family, seeing how their mom or dad were treated by a pastor or congregation. The issue may be personal, having been treated poorly themselves. I am sure there are many other potential reasons. The point remains: the church talks about certain values and then members/clergy embody something else entirely. Spending years in Christianity intellectually and emotionally regressed me. The transformation was to an earlier stage of development. The longer I spent in church, the less I respected or even recognized myself. I found myself easily outrun in intellectual conversations by mediocre atheists. It was humiliating. As I got older, I realized that the atheists I talked to all had been raised within churches and had done their theological homework better than any pastor/theologian I had ever encountered or read.
When I would bring up the lack of standards for the behavior of clergy and members, I always got the same, pained, wounded response. I was always accused of being “unfair.” The church is apparently held to a different standard than the world—a much lower one. Let me quote a business book I’ve been reading (Deep Change, p. 125):
“A transformational leader will develop a plan of action, mobilize the workforce, and unleash power by vocalizing the core values of the system. The source of their credibility is their behavioral integrity. A leader must walk the walk and talk the talk. Every action must be in alignment with the vision. To fail on this dimension is to reduce the vision to an exercise in hypocrisy. When evaluating a vision, people watch the behavior of their leaders and quickly recognize if a leader lacks personal discipline and commitment. People know when a leader’s words are empty, and they respond by simply ignoring the vision until the vision dies.” Is that what happened to the CC?
When I speak of integrity, I do not mean perfection. Integrity, to me, is saying, “I really failed you. What can I do to make it right by you?” IT is not saying, “It is not your place to question my behavior. You are disobedient. Shame on you and never speak to me that way again.” That’s been communicated to me by the actions of various pastors I’ve encountered (with the exception of one wonderful, slightly over-trusting Protestant minister I’ve known). We all screw up. Perfection is out of our hands while on earth. Repentance is not.
I would bet that my expectation of integrity appears to be shared by many of the “nones” in the survey. I bet that’s how they became “nones” in the first place.