2 books reach same conclusion on organized religion in America

It was a coincidence that these two books came to my attention at almost the same time, but it was no accident that two longtime observers and practitioners dire warnings: Organized religion in America faces multiple existential threats.

Am I sticking with Christianity? : A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned

Brian D. McLaren

272 pp.; Macmillan


exist Am I sticking with Christianity?A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the DisillusionedBrian D. McClaren, famous author and former evangelical pastor, answers this question with a “no” in the first part of his book; the second part reasoning why those who accept this question should answer a very subtle “yes”; The third outlines a largely deinstitutionalized path forward.

Religion reporter Bob Smietana’s Restructuring Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters Take a more reportage approach to the changing demographics and other forces within and around the boundaries of Protestant churches, large and small, that threaten the very existence of religion in America. In a way, it’s also a description of Smietana’s personal journey, and his expressed hope that the church remains an important part of American culture.

Restructuring Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters

bob smitana

256 pages; worth


Both books describe the ecclesiastical equivalent of climate change. Data, surveys, spreadsheets, and endless anecdotes have been around for decades. This damn history, while often glossed over or overlooked, remains open to anyone interested. The forces at work have been evident for a long time. Like melting glaciers, the evidence may be mostly invisible and seem inconsequential—until it isn’t. It can be viewed in discrete bits and probably won’t appear terribly threatening. Taken together, however, these forces can transform the lives of organized religions, if not life-threatening.

Religious News Agency national reporters Smietana and McClaren compiled the data and connected the dots. They surface inconvenient truths that have become indisputable.

threat from within

Some threats come from the broadly framed community itself. Religious organizations (the Catholic clergy top the list in this area) have shown a propensity for serious corruption. As Smietana says, institutions built by and for white congregations are disappearing in a culture that is turning brown. Generations of regular churchgoers are dying out, replaced by those with a looser, if any, attachment to civic and ecclesiastical institutions. The pandemic has accelerated the speed and effect of changes that have already occurred.

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McLaren is a post-Evangelical with close ties to Franciscan priests. Richard Rohr and his Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He recounts conversations he’s had over the decades with evangelicals and mainstream Protestants who are on a thread, a fingernail or a foot dangling outside the gates of organized religion.

He sympathizes with those who are exhausted by America’s religious program because of what it has become, its increasingly divisive, steeped in partisan politics, and what he sees as religion is dwindling into a minimized A guide to packing behaviors enslaved by God. In short, he thinks Christianity in America is a failed project.

While McLaren could imagine Christianity as “a gigantic ship capable of amazing voyages,” he today considers it immobile “because its anchor was too heavy for the crew to pull it up. By codifying these beliefs, Mystifying it into belief systems, and defining itself by those belief systems, it makes itself into a paradox: a boat that floats but doesn’t sail. For most Christians I meet today, faith is Christianity.”

While not “against belief as scientists are against fact,” McLaren’s objection is that belief—especially belief without corresponding action—constitutes the entire Christian enterprise. He will free the crew of the stationary ship to continue their mission to “follow the life and example of Jesus, and by their example teach others to live by Jesus’ spiritual approach of radical non-discriminatory love and courageous truth-telling.”

It’s not hard to see both sides of the coin from McLaren’s analysis. One might nod in agreement with his assessment that Christianity in America has “stagnated,” consisting mostly of competing versions of belief lists or staunchly held “orthodoxy” serving some kind of institutional allegiance.

At the same time, a leap from some of the worst sins of Christianity—anti-Semitism, Christian-to-Christian violence, colonialism, white patriarchy and racism, anti-intellectualism, institutionalism—that he spans millennia As is evident in , many of these ills are, in season and context, someone’s version of “brave truth-telling.” Reason enough, then, to read through the second half, though perhaps an institutional inevitability of the tension between charm and order stemming from the earliest confrontation between Peter and Paul.

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It’s worth noting that McLaren cited positive influences from the Catholic world on more than one occasion. His kind, he once wrote, “found resources in several Catholic churches, especially in the Franciscans, Ignatius, Benedictines, and other traditions of contemplation and action.” So to speak, although today Some Catholics in the Christian Church believe that the Church is immutable and that any change borders on heresy, but historically we know that some of the best traditions came from the radical reformers he mentioned.

new story?

If McLaren deals with the broad history and self-reinforcing tendencies of Christianity while ignoring its deep flaws, Smitana is more focused on the present. He details the megalomania of celebrity preachers and their gaudy influence, the corrosive sex and money scandals that have torn apart major denominations, and the deepening politics that have exposed sinister racism in some congregations and movements disagreement.

“We may have to stop believing the lies we’re told about the past in order to find new stories for the future,” he wrote.

This sense of search is at the heart of both authors. Smietana believes the answers are also important if the entire Christian community is to engage the next generation who have left mainstream and evangelical churches because they don’t share or believe stories of the past.

If demographics are destiny, Smitana has enough numbers to dishearten the most optimistic believers. Past church leaders may have assumed that Christianity would be the dominant religion, that people would always attend church services, and that churches would exist for a long time into the future. This is no longer the case. Among these examples, one vignette says a lot: “In 1966, there were more than 3.4 million Episcopalians. By 2019, that number had dropped to 1.7 million, even though the U.S. population nearly doubled from 1960 to 2020.”

Smietana also cites declines in membership for all other mainline denominations that Smietana also cites. Not only are young people not showing up, but fewer young people are taking pews in mainstream churches, where members are either aging or have fewer children than previous generations.

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More recently, with the advent of the Trump era, political divisions that have divided civil society have invaded America’s sanctuary. Smietana told stories of people leaving their former congregation, citing Trumpism and deep divisions over issues of gender, sex, and race. For many, isolation and separation from in-person services due to COVID-19 has provided space to reconsider old connections. The pandemic “accelerated this decline by interrupting the church-going habit of tens of millions of Americans and revealing internal conflicts that were bubbling beneath the surface of many churches, waiting to boil.”

Tangentially, and just as importantly, things are changing dangerously for America’s Catholic community. Smietana noted that Catholicism, due to its influence on immigration, is more diverse than many Protestants and therefore has a more stable membership. Population difficulties for Catholicism are of a different type. If immigration has held steady, membership has lost at least as much, if not more, than mainstream Protestantism in recent decades.

While Catholicism’s bottom line may appear healthy, another of its demographic difficulties is the long-term decline in ordained priests. It has had to deal with the consolidation of its own churches, and at a time when some parts of the Protestant world may be questioning the value of megachurches, Catholics are building larger churches to accommodate a dwindling number of priests.

The future is speculative, but it involves both institutional and personal change. However, any changes will be based on an honest assessment of the status quo. This evaluation is the most valuable contribution of McClaren and Smietana. Inconvenient truths don’t disappear just because we ignore them.

In the evolution of his own concept of God, McLaren noted that he had to give up his belief in a God whose purpose was to make life easy, moving beyond his belief in a God who “would answer my questions instead of questioning me.” Questions” need answers. “

This is a good place to start when facing an existential threat.


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