In my own denomination 75 churches each week close for good. The attrition rate among pastors is staggering. According to LifeWay research (link) it may not be 1,500 a month walking away from the ministry but on average 250 each month do. The culture we live in has changed. Just a generation or two ago a local politician, think city council or school board member, was expected to be active in a local church in order to be considered a member of the community. Church attendance is no longer looked to as a metric and being outspoken about one’s faith may be a strike against a candidate. The rights to religious expression are challenged with increasing frequency, not just in the public arena but in homes and other private property.
Two items have caught my attention in the past couple of days:
1. The State of California has rewritten some language in an education bill that threatened to greatly infringe on religious liberty in that state. Had the bill passed unchanged, the only students that could receive any type of religious education would have been those training for a career in ministry. It would have effectively outlawed Christian colleges and universities, reserving religious studies to seminary students only. More here.
2. Target is about to spend $2 million on individual use bathroom stalls in all of their stores. Many stores already have such facilities, in addition to men’s and women’s restrooms, and soon all loctions will. Target denies the changes have anything to do with the boycotts and petitions generated by their bathroom policy announcement. I saw this headline in the Washington Post of all places.
Earlier this week, The Christian Index hosted a discussion of sorts about America being a “Christian nation.” Christians who responded were split over whether America used to be a Christian nation and no longer is vs. those who felt America never was a Christian nation to begin with. Very few argued that it still is today.
Meanwhile, California is about to become the first state to do away with religious/ faith-based education at the college level. If passed as is, SB 1146 would limit religious education to seminaries. Church affiliated schools, or colleges and universities that apply Christian principles to all areas of life, would be restricted from doing so with all students except those preparing for vocational ministry.
Please read this article by Ed Stetzer and Marty Duren via Christianity Today. This is one of those issues that could drag on through the court system for years to come, but we currently have an aging Supreme Court that’s already short one member and a presidential election coming up that could dramatically alter its balance of power. Who knows what the long term implications of this state legislation could be?
One vision of the future involves the advancement of scientific thought, the proliferation of world peace, and an abandonment of religious dogma. Many hope for (and some Christians fear) a future in which the logic and reason of science leads to the death of faith. Perhaps you wouldn’t know it by reading this blog, but I am a big fan of Star Trek. There are several things I try not to make a habit of posting on, sci fi being one of them. For those of you familiar with the Star Trek universe, please consider the level of religious tolerance in that particular view of the future.
Despite the advanced level of science and technology on Vulcan, that culture remains deeply rooted in the traditions of their past. Ancient temples and philosophies are revered. Even after joining the Federation, Klingons continue to meditate, keep ancient festivals, and even expect the return of Kahless (a messianic figure who parallels Christ in many ways.). Captain Sisko of DS9 is also the Bajoran “Emissary of the Prophets” and bearer of a mysterious orb. The Voyager series introduced us to Chakotay, a Star Fleet officer of Native American decent. Although he rebelled against his spiritual heritage as a boy, he would eventually have visions and talk to animal spirits. All without a conflict with what he knew of scientific investigation. By the 24th century, Starships have traversed much of the galaxy at many times the speed of light, allowing contact with thousands of species and cultures. And yet we do not witness religious persecution or mockery between scientific minds and primitive folk beliefs. Even as scientists witness the birth and death of star systems, they hold their own religious convictions in high regard.
Gene Roddenberry envisioned a future in which nations and worlds co-existed without losing one’s cultural identity. And that mutual respect extended to religious belief and practice. Just a thought. Is your idea of the future so optimistic?