Tag Archives: post-Christian

The end of Christian supremacy: New hope for resurrection

After our great sunrise meeting in the park on Easter I ate all sorts of delectable things I had missed for a long time. It seemed like a good time to exercise off a few pieces of candy, so Gwen and I took off for our nearby forest path. On the last leg, we went by Treetop Quest, the zipline and ropes course fun that opened not too long ago. I wondered what all the cars were doing parked along Chamonix Dr. on Easter Sunday. Treetop Quest was not closed for Easter.

I think you need to be a pretty old Christian to be surprised at what is open on Easter Sunday. My grandson kept looking at his father’s watch to see if the family brunch was going to end in time for him to make his soccer practice…on Easter Sunday.

The end of Christian supremacy

I had a job titled “youth director” for much of my twenties. Just for a reference point, Ronald Reagan ousted Jimmy Carter as president in 1981 when I was 27. Not long before then, I had an unforgettable conversation with a high school girl about the resurrection of Jesus. She had never heard of it. She literally did not know what the word “resurrection” meant, for sure. I remember going home to Gwen and talking about this experience, after I changed a couple of diapers. I told her this was the first rivulet of a flood of newness coming upon us who were used to our environment being saturated with Christianity. Jimmy Carter, the real Christian, who later went on to prove it, was replaced by Ronald Reagan, who’s soulmate, Nancy, consulted astrologers for auspicious times for Ronnie to do things. Reagan beget Bush who beget Trump.

I should not be surprised about Treetop Quest being open on Easter or that atheists and Muslims often protest when the government persists in putting up Christmas trees and, even worse, Nativity scenes in December. The big news in the social scientist sphere last month was that the regular census of religious adherents in the U.S. showed for the first time that over half the country are not church members.

Let’s be clear, Gallup has been measuring “church membership” for 80 years and plenty of megachurches do not even have a way to be a member, formally. One’s attendance is their membership; being on the mailing list or fundraising list is one’s membership. But plenty of long-lived churches have seen a decline in their membership; it is minus 25% in Philadelphia’s region in the last decade. Non-college graduates and unmarried individuals showed the greatest decline. Declines were proportionately smaller among political conservatives, Republicans, married adults and college graduates. Those groups have the highest rates of church membership, along with Southern residents and non-Hispanic Black adults.

All this data might be more about how people do not affiliate than about the prevalence of Christianity. It might be about how people are freeing themselves from heretical American theology and fraudulent church systems rather than deserting Jesus. But my anecdotal experiences of a rivulet of unbelief among high school students in the 80’s became a river among Gen Xers in Philadelphia in the 90’s. It feels like a sea change in the 2020’s. Christian supremacy is dying in the United States. It died a long time ago elsewhere.

Resurrection in post-Christian culture

My historical heroes are Desert Fathers and Mothers, Benedictines, Franciscans, Anabaptists, Wesleyans and others who always took the Jesus way between church factions fighting for or submitting to political power. Even when fighting for social justice I never thought winning the fight was anyone’s final solution. So I remember sitting in the front yard with my buddies back in my twenties, plotting what we should do now that Ronald Reagan was ushering in a new godless era – how’s that for prophecy! The part of the church that decided to defend Christian supremacy eventually helped elect Donald Trump! As Dr. King taught us, it is good to be on the “right side of history” – that is, to keep making history in collaboration with Jesus. I still find great joy in being on that quest.

I am happy the church is finally more like a minority group in the United States. For one reason, it is very clarifying. You can’t assume someone even knows it is Easter. “Christmas” is fully superseded by “holiday” and thinking Sunday is a day of rest, or special (besides being the weekend) makes one weird. I forgot about my cell meeting one time after it became another TV show last year — and I was in charge of it! Suddenly, being an actual Christian takes some effort when it is uncommon to be one. That effort is so good for us.

Parents now need to nurture faithful children rather than just send them to church. My parents were early adopters of post-Christianity. They probably would have been great modestly-believing church members if they had been able to get along with hypocrites. I could “go to church” as an act of differentiation. But no one would just send a kid to church these days; who knows what might happen to them? The children won’t hear about the resurrection in school, so they’ll need a parent. Our situation already sounds more like the Bible, doesn’t it?

The writers of the New Testament represent a tiny minority from a tiny part of the Roman Empire. They are not going along with what was going along. Jesus calls his way “narrow.” The broad way is leading to destruction, as in global warming and the cultural captivity of the church, among other things. Their message leads off with the incarnation of God and ends up with his resurrection. They never talk about going to church or taking over the government — they are the church and eventually undermine the government. Their message is so strong it keeps rising from the dead. American slaves get it, toss the faulty vessel in which it arrives and come up with their own improvement — they are still the most Christian element of the U.S. population! The liveliest parts of the 21st century church are in all the places European Christians brutally colonized the world in service to their idols. Jesus overcomes the world.

Being in the treetops on Sunday has a lot of merit and running around after a soccer ball could be a good thing. People have decided to follow Jesus under worse circumstances. Like I said, their master might not let them learn how to read or their colonizers might organize conflict between the people groups you just spent generations to reconcile. Jeff Bezos might spend his billions figuring out how to get more out of you. Another pandemic is not unlikely. In the face of all that, Jesus followers keep saying, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again,” echoing that first minority group writing the Bible:  

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3-5

5 reasons some people are tired of being a Christian

More and more people are just plain tired out from being a Christian. They feel a change in their world. They are uncomfortable about adapting.

I think they are feeling a nostalgia for a time that may have never existed: “Christendom” — a time when the state and the church had some kind of joint rule of the society. (If it ever really worked like that, it was a LONG time ago).

The privatization of the church accelerated after WW2 when science took over truth at government expense; now the day of the church being consulted about society is over.

I am not sure I feel that nostalgia, since when I became a Christian I changed my allegiance to the Kingdom and didn’t worry about how I fit into the “public.” But a lot of people did not see their conversion like I did, so they are hurting. Here are some reasons they are tired — and why you might be tired of being a Christian, too.

Click the pic to find your city.

 

  1. Leaders are fighting to fill the post-Christian vacuum

Regardless of how it happened, the church as an institution in society is not as important as it used to be. (Of course we have always thought that being a mere institution under the umbrella of “society” was wrong anyway!). I celebrate the end of the unholy alliance — it marginalized Jesus and distorted the Gospel. But the end of it does leave a cultural vacuum – and a lot of Christians spend a lot of time getting sucked into the debates over ideas, theology, and the relationship between faith and a changing culture.  If they are Americans, they tend to think their culture is crucial and their ideas extremely important. So their leaders talk about what to do now all the time (like I am) and get them to fight for the soul of nation (like I hope not to do). Conflict makes people tired. Any time there is some kind of cultural vacuum being flooded with a mixture of new and old ideas, there will be conflict. We hate conflict.  It makes us tired — tired enough to switch on the tube and binge again — or something.

  1. Christian tribes are splintering and dying

Christians have been breaking off into tribes since the early days. Early disciples had debates about whether to follow Jesus or John the Baptist (John 1-3), Paul, Apollos or Peter (1 Cor. 3). 1500 years later the Church experienced the magisterial and radical reformations. Since that time, the Church has splintered off into somewhere around 40,000 denominations. Even broad categories such as “progressive” or “evangelical” even Mennonite are now seeing an emergence of splinter tribes who often shoot their own people for aberrant views. People tend to take their thinking from the present democratic philosophies about identity that is creating tinier subgroups every day which then get hardened by niche marketing. This leaves many people feeling like there’s no place where they can just exist and wrestle in emotional safety – most of the time they expect to get shot so they just become masters at hiding. It is tiring to be on the run.

  1. With another presidential campaign looming, despair is rising.

When the first presidential candidate officially kicked off the 2016 presidential cycle, some people wanted to cry. It seems like the last election just ended a few days ago. Some people care about this circus and some people decidedly don’t. The people in the middle get squeezed from both sides. Christians join right in with the quadrennial feast of lies and judgathons and judge, ostracize, and write-off other believers on the basis of which candidate they prefer. Politics married off to Jesus divides his people – the people called to live in unity and love. It is tiring to feel judged.

  1. The current of Christless culture is getting stronger and most people are not used to swimming upstream.

One of my acquaintances posted this on Facebook yesterday: “Two days ago we were walking down 40th St and walking towards us is a young Dad and his maybe 6-7 year old daughter, and as we pass each other the little girl turns to me and says, “Hey sugar.” Then yesterday at work our customer’s special needs daughter told me I looked like Jesus Christ with tattoos. I don’t know what else to say besides, Yoga?” Hot AND beatific – and all due to Yoga. He was being funny (since he just started Yoga). But it is a new era. Ex-Christians have their own churches.

Life in much of the Church was so tied to the old, modern culture that it was never counter to culture. Now that it is essentially excluded from hyper-modern culture, people don’t know what to do. They used to own the culture and bought the false belief that somehow Kingdom priorities were aligned with the priorities of empire. Not so. Passionate Jesus followers who want to live and be the words of Jesus are finding themselves at odds not only with much of the dominant culture, but at odds with the church, which has spent almost 1800 years trying to make the world work as part of the government. Counter cultural faith is beautiful – but it can be tiring. Most Christians don’t have much stamina built up for going against the current, in their brains, hearts or habits.

  1. Authentic, real-world relationships and community are hard to find. Virtuality doesn’t cut it. Consumerism is boring.

Being countercultural and at odds with both post-Christian culture and institutionalized church, leads to  isolation all around. Some Jesus followers are finding churches who are doing wonderful Kingdom things and who are refusing to collude with empire (I hope we are one!). Others are not finding churches like that and have to settle for “online” community because they’re often ostracized from a local body of believers. Unfortunately, for whatever benefits one gets from an online community, they are hardly a replacement for real world, show-up-at-your-door-with-food relationships.  Live this way long enough, and it’s a straight shot to Christian burnout.

Are you feeling like any of this? What are the things that are leading you to how you feel? What suggestions do you have for easing the trouble a radical Jesus follower might face?

[Much of this was suggested by Benjamin Corey]