As the calendar turns, here we are…What? September already? Wait, wait. My summer want-to-do list is still in the drawer. Not a good sign as the days begin to shorten.
I hope you have had a summer filled with the spirit of creation that abounds here in the Pacific Northwest. People in the Northwest have been blessed by good weather this summer, and, not to start an argument, I think we are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places in creation.
Small wonder then that many people in the Pacific Northwest find the expression of their spirituality through God in creation and claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”
Diana Butler Bass in her book “Christianity After Religion” points to several happenings in the past decade. She calls it the “Horrible Decade” that brought about a significant shift in religious expression away from religious and toward spiritual.
The first event, 9/11. Immediately after the terrorist attack, churches were full. But then well-known Christian fundamentalist leaders came out strongly saying that 9/11 was God’s punishment for America’s lack of moral value. So that was it, huh? God’s punishment was to fly airplanes into buildings killing innocent children and adults. Exit religious, enter spiritual.
The second event, the Roman Catholic (and yes, other denominations as well) sexual abuse scandals. A 2008 Pew Foundation survey found in the aftermath of the scandals that one-third of the Americans who were raised Catholic no longer considered themselves Catholic. Exit religious, enter spiritual.
The third event, the Protestant human sexuality conflicts. Regardless of where one stood on the sexuality issue, what people outside the churches saw, sadly, was Christians at maybe their worst; not being very Christian toward each other and those whose sexual orientation was not heterosexual. Exit religious, enter spiritual.
The fourth event Bass articulates was the significant political shift to the conservative religious right. Exit, particularly in young people, religious, and enter spiritual.
Bass describes more issues like Hurricane Katrina, where conservative Christian leaders called the destruction “God’s punishment” and the outcome was the same. Exit religious, enter spiritual.
The result of this “Horrible Decade?” In a 10-year period, Gallup polls indicated that Americans describing themselves as “religious only,” those who associate with organized religion in some manner, went from 54 percent of the population to 9 percent of the population. At the same time, those who defined themselves as “spiritual and religious” went from 6 percent of the population to 48 percent of the population. That’s a significant movement away from adherence to organized religion.
If churches are wondering where everybody went and why, perhaps we should look in the mirror and ask what Jesus really meant when he said such radical things as love your neighbor and go and do likewise.
You see, there is another side to the Horrible Decade, and that is the good news of God’s grace and love given for you and for all people, and it’s being shared at a church near you this Sunday. Come and see. You might find that it is more beautiful in your life than the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.