“It’s not that Christianity has been tried and failed, it has yet to be tried.” — Mark Twain
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In just a few weeks, On April 9, western Christians will celebrate Easter. Easter commemorates the death and resurrection of God-in-the-flesh, Christ, the Messiah.
Before Jesus was crucified, he made a prayer for unity in the church. If you look at Christianity, that prayer has been largely unanswered, at least to the casual observer. We have Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, numbering at 47,000 worldwide according to the “National Catholic Register”.
Based on “The 2020 Census of American Religion”, seven of ten Americans identify as Christian. This includes four in ten who identify as white, and more than 25% as people of color. Twenty-three percent are religiously unaffiliated, and 5% practice no Christian religion. Six percent identify as agnostic or atheist, divided equally at three percent.
According to Diana Butler Bass in a 2021 CNN Opinion article: “Unlike previous surveys, this one showed that the decline among White Christians has slowed. Indeed, the percentage of White Christians actually rose slightly due to growth in an unlikely category – an increase among white mainline Protestants, ‘an uptick’ of 3.5% in their proportion of the American population.”
Bass continues: “’Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020.’”
Perhaps this precipitous drop can be explained by the politization of Christian belief into party dogma, where religious belief meshes with a particular party or candidate, rather than emphasizing the virtues of servant leadership and service.
If you look at belief in the Seattle Metro area, 52% identify as Christian with 23% identifying as evangelical, and 10% as mainline. Ten percent identify as non-Christian faiths and 10% as atheist and 6% as agnostic. Twenty-two percent believe in “nothing in particular”. Based on these statistics, Washington is one of the most unchurched states in the nation.
So, how does this relate to Twain and Gandhi’s observations and to Easter? It’s clear that Christians are a flawed group, often claiming belief in words rather than actions. There’s a great gap between what one identifies as his/her belief and ones’ actions.
There have been major child sex scandals among two of the largest Christian organizations, Catholics and the Southern Baptist Convention. These events have not raised the reputations of Christians. Instead, it has decreased trust in organized religion and reinforced Twain’s and Gandhi’s observations.
But that’s only part of the story. Christians work in food banks and serve in charities of all types and descriptions. They provide for the poor and help the homeless. Christians work in schools teaching children, and do social work for troubled families.
The biggest thing that Christians should be doing is building relationships between differing groups.
According to a University of Virginia analysis, the United States is the most individualistic nation in the world.
Individualism is advantageous in that it incentivizes innovation and creativity. It’s disadvantageous in that people feel isolated and lonely. A lot of the mental illness and drug abuse we see in America today are due to these factors.
The central part of the Easter story is that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection restores a broken relationship between God and humans. In Christianity, we all share one trait in common, no matter what race, sex, gender, income level, or marital status. We’re all sinners. That makes us equal. We all start at the same level.
If actually practiced, Christianity should remind us all, whether Christian or not, that we should be humble. For some reason, remembering to be humble does not come easily to any of us, no matter what our age, status, or religious identity.
For those of us who find themselves in that in the 52-70% of the population who identify as Christian, preparing for Easter should be a time of self-assessment and admitting our flaws. Twain and Gandhi’s words sting. Perhaps it’s time to live up to the standards we claim to hold. People who do not share our faith are more concerned by what we do than what we identify as. Actions speak louder than words.