It’s not unusual at this time of the year – the Resurrection Season – for elements of the media, as well as various and assorted pundits, to make news of – or sport of – religion in America, its denominations, churches and, particularly, its what-might-be-called anomalies, people or institutions or beliefs held as weird no matter how pervasive. This year is no different, the emphasis placed mostly on the fact that religion, or religious practice, is on the wane as the nation becomes either more collectively intelligent or more hedonistic or both.
The mainstream media would go for the “collectively intelligent” thing, even though, according to the polls, the media is all but held in contempt by the public, which distrusts them about as much as it distrusts the Congress. This became graphically apparent during the elections last year when that part of the media called “mainstream” (coastal newspaper biggies [now going bankrupt] and NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, CNN) actively campaigned for Obama, tailoring both news-sections and editorial pages to make the case. Fox News seemed to strike a balance, though it has been labeled by many as conservative, the antithesis of the mainstreamers, which are irrefutably liberal or lunatic-fringe liberal.
Just a casual observer might opt for the “collectively hedonistic” as he observes both the society and the news organizations, not to mention the various entertainment venues. Look at any TV news program and discover that, while the men are dressed to the nines in suits, ties, etc., nearly all the time, the women news-persons are intent on showing as much cleavage as possible if behind a prop/desk and as much thigh as possible if sitting…sorta as if they stopped by on their way to a cocktail party instead of a serious news program. Modesty is out, no matter how serious the subject, and cheesecake is in.
However, the religionists have done little to enhance the seriousness to which they lay claim, thus opening themselves up to the ridicule they often receive. This is seen across the denominational board, though in different ways. The “mainline” denominations – Presbyterians, Methodists, Disciples, Episcopalians, some Lutheran – have reduced their most serious (and often hostile) deliberations to concerning whether or not men should marry men and women should marry women, in short, whether or not to account homosexuality as “normal,” notwithstanding scriptural denunciation of homosexual behavior in almost unbelievably harsh terms. The also irrefutable biological parameters are obvious.
Indeed, the sizeable denomination called the United Church of Christ – with members Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama and Bill Moyers – officially approved of same-sex marriage years ago. Katharine Schori, the presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church, is publicly on the record as approving both same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexuals to ministry. The Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, is a practicing homosexual. All of these denominations have been declining in membership drastically in the last three decades, so one wonders if their members might think God is telling them something. Apparently not.
The so-called evangelicals and fundamentalists, fearing the loss of importance as well as membership, have gone the way of the “how the wind is blowing syndrome,” i.e., what’s selling these days? In many of these churches, especially the mega-churches, the crowd on a Sunday morning may look as if it’s on the way to the beach or the golf course and just stopped by to get in a bit of worship. The pastor/preacher, instead of dressing in his “Sunday best,” as used to be the case – a sign of entering God’s presence in only one’s best – will have on baggy pants, shirt-tail hanging out, stenciled T-shirt, and Nikes.
The mantra dictating this approach has to do with making the right appeal to the young, the notion that church must be equipped to compete fair-and-square for an adolescent’s attention, the older folks be forgotten, notwithstanding that they’ve built the church, in the first place. Thus, the beautiful pipe-organs have been shut in favor of electrified rock bands, the choirs and congregants read the words on the screen on the opposite wall (all singing the melody), and a “praise team” sporting mikes an inch from their mouths lead the worship in songs marked by words and a repetition so shallow and numbing that the angels looking on must be bored to tears.
So…at this time of the Resurrection celebration the name of the game is “fit the church into the world,” rather than “changing the world through the church.” Young people are not so dumb that they can’t see through this, but the churches have been fashioned lately by those who came of age during the “hippie-dom” of the 60s-70s and the succeeding generation. These are the folks who have corrupted education, business, social mores and thus the nation, whose motto is “I’m okay, you’re okay & if it feels good, do it.”
So…in many ways the church has joined the media, taking the course of least resistance and dwelling on the ecstasies, not the sacrifices, the result being a waning interest in and influence of…the church, just as is the case with the newsies. This is not the way of the cross, and until the church begins to reform itself its path will continue downward. When reformation gets underway, people will notice and the church will start an upward climb into validity. As of now for the most part, it’s just another part of the routine but not the most important part, as it should be. Now it talks the walk, but it won’t mean much until it walks the talk.
In the final analysis – HALLELUJAH, CHRIST HAS ARISEN! May the church renew its FAITH.