A recent report released by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution (as told by The Christian Century) shows that the religious landscape of the United States is quite diverse and will shift in fundamental ways over the next two generations.
A majority, 38 percent, of Americans, for instance, are considered “religiously moderate” while another 28 percent are considered “religiously conservative.” Yet, the number of religious progressives, 19 percent, and the nonreligious, 15 percent, are growing every year. It is newsworthy that progressives are only nine percentage points away from conservatives in the American populace.
Basically, although conservatives continue to have a stronghold over American politics and evangelical communities, religious moderates and progressives will garner greater numbers in the population in the next century. Meanwhile, statisticians believe that the non-religious sector will continue to grow exponentially as our culture takes an increasingly secular turn.
Reactions to this report are mixed and its not uncommon to find religious progressives asking whether they “won” the culture wars over the past 30 years against the religious right. Meanwhile, moderates still wonder how to market their brand of Christianity in a polarized atmosphere.
Growing up in a fairly conservative household, I once believed that we were indeed at war with the world and with secularism in general. Books authored by Pat Robertson and others influenced me to think in militaristic ways about engaging our society. Sure the battle was against Satan, but society was also inherently evil.
I soon grew impatient with this kind of rhetoric. As I traveled beyond my own little “world” to places as far as Ghana and Israel, I discovered that society is not so much an enemy to fight, but rather a place in which God’s redemption is very much at work.
I fostered a Christian mission to “save the lost,” but I didn’t have to be hostile in my approach toward the world (for “God so loved” it according to John 3:16) and to those with whom I disagreed.
Now, it seems that progressives are getting to boast for once, and using militaristic language is an easy temptation for them as well. Katherine Bindley, for instance, asks whether the rise of progressive and moderate forms of faith will result in a “political groundswell,” most likely to combat the era of a type of Christianity branded as homophobic, crassly individualistic, and out of step with mainstream America.
Even an article in The Christian Century entitled, “Survey finds strength in religious left,” implies that the religious right is somehow weakened because of generational trending and global approaches to theology and politics.
Although that’s far from militaristic language, such headlines contain a divisive undercurrent similar to that which existed in the faith formation of my youth.
Perhaps we need to ask a different question than those posed by many a journalist. We shouldn’t wonder who will “win” the culture wars within Christianity, but rather imagine the creative and inclusive ways in which God can bring the Church together to wield a type of nuanced faith that shapes both minds and hearts.
We can side with our conservative friends and work on “right belief” and revival, but we can also find inspiration in progressive values related to ecumenical collaboration, social justice initiatives, and interfaith dialogue.
I realize Rodney King’s adage, “Can’t we all just get along?” has become cliche. It is almost naive; but perhaps if we focus less on winners and losers within the church, we can spend more time proving to the world (and the growing population of “nonreligious” individuals) that Jesus is transformative in our personal lives as well as our communities in which we live and in which people continue to suffer.
If we see the world — and each other — as “us vs. them,” then we will continue to see our partisan religion (and politics) become all the more entrenched. Yet, the Bible pleads with us to not inflame a spirit of division, but to be of the same mind (1 Cor. 1:10).
It’s simply a matter of finding ways to work together, focus on the things that are important to God, and let the Holy Spirit do the saving and judging at the end of the day.
The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.trinityconyers.org.