The Decline of Christianity: How toxic fundamentalism is failing to reach the next generation
Hello everyone and welcome back. I am sorry for the delay in posts, I had intended on posting this last week but was unable to find time to do so. I hope that you can forgive me. I am very excited about this week's topic because I think that it is interesting, provocative, and connecting. To give a little more information than the title does, I am going to be discussing how I think that the Christian church's overly rigid fundamentalism is causing a decline in actively church attending youth. I will further describe how detrimental I believe this decline to be in relationship to the survival of the Christian faith in the future. As usual, I hope that you have brought an open mind, and I welcome dialogue and debate if necessary.
To begin, I would like to present some of the statistics related to church attendance, and by church I am referring to protestant churches. During the 1950's, American church attendance saw its peak of 50%, while this may not seem very impressive, it is certainly far more impressive than the 37% who are attending as of 2014. This was a gradual decline up until the late 1990's at which point the numbers literally started to take a dive. While there are many factors that contribute to the decline, my greatest fear is in a non-progressive, hyper-rigid, stagnate fundamentalism. In many churches across the country, there is one specific doctrine which is adhered to, it holds that there is one true God who is Yahweh, He operates as part of a trinity with two additional separate but equal parts- the Son Jesus Christ and The Holy Spirit, God sent his son Jesus to Earth to die for (and therefore atone for) the sins of mankind, acceptance of Christ's salvation is the only way to receive forgiveness of sin, and therefore enter into full communion with the Father, (here is the key part) the Bible is one of (in addition to prayer, and direct speech) God's forms of communication with mankind, and is the infallible word of God. Many of you are surely reading this and finding many similarities to your own church's statement of faith, I definitely resonate with these beliefs as well. The difficult thing is that I agree with a lot of those core doctrines as a practicing Christian, but I can not stand fully behind the idea that the Bible is the true inerrant word of God. I think that this belief of scriptural inerrancy is the engine behind the machine of religious fundamentalism, and therefore, a root cause of decline in church attendance, and the increase in secularism and Atheism. Many people who are able to feel a powerful call from God, and create a rudimentary relationship with Him, are subsequently turned away from many churches because they are caught up in a form of Christianity that literally tries to press people into an impossible mold.
For nearly my entire life I have been a Christian, I attended a Christian private school from 3rd grade until I graduated, and then spent my first semester of college at a Christian university. I was in church until I was 18, and had no other goal than being a pastor, missionary, or some other type of clergy for the majority of my life. So what sent me off path? I am a pansexual transwoman. I have known of my attraction to people other than woman since I was very young, and my gender identity for almost as long. I know now that these are part of my identity as a human, they are inseparable from me. My sexual attraction and gender identity are innate parts of my existence as a person in this world, and, as a child of God. My church denominations, and some of my instructors in my school, however, taught me that "these lifestyle choices" were an abomination, and that it was impossible to be in fellowship with God if I "chose one of these deviant lifestyles", and that "freedom" could be attained through prayer, Bible study, or "counseling". I tried everything to change myself. I prayed incessantly, and confessed to spiritual leaders, I went to Christian therapists...I begged with the God of the universe to change me, because I could not stand to be separated from him. All these things of course proved fruitless, I still had the hots for guys, and cross-dressed, and fantasied about becoming a woman...it was beyond frustrating......it was depressing. By the time I left high school, I left my faith, and literally went off the deep end. I was partying, and experimenting with drugs, having unprotected anonymous sex...anything I could do to numb the pain. I was lost in the dark without the only thing that had helped me before...my faith and my relationship with God. But I felt I could not come back. I tried to come back to the faith, and felt confident as a (bisexual) "man", but it was not long before I could not hide the fact that I am trans. All of the sudden, I was distant again. For me, I have accepted that if the Bible is to be read literally, then there is no place in Christianity for "people like me", but the good news is that I know my God loves me, and there is more than one way to read scripture.
It is becoming commonplace in modern Biblical scholarship to accept a more nuanced, informed, and progressive approach to the scriptures. In other words, the Bible should not be read cover-to-cover as literal fact. It is divided into sections of different literary styles with different purposes. There are a variety of different authors, writing to different people, for different reasons, and at different times (context). There are centuries of translations from an ancient language, which requires its own form of Biblical study (hermeneutics). There are a lot of good reasons to believe that the Bible is not intended to be read as a literal document. I still hold the Bible in reverence and think that there is a lot of essential doctrine and wisdom to be found within it, but I can not be expected to believe something which contradicts the very character of the God I worship, or the laws of nature which He created. As long as the Christian church remains veiled in its toxic fundamentalism, we will continue to lose this entire generation, and perhaps, our influence as a major religious force. It is time to take a hard look in the mirror as a religion, and decide collectively what path we want to forge. Christianity, I believe, is a religion for everyone, not just for the pious, or the heterosexual white guy, or the old conservative business owner....what would Jesus' community church have looked like?
To bring this to a close I would like to first apologize, I know that I didn't give a good basis for questioning the legitimacy of scriptural inerrancy outside of personal experience, but that is a topic I have planned for a few weeks out! The point I was trying to make here is that we have to become a church of radical acceptance and love, not of piety, religiosity, fundamentalism, and ignorance. We should not be the pillar of intolerance and hate because that is just not anything Jesus would do, and it certainly is not something He would want. So please, let's change our church for the better, and start fishing for souls rather than arguing about who people should go to bed with, or how old the Earth is.
As always, thanks for reading!