Christmas and Easter tend to be the two days on which Christian churches record their highest attendance. Some pastors I know refer to the people who come to church only on those two days as Poinsettia and Lily Christians.
Pastors complain that many lay people these days are not committed enough. Many lay people who are Poinsettia and Lily Christians accuse the institutional Church of being no longer relevant. When I ask them why they don’t go to church regularly, many of these folks reply that they are “spiritual but not religious,” i.e. they relate to God as individuals without conforming to any organized religion.
This anti-institutional bias isn’t just confined to religion. The institution of marriage has taken it on the chin. The U.S. census revealed that in 2010 there were 99.6 million people–44% of the population over the age of 18 in the U.S.–who were unmarried, almost double the percentage of singles in 1970. Two months ago, 93% of Americans in a CNBC poll gave Congress a negative rating. Fraternal organizations like the Eagles, Rotary, Kiwanis and Moose Lodge are all shrinking.
So, who’s to blame? Church goers accuse their non-practicing neighbors of a lack of commitment. Those who stay home on Sunday morning accuse the institutional church of irrelevance, hypocrisy, sexism, homophobia, pedophilia and only being interested in money.
Who’s to blame? Way back in the 1830s a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States. In his book entitled Democracy in America he noted how individualistic Americans were and worried that this individualism would eventually result in the unraveling of society.
For him, the only hedge on rampant individualism he observed in this country was the participation of great numbers of Americans in voluntary organizations like churches and fraternal organizations which took care of those who could not compete with those who were more able. And it’s precisely those voluntary institutions which have recently experienced a sharp decline in participation.
Do churches have hypocrites? Sure. Do some clergy abuse children? Clearly. Do 20% of the members of the Rotary Club do 80% of the work? Yes, but so what else is new? Does being a board member in my condo association infringe on my free time? Of course. Is the honeymoon over in your marriage? Probably a long time ago.
So, who’s to blame? Do churches need to become more relevant or do the non-attenders need to get more involved, especially on those days when there aren’t any flowers on the altar and no special music? Should the Chamber of Commerce do more for the businesses on Roosevelt Rd or should the businesses located there be more active in the Chamber? Should political parties get less concerned about winning and more focused on getting things done or should more than 20% of us get involved in politics by simply voting?
The answer of course is yes.
Keep up with new postings on my blog at oakpark.com/spiritualityethicsreligion
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.