Sunday, May 26, 2019
Sunday Reflection: The Empty Churches
I'm finding it hard not to notice empty or abandoned churches wherever I go. Sometimes they have been converted into apartments. Recently, in DC, I had dinner with Joanne Braxton and some others in a restaurant/hotel that was built out of a former church. More often, they are just boarded up.
It's especially striking in rural areas, where the old church is just falling apart under the elements.
In many European cities, you can find a church every few blocks. If you are there on a Sunday, it is easy to find a seat as they are almost empty during services.
Christianity is fading as a moral force in this world.
There have, of course, been a number of self-inflicted wounds that have led to this fate. Almost any terrible act that you can think of-- supporting the Nazis, massive sexual abuse of children, taking the money of the impoverished--- has been committed by Christian churches and their authorities.
Some will blame a shift in culture, of course: that new media and entertainment have distracted people from the life of the church. Others will point to an affluence that makes God irrelevant, noting that Christianity is thriving, not dying, in less affluent countries.
Probably all of this is right to some degree.
If we accept the truth that Christianity is fading from view, or at least prominence, what are we Christians to do?
Two things, I think.
First, we should be able to thrive even as a minority in our societies. Faith does not rely on political power, after all, at least not this faith. And Jesus taught that we should expect oppression for our beliefs.
Second, there is an imperative to open doors to those who are not a part of the church. Too many individual churches really are social clubhouses; they (at least in part) exist to serve the beliefs and biases of the oldest and most powerful members of that church. Ministers avoid important topics to avoid offending those parishioners, even if those topics are the very ones that Jesus identified as most important.
If there is a third great awakening, I suspect it will not be lead by a silver-haired New England preacher. And wouldn't that be interesting to see?