Thursday, February 24, 2011

Trend Follower

However, we can find encouragement in the fact that other evangelicals - and members of other religious traditions too - have adapted to ethno-racial diversity. Like the adaptation to changing gender roles described in the previous chapter, most religious Americans have conformed to the broader societal norms endorsing racial tolerance. To "adapt" and "conform" are passive verbs, chosen because, in general, religion has not served a prophetic role and promoted greater racial equality. Religious Americans are following the trend, not setting it.
Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 315.
Religious institutions are followers not leaders in American culture. That is a heavy charge to make against groups that the majority of which would say they want to be changers of culture. How do you change culture when you are constantly adapting to fit into it? Taking a look at how American religious institutions have adapted to the changing gender roles, socio-economic relationships, and racial tolerance is eye-opening. Not because they have done so poorly at it, but because they have adapted and conformed in much the same way as the rest of American culture has. So the question is are American churches followers of God or simply cultural clubs?

Here are some things I think. The first is that I believe churches have started hiring female pastors simply because American cultural views of women workers has changed. With the rise of female power, authority and education in culture it became permissible for churches to employ them. Although I am happy to see female pastors, part of me wants to know why the church for so long did not have them but now the "rules" have changed. In other words is the church admitting to failure to recognize female leadership in the past or do we truly believe that in the last 30 years females have all of a sudden become acceptable spiritual leaders?

The second is in giving. I think the American church does a pretty decent job at this. Could it be better? Certainly - but that should not discount the good being done now. But the issue I have is the growing socio-economic divide that we are facing in America and has come to rear its ugly head within the church. Although the church does give money to those in need - it rarely seems to confront the issue that people with money struggle to relate to and form relationships with those without. Giving cash to a person in need is beneficial - befriending them and doing life with them is a whole, bigger step. What is the church doing to promote those types of relationships? Or has the church become okay with the idea of giving money but never actually seeing those who receive it?

Third and final is with racial tolerance. I think this is the hardest one because I think most Americans (myself included) do not do well with this. I believe the church has gotten more racially tolerant and for the most part people seem to be breaking down their out-right, blatant racist viewpoints. However, like in giving - its one thing to say I don't view other ethnicities as lower than my own, it is a whole, bigger issue to say I am seeking relationships and friendships outside of my own comfortable race bubble. Most churches remain homogeneous collections of people. That seems to be a far cry from the "every tongue, tribe & nation" worshipping model. The reality is that what little progress has been made in the church once again mirrors the slow growth model of American culture.

The church should have the desire and ability to set trends not follow them. Until it figures out how to do that, though, it will remain an American cultural club designed to make its members feel included and entertained while failing to bring the impact the surrounding society desperately needs.