Do you ever come upon an article in one of those relics we call newspapers and it pounds your mind into attention and elicits your respect?
Well, one written by nationally syndicated, Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. yanked me into reading every word, and then into rereading what stood out so powerfully in the Miami Herald.
Here was the headline that brought my attention to its knees: Americans still have faith in God, but more of us have lost our faith in religion.
Less than half of Americans polled say that they belong to a religious organization, hence churches are shrinking.
Not only congregants in churches, but in mosques and synagogues, too, are dwindling and recently the decline hit a milestone.
Pitts reported that for the first time since Gallup began tracking religious membership back in 1937, it has dropped below half. While then, 73 percent of us belonged to some house of worship, today it’s down to 48 percent.
Pitts’ article pointed to multiple reasons for the slippage, including the Catholic Church’s sex scandals, and “growing distrust of institutions in general and a modern disinclination to be pigeonholed into any single theological tradition.”
Then Pitts asks rhetorically could there also be another reason? “Could they have been driven away” specifically, where the white, evangelical church is concerned?
Pitts asks us to consider it a byproduct of the rise, a little over 40 years ago, of the so-called religious right as a political force. Suddenly, Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant rabbi whose life and death have inspired believers for two millennia, was adopted as “a mascot of Republican conservatism.”
It was not the first time that happened. Pitts pointed out that in 1980s people allowed their politics to be informed by their faith. The progressive left did the same thing as the lives and ministries of Jim Wallis, Jeremiah Wright, William Barber II and Martin Luther King, Jr. amply attest.
No, 40 years ago Pitts says we went from “feed my sheep” to cutbacks in school lunch programs. From “love ye one another” to ignoring AIDS because it was “only” killing gays. From “woe unto you who are rich” to tax cuts for the wealthy and trickle-down leftovers for everyone else. From compassion for “the least of these” to condemnation of mythical welfare queens and other lazy and undeserving poor.
“It was a faith less of joy than of perpetual outrage, less of hope than of abiding fear. Which means that ultimately, it was not faith at all, only the degradation thereof.”
Yet, even when they feel let down by the church, people don’t stop seeking truth. Gallup also reports that, depending upon how you word the question, as many as 87 percent of us still profess belief in God.
Yes, faith can shape politics, but when politics start shaping faith, maybe we’ve lost our way.
“When you find yourself preaching exclusion and rejection in the name of Him who said, “Come unto me,” maybe it’s time to recalibrate,” says Pitts.
Thankfully, articles such as this occasionally appear and strike a needed chord in our lives.