I speak a lot. That is, much of my time is spent traveling and giving presentations about faith, work, and economics. Being an extrovert and passionate about the subject matter, I rarely get so nervous that my palms are shaking and my hands are sweating.
But, during a panel I spoke at this spring, I not only felt nervous, but attacked.
I was invited to be on a panel on the morality of capitalism. I was the only Christian on the panel. Even though I was completely qualified to speak, I felt vulnerable and unqualified because I not only presented a Christian perspective on rights, a message that the other panelists—all atheists—opposed, but as Christian I stood for something they condemn.
This was a novel experience for me, but I’m afraid it’s a representative experience of an increasing number of Christians.
Christianity’s Fading Influence
In a report released last week, Pew Research reveals an interesting trend in attitudes toward religion. 34% of evangelical Christians identify with the statement that it is more difficult to be a member of their religious group in recent years. Alternatively, 31% of religious “nones” say it has become easier.
Additionally, Pew found that many surveyed believed Christianity was losing its influence in America.
- Almost 72% of survey responders believed that religion’s influence in American life is waning. Those who identified with this statement also indicated that this downturn was not a good thing.
- When asked if churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters or express their views on day-to-day social and political questions, 49% responded that churches should express these views. This is an increase of six points since the 2010 midterm elections.
- A growing minority (32%) believes that churches should come out in favor of candidates.
In a country founded upon principles that are undeniably Christian, these statistics are shocking. They mark a stark departure from the attitudes of our parents’ generation. While the longer-term implications of this apparent decrease in Christianity’s public influence are as of yet unknown, it is important that we take these statistics to heart and be part of the solution.
Redefining Christianity’s Influence
Many Christians may find themselves in the 34% of evangelicals who experience greater difficulty at work as a member of the body of Christ, but we should not be discouraged from embracing the opportunity that these data reveal. As Amy Julia Becker observes in a recent Christianity Today post, the term “religious” has come to have uncomfortable connotations. She says,
It [the term “religious”] usually comes as an explanation for why I won’t like something or why I wouldn’t know about some local gossip. It almost always seems to mean that I am an outsider by choice.
Even though some are not comfortable with all that Christianity entails, the absence of Christianity in the public sphere is missed. The world recognizes something different about Christians and their impact.
These statistics beg some questions: To what is God calling each of us? How well are we responding to this call?
Even though this research reveals an acknowledged need, the world, if polled, would provide different responses to these questions of calling. Many are willing to identify with a Christianity that is impersonal and exists primarily in a public arena. It is more difficult to live out a Christianity that is intensely personal, vulnerable, and unmistakable.
In the workplace, school settings, or the public sphere, we have daily opportunities to demonstrate justice, extend love, and promote flourishing. As Becker expresses in the aforementioned post, Christianity is about a relationship, not a religion. We need to bear witness to this relationship well.
The 34% of evangelical Christians who find it difficult to be a member of their religion may become 35%, or 40%, or 60%. I may experience animosity on future speaking tours, and workplaces may become more hostile. But we have an active God, and we are called to show his love actively to those around us as we go about as his instruments to bring about flourishing.
Let’s be known not just as people who are out of touch with the office gossip, but who are an active resource for good.
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