I was sitting in the church amongst a group of others a few days ago when some of our congregation came in expressing exasperation because they had just passed one of the Sunday School rooms and overheard two members of the church discussing politics. Of course, these two particular members, if they couldn’t discuss politics, would be discussing the dynamics of motorcycle direction changes, how high is up, or whether or not one can truly say that day is light and night is dark — anything to get an argument going and going and going. Politics was just available because of a recent decision in the political arena where there was quite a bit of Christian sediment stirred up (and no, I didn’t mean “sentiment:” I meant to imply throwing dirt to muddy the water). Immediately, someone else chimed in expressing a view which supported the first one — politics should not be discussed in church. I was stunned. I’d always felt that church was where you learned how to apply Christian precepts to everyday life. By definition, politics (which is the art of solving problems without using deadly force) would have to enter in to that. In the face of such violent and well expressed opposition to my feeling, however, I wisely kept my mouth shut. But, I resolved to search out other people’s views of what we are or should be doing in Christian churches.
At this point, please let me offer you some advice: never, never, never start a search of other people’s views without first narrowly, narrowly, narrowly defining what it is you want to find out. In fact, if you define what you want to know narrowly enough, you won’t even have to ask anybody else’s actual opinion because it will be clear what
any sane person would do in that situation. This is a well used technique favored by everyone from despots to parents and for good reason, as my sad tale will show. If you fail to narrow your definition sufficiently, you might find out something you didn’t want to know.
My first mistake was listening to my wife as she talked about the United Methodist General Conference, condensing the hours of video she’d watched into a few minutes of exposition. Somewhere, she mentioned the fact that the average age of a United Methodist member in the United States was sixty years old. Maybe, I thought, I should investigate how younger people view the Christian church as we don’t seem to have a plethora of the sixteen to twenty-nine crowd attending our church either. At that point, I made my second mistake, that of talking about my quest to Susan’s eldest sister, the college professor, who is, quite frankly, intelligent enough for herself and the next two people in line behind her. She mentioned a study about how young Americans viewed the Christian church in America. Perfect, thought I, so I hunted down the study.
I found it, too. The study was conducted by the Barna Group. You can look them up online, but don’t hope for some prejudice which would skew the results — it’s a Christian group. The study found that in America, among the sixteen to twenty-nine folk, the following words were used to describe Christians and the Christian church: 87% thought that Christians were judgmental, 85% thought that Christians were hypocritical, 82% thought that Christianity teaches the same things as other religions, 78% thought that Christians were old-fashioned, 76% thought that Christians had good values and principles, 75% thought that Christians were too political (so maybe I’m incorrect), 72% thought that Christians were out of touch with reality (but not that incorrect), 71% thought that Christians were friendly, 70% thought that Christians were insensitive to the needs of others, 68 % thought that Christians were boring, 64% thought Christians were not accepting of the faith of others, 61% thought Christianity was confusing, 55% thought that Christianity was a faith you could respect and consistently showed love for other people, and 52% thought Christians were people you could trust. Okay, let’s all agree that most of this is likely to be generational — the respondents were probably thinking mostly about their own parents who were all probably Christians. But there was one other statement that nine out of ten of the respondents made that can’t be accounted as generational. It is how Christianity is defined by a whopping 91% of Americans, aged sixteen to twenty-nine — Christians are the people who hate gay people.
If we, as the followers of Jesus, are primarily known to the children of our own nation as the people who hate ANYBODY, we are doing something seriously wrong. This study was done five years ago. If it were done again today, do you think the percentages would have changed? Which way?