Marble Falls Attending a funeral in an evangelical church recently, I was moved by the ritual of community solidarity in its search for peace and comfort in dealing with grief. Raised as a Lutheran, and long lapsed, over recent decades since our children have grown to be adults, my time in any kind of pew has been restricted to funerals or the touristic walkabouts in foreign lands. I even found myself admitting to mi companera that I was tempted to visit again from time to time just for the peace and calm such a space seemed to offer, regardless of what was for sale. On more reflection, this too will likely pass. The spirit is moving, but the institutions seem to be lost and crumbling.
Some recruitment tactics seem sketchy or what in days gone by we might fairly describe as un-Christian. I read an item about an operation called Gloo, which brings big data to their membership enrollment. Their website claims they serve 25,000 pastors. Others say the number is 30,000 or about 10% of all US churches. They claim to “…equip ministry leaders with software, community, expertise, and data designed to help them see more growth and more life change in their people.” There are few organizations or institutions who don’t used data, but Gloo seems to marshal personal data on individuals’ vulnerabilities that might make their very weakness a hot prospect for these customer churches. The Wall Street Journal reported that,
… Gloo has put itself at the forefront of an effort to analyze Americans’ personal data and online activities to help churches reach people most likely to be open to their messages and join their congregations. After The Wall Street Journal started reporting on the company, Gloo said it was no longer using mental-health data and had changed some of its earlier practices, and one of the company’s largest data providers ended its relationship with the firm.
If I had signed the guestbook, rather than hardly making the service in time, some pastor somewhere might be knocking on my door, sensing an opportunity, if they could find me.
Then there’s this whole effort to eliminate the division between church and state that seems so much a project of the Bible-thumpers on the Supreme Court. Hard to sign on to that. Equally abhorrent is the generalized politicization of the evangelical movement and other rock-ribbed religious outfits. Think the hypocrisy of Trump for example.
The mainline conservative Republican columnist for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, worries that the identification of evangelicals with Trump is eroding the very fabric of religion, as well as endangering democracy. She calls this idolatry. She quotes a piece in The Atlantic where Donald Trump, Jr. is ranting to tens of millions of evangelicals that they need to toughen up because the teachings of Jesus “have gotten us nothing” making the scriptures something akin to a manual for suckers.
Rubin goes on at some length, citing Robert P. Jones,
… who leads the Public Religion Research Institute, [and] writes that “in the upside-down world white evangelicalism has become, the willingness to act in self-sacrificial ways for the sake of vulnerable others — even amid a global pandemic — has become rare, even antithetical, to an aggressive, rights-asserting white Christian culture.” The result is reckless self-indulgence that places some evangelicals’ own aversion to “being told what to do” ahead of the health and lives of vulnerable populations.
White evangelicals remain the most vaccine resistant of any major religious group, with one quarter (25%) refusing vaccination (compared to only 13% of the country). And these refusal rates are not all tied to theological objections. Only 13% of white evangelicals say the teachings of their religion prohibit receiving a vaccine, a rate comparable to the general public (10%).
Strikingly, the evidence suggests churches and pastors are the heart of the problem. White evangelicals who attend religious services regularly are twice as likely as less frequent attenders to be vaccine refusers (30% vs. 15%). If ever there were clear evidence of a massive abdication of pastoral responsibility and leadership, this is it.
As self-identified evangelicals reject small inconveniences and show disdain for others’ lives, Jones observes, “there is no hint of awareness that their actions are a mockery of the central biblical injunction to care for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the vulnerable among us.”
Seems like the search for peace, calm, and spirituality might be better found by sitting under a tree, watching the dawn or sunset, or any number of other practices of contemplation, communion, and reflection than jumping back on this horse again. It can’t be a surprise to many why general church membership is plummeting, while desperation is finding many followers being led down a crooked path by those who should know better than to preach hurt, hate, and division.