Richmond, Va. — A new poll tells an old story: Americans are deeply religious, especially compared to Europeans. “Religious devotion sets the United States apart from some of its closest allies,” according to an AP-Ipsos survey. “Nearly all U.S. respondents said faith is important to them and only 2 percent said they do not believe in God.” Western Europeans are the “least devout” among the people surveyed (countries include the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, and Spain).
I certainly found this to be true while working on my new book, Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. In interviews with believers a consistent theme emerged. They believers rejected the God-lite of progressive Christianity. They desire the absolute God of tradition.
Writer Andy Ferguson encountered the lesser god while taking a class at a West Coast Episcopal seminary. Andy sometimes argued basic Christian beliefs with a professor. After one such discussion he repaired to the lunchroom, where he was approached by a fellow student. “We have finally figured out what your problem is,” the classmate said. “You are the only one here who believes in God.” Andy thought it over and concluded: This guy is right. Thus began a journey that recently took him into Catholicism. In economic terms he had switched brands. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be switching back.
Andy’s not alone. The most recent “Religious Congregations and Membership” study, published in 2000 (the study is conducted each decade) by the Glenmary Research Center, tells the statistical story. Progressive churches are progressing, it seems, ever closer to oblivion. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (11,106 churches) has experienced a decline of 11.6 percent over the previous ten years; the United Methodist Church (35,721 churches) was down 6.7 percent; and the Episcopal Church (7,314 churches) lost 5.3 percent of its membership. Also, the United Churches of Christ (5,863 churches) declined 14.8 percent while the American Baptist Churches USA were down 5.7 percent.
The denominations showing growth included the deeply conservative Southern Baptist Convention, a collection of 41,514 churches, whose overall growth rate was 5 percent. The traditionalist Presbyterian Church in America (as opposed the mainline Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) experienced an impressive 42.4 percent increase, while the Christian and Missionary Alliance rose 21.8 percent. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Free Church was up 57.2 percent, and Pentecostal denominations also boomed. The Assemblies of God, with 11,880 churches, saw 18.5 percent growth, while the Church of God, with 5,612 churches, saw growth of 40.2 percent.
What is behind this traditionalist rise and progressive decline? The New York Times, in its summary of the survey, noted, "Socially conservative churches that demand high commitment from their members grew faster than other religious denominations in the last decade…." Glenmary director Ken Sanchagrin told the paper he was “astounded to see that by and large the growing churches are those that we ordinarily call conservative. And when I looked at those that were declining, most were moderate or liberal churches. And the more liberal the denomination, by most people’s definition, the more they were losing."
God-lite is thin beer indeed. One group of theologians has whittled the traditional God down to 30 percent of his original power: He cannot affect the past or future and isn’t holding all that many cards in the present. This 30 percent god may not be powerful enough to fix a parking ticket. For many Americans he is certainly not worth rolling out of bed for on Sunday mornings. [Source]
God-lite indeed. I can almost see a commercial with two people arguing over God-lite. Less filling – No taste. The call to relevancy has made God irrelevant. Christianity with no commitment and no cross. A church that is but an echo of society instead of a radical call to holiness and love of God and neighbor. Instead of the rich theological banquet spiced with mystery we have received theological junk food that never quite looks like the picture it is advertised with. God-lite looks so good from the outside from the human perspective and leaves you with nothing to sink your teeth or your mind into. There was never no false advertisement with Christ who up front told us "to pick up the cross daily." The modern church advertises itself as having an "open mind" leading invariably to empty congregations.
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you" — St. Augustine.