Photo Credit: Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash
Today marked the release of the largest survey of people who identify as non-religious. 34,000 people participated in the survey. My understanding is that it is the largest survey of non-religious people ever done. The results for those of who are religious, or at the very least, Christian, ought to force us to ask some hard questions of ourselves. You can see the results of the survey here: Secular Survey.
What stood out to me the most was the level of rejection and fear that people who are non-religious faced in religious environments. Small towns or religious families were the worst in terms of not being accepting and loving toward the non-religious person.
My friend who is a secularist, shared the survey with me. Upon reading it, my first response was to apologize to him on behalf of my tribe. You see, so often when studies like this are published there is a response by many Christians, “Not all Christians are like that,” or “Those probably aren’t real Christians.” You see, it’s very easy to distance ourselves from our community when we come face to face with things we don’t like about it. We quickly fall into something called the “No True Scotsman Fallacy.” We simply can’t do that. If we believe in the doctrine of union with Christ and that those who follow Jesus are part of the one body of Christ, then as one goes, in some sense so goes all. This why for those of us who follow Christ, it is important to be engage deeply in community and holding one another accountable for our actions.
As I sit here at my desk pondering the ramifications of this survey it is stunning to me to come face to face with the reality that the Christian has become the persecutor. In many of the world Christians are persecuted, often times violently. In the United States we have enjoyed unparalleled power and safety. We are now in the position as power brokers. This a position that Christ intentionally said “No” to in his temptations. Yet, we clamor for it. As a result, we now sit enthroned as the ones who often decided what is accepted or not accepted in many communities.
I would hope that this reality would have brought about a greater sense of love, kindness, and acceptance in our world. That with followers of Christ who are to be known by their love that we would see those who are not like us, know that they are loved. But, instead our faith and power have brought us to a place where we do the opposite. In too many of our communities the religious people create fear and leverage power to get their way.
This of course begs the question: “Why?”
Why in place where religious folks dominate the landscape is there a sense of fear and hatred of those who are not religious?
Could it be that the non-religious simply are experiencing guilt and shame that the gospel would alleviate if they would simply trust Christ? Perhaps. For some that may very well be true. Yet, I don’t think this answers the deeper issue of rejection by family, friends, and community.
I think what we are seeing in the religious community is the embrace of fear over love. We are afraid that if we love the one who disagrees with us then this will somehow open the door for a great exodus of the faith. Friends, if this is the case then we have deeper issues than we realize. Our faith has always been one rooted in the faithful lovingkindness of a covenant God. This ought to provide us with a confidence to engage the world as it is and lovingly enter in with grace, mercy, compassion, and empathy. But, we have become much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day whom he called, “White washed tombs.” We look good on the outside but on the inside we are dead.
Whether or not we love those outside our faith is the demonstration of our faith. Do we want them to know Jesus and live in his way? Yes. Of course! But, this does not necessitate the use of fear, hate, and anger to somehow browbeat people into line. No, if we believe that our faith is based in loving relationship then our proclamation of the gospel needs to be rooted in the same thing and demonstrated in our lives.
The results of this survey ought to break our collective religious heart. I pray for the day that we are known by our love and by the way we invite those who are outside our faith into loving presence.