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April 29, 2009
Column # 1,444
"The End of Christian America?"
By Mike McManus

During Holy Week, Newsweek's cover story was entitled "The Decline and Fall of Christian America," the words of which were in the shape of a cross, written in red.

The magazine quotes R. Albert Mohler, Jr, President of the huge Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as writing: "A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture."

Statistically, there is a decline of Christianity in America. The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christian has dropped 10 points from 86 to 76 percent. The percentage of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith tradition has doubled to 16 percent. Finally, the number of atheists has jumped from 1 million people to 3.6 million.

More important, two-thirds of Americans believe that religion is "losing influence" while only 19 percent think its influence is growing.

However, it is a gross exaggeration to call America "post-Christian" when 76 percent of the nation consider themselves Christian, and two-fifths of America attend religious services weekly.

On the other hand Europe is post-Christian with church attendance down to one tenth or less.

Pollster George Barna recently reported a more nuanced perspective.  He found that half of all adults contend that Christianity is just one of many options that Americans choose from. Two-thirds of evangelicals, who tend to be more fervent in their faith, agreed that Christianity no longer has a lock on U.S. hearts.

However, by 3-1, Americans say their personal religious faith is "becoming even more important to them than it used to be as a source of objective and reliable moral guidance," Barna reports.  So while people think others are less committed, their own commitment level has risen.

That's proof that the Christian era has not ended.

Extraordinarily high percentages of born-again Christians, African-Americans and conservatives (84 to 91 percent) say their faith is becoming more important to them.

True, conservatives are chagrined by the undeniable growth of liberalism in Washington.  Not only is President Obama pro-abortion and a big spender, but he helped sweep substantial majorities of Democrats into control of the House and Senate. In Obama's first 100 days in office, Congress passed a huge $787 billion stimulus package despite the opposition of virtually all Republicans.

However, what matters to people of faith is how they live their lives. How many are making a difference in the lives of others?  America has long been a nation of volunteers.  Last year 62 million Americans volunteered time to serve others, 26.4 percent of the population. That is a large and remarkably stable share of the nation, down less than one percent since 2002, reports a survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On average people volunteer about an hour a week. Frankly, however, that is not much.  Nor am I impressed by the fact a quarter of Americans are volunteers.  If three-fourths are Christians, why aren't at least half of Americans donating time for others?

My conclusion is that most churches don't have a strategy to encourage volunteerism outside of church internal needs for the choir, Sunday School, etc. What is possible can be seen in the Saddleback Church of Dr. Rick Warren, where 13,000 lay ministers have been ordained (out of 30,000 members) to serve in 400 different community ministries.

I was a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien, CT in 1981, when I heard my pastor, Rev. Terry Fullam, ask this question:  "What are you doing to serve the Lord?  Don't tell me you are an usher.  That is insignificant Christian service." (He got my attention, because I was an usher and proud of it.) 

He added, "My question is what are you doing to take the talent and gifts he has given you and using them to serve the Lord?" 

It prompted me to launch what became has two new careers.  At the time, I was writing a syndicated economic and political column called "The Northern Perspective."  Each week I suggested ways to strengthen the region's economy.

I then considered the boring church pages of most newspapers, and thought I could begin a new column to suggest ways America could live the faith it professes.  No modern nation has a higher percentage of religiously active people, yet the U.S. has high rates of divorce, crime, etc.

Ultimately, my columns on marriage led me to create a ministry called Marriage Savers whose goal is to revive God's first institution of marriage.

What are you doing to serve others?

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