The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Hey, Jesus? About Your Fan Club…

You gotta wonder how the folks at Lifeway Research—the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention felt about these survey results. Especially that last question.

I mean, that’s gotta sting a little.

A new survey of U.S. adults who don’t go to church, even on holidays, finds 72% say “God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists.” But just as many (72%) also say the church is “full of hypocrites.”

Indeed, 44% agree with the statement “Christians get on my nerves.”

Still, ya gotta admire their spin.

Most of the unchurched (86%) say they believe they can have a “good relationship with God without belonging to a church.” And 79% say “Christianity today is more about organized religion than loving God and loving people.”

“These outsiders are making a clear comment that churches are not getting through on the two greatest commandments,” to love God and love your neighbor, says Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. “When they look at churches … they don’t see people living out the faith.”

I’m gonna go out of limb here and say that perhaps what turns people off is the attempt by some religions people, through political and legislative avenues, to enforce their beliefs on the rest of us. As Sheila Kennedy wrote in God and Country America in Red and Blue, there are people who see the state’s failure to embrace and enforce their particular beliefs as a rejection of those beliefs. The same applies when the state treats other beliefs as equal, without favoring theirs, as I mentioned in a series of posts that included several quotes from Kennedy’s book, including this one.

[Gordon] Allport believed that the former group could be educated to see past their casually adopted, culturally sanctioned attitudes. Those whose worldviews were rigid, however, who were so emotionally invested in a particular view of reality that the loss of any one piece of it would be experienced as a threat to their very identity, were beyond reach.

Jane Smiley had a more straightforward take on it in a post from 2006 that I bookmarked because it was that good.

When Christians talk about secular Americans being “tolerant” of Christian beliefs, they are misusing the word. What conservative Christians want is not toleration, but social control. Toleration takes place between two people who know one another, and is a feature of personal relationships. Social control is about who gets the power to dictate policy and law. Christians like Mark Joseph sometimes play the “tolerance” card as a way to present themselves as a disempowered group, but what it is about them that is disempowered is their ability to tell the rest of us what to do. And most of the rules they want us to follow are abstract–rules about how men and women should relate, rules about what families should look like, rules about what people should learn. The program, for Christian conservatives, is not essentially about faith or morality–those are elements in a larger program. The larger program is enforcing conformity. What’s the real goal? Well, no doubt it is money and power–have you seen how wealthy the Pope is? Of Pat Robertson? Or the pastors of some of those other mega-churches?

Secularists are sometimes called “fundamentalist” because they hold their beliefs–say pro-choice, separation of church and state–quite passionately. They vehemently do not want to be dictated to by religious groups, and they do not want their children to be forced to go to religious schools (school where creationism is taught as science). They are alleged to be “intolerant” of Christians. But the secularists are rarely if ever saying “Do as I do”, they are saying “Leave me alone”. The Christians quite often are not only saying, “Do as I do”, but also “My right is to make you live by my beliefs, and if you resist me, then you are ‘intolerant’.”

Anyway, it’s interesting to consider the above in light of the Pew Research survey in October, which indicated that 12% of Americans identify as secular.

The number of Americans who say they are atheist or agnostic, or choose not to identify with a religious tradition has increased modestly over the past two decades, with Pew surveys since the beginning of 2006, finding that 12% of U.S. adults identify themselves as secular or unaffiliated with a religious tradition; that compares with 8% in the Pew values survey in 1987. This change appears to be generational in nature, with new cohorts coming of age with lower levels of commitment to a religious tradition.

I don’t know, but there’s probably some overlap between secular and “unchurched” Americans. But if you put the two percentages together, it’s interesting to consider. It might even be reassuring that the encroaching union of church and state might only advance so far before people say “enough.”

I also don’t know if the folks at the Southern Baptist Convention have given much though to the possibility that for the last few decades religious political activism seems to be more focused on taking enforcing discrimination and taking rights away from certain segments of the population. After all, it’s hard to convince your neighbor that you’re amending the constitution to deny their family equal protections, or voting to take away their reproductive rights because you love them. Most, in that case, would prefer to be “loved” a little less and, as Smiley put it, just left alone.

Case in point.

A conservative Christian pastor plans to launch a high-profile campaign Tuesday urging religious followers to load up on Microsoft Corp. stock, in an attempt to force the company to “stop financing ungodly ventures.”

…[Rev. Ken] Hutcherson, joined by some of the country’s most influential Christian leaders, has created a new organization, AGN Financial Network, to finance the effort. The worldwide venture asks people to buy three shares of company stock and donate one to AGN. Its Web site tells visitors, “You have the power to change the world,” and contains tips on how to open a brokerage account. Among the listed supporters are Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and religious pundit Gary Bauer.

“We’re not trying to hurt Microsoft or their shareholders, nor are we calling for a boycott of their products,” volunteer spokesman Dennis Sullivan said. “We are trying to get Christians to buy their shares.”

…At Microsoft’s annual shareholder meeting in November, Hutcherson told the group that he was gathering evangelicals, Catholics, Jews and Muslims to challenge the company.

He told company leaders, “I could work with you, or I could be your worst nightmare, because I am a black man with a righteous cause, with a host of powerful white people behind me,” according to an e-mail update to his supporters. “I hope to hear from you and if not, you will hear from me.”

Microsoft leadership has publicly supported gay rights legislation, and the company officially opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation. Microsoft shareholders have voted in favor of the company’s nondiscrimination policy, General Counsel Brad Smith said.

Why can’t they leave Microsoft alone? Or Microsoft’s gay employees? Or gay people in the state of Washington? Or anywhere else for that matter? Because their views are so rigid that “the loss [or rejection] of any one piece of it would be experienced as a threat to their very identity.”

Granted, more evangelicals are talking about poverty and the environment now, but how much of that shift is due to exactly what’s indicated in the survey results above? And how much of the survey results are directly related to the actions of people like Ken Hutcherson?

My guess is that most of the folks who answered this survey would agree with the old cliche, “I don’t have a problem with God. It’s his fan club I can’t stand.”

2 Comments

  1. The term “unchurched” sends my blood pressure skyrocketing! It seems to imply that church attendance is the default. That’s like calling the people who have never jumped out of a plane “unskydivers” or all the colors but green “ungreen.” Gah! I could go kick something!

  2. Interesting topic. My company sells services to churches. My partners is Catholic and I am Buddhist. A recent prospect was aware of my “religious indiscretion” and told me that he would not do business with me until I “found Jesus.”

    All this time I thought Jesus was a great teacher, but never had any idea he was lost. If I’d know, I would have helped look for him. God knows the world could use all of the guidance it can get.

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