Clint Schnekloth identified several religious trends to watch in 2019 (www.patheos.org). He began by admitting to the struggle the church faces in the years ahead: changes in the tax code have significantly reduced charitable giving and the cultural change has undermined the basic shared values of people of faith. It is difficult, he wrote, to find anywhere in North America where theology, worship, and the traditional foci of religious community are as central as they used to be.
Nevertheless, he gave us several reasons for hope with the reminder that humans are a “resilient lot and religious life is about resilience.”
- Religious communities are beginning to think of the long game instead of just short term survival.
- Healthy congregations are spinning off non-profits to provide social services in the community. A food pantry and a preschool serve the Carol Stream community because of the care members of LCM have for our community.
- People of faith will pay more attention to history, people will be drawn back to the church because every religious service provides a public reading of ancient texts.
- The cultural interest in Marvel, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones are evidence to their fans of exercises in civic imagination. Religious communities will likewise re-discover the value of “civic imagination.”
- Religious communities will re-discover the power of organizing to advocate for state level and regional ballot initiatives. Defending voters’ rights, reforming campaign finance and electing moral leaders matter to religious people.
- People of faith will discover that what they share in common, love of humanity and creation, supersedes any differences.
- Men will get out and support women, as was evidenced in the 2018 election.
- Because the federal and state government are dramatically curtailing funding for human services, non-profits and churches will pick up the slack. Because people of faith engaged in social service cannot do for people what excellent human services funded by the state or the federal government can do, religious folks will continue to advocate for the real value of a mixed economy.
- Millennials and the generation after them will increasingly discover churches that engage in values: caring for the poor, immigrants and the marginalized, care of the environment, curtailing war and violence, and will connect, contribute and transform those churches.
- Finally, this will all trend because overall religious communities will rediscover the abiding connection between social activism and faith, worship and organizing, prayer and preparation, theology and justice. It’s not that religious engagement is a thing to be added onto the already sanctified moral agenda of these various communities, but because deep and right engagement with our religious traditions is the way we are re-centered and activated to be the very change that can recover what is lost, free what is bound, and heal what is broken.
Mr. Schneckloth concluded his article with the following quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer after his year in New York:
“God has granted American Christianity no Reformation. He has given it strong revivalist preachers, churchmen and theologians, but no Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ by the Word of God….American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of ‘criticism’ by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s ‘criticism’ touches even religion, the Christianity of the church and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics….In American theology, Christianity is still essentially religion and ethics…Because of this the person and work of Christ must, for theology, sink into the background and in the long run remain misunderstood, because it is not recognized as the sole ground of radical judgment and radical forgiveness.”