I wonder if Democrats will be saved. A recent poll found that a great number of people in the United States who have liberal leanings do not believe there is a God or at least are not affiliated with any church.
In addition, those who attend a Christian church weekly if not more often are more likely to see themselves as politically conservative and vote Republican.
From a recent Pew study, we see the greatest drop in numbers for those who attend liberal and mainline Protestant churches. Additionally, if one were not to factor in the great numbers of Catholics from Central and South America who have come to the U.S., our numbers would be much worse even though our losses are similar to the mainline Protestant churches even with the influx of Catholic immigrants.
These statistics are disheartening and we can see how this is affecting our church communities, at least those that are from left to center. Distressing to all would be the growing number of nones.
What is it about Christianity that is no longer appealing to young people and liberal folks? The one common characteristic may be idealism. Young people tend to be idealists as well as liberals who wish to create a better society where all will get what they need to live fully actualized lives.
Others have said that we live in a time when we are all inflicted with narcissism, especially the youth. When I read articles in Catholic journals from young adults about why they don’t come to church, usually it lists a number of complaints of how they are not served well.
For those who are idealistic and progressive, I would tell them that Jesus is their man because he fights for “the MAN.” Jesus sought out those on the margins of society. He had women as his disciples. His apostles were unlettered fishermen.
In this last Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 12:38-44), Jesus condemns the scribes who swallow the inheritance of the widows and make a mockery of the worship of God. He praises the widow who puts what she has left to live on for the temple offering, while he says God is not impressed by those who make large donations and yet only give from their excess. Jesus is not for the status quo. He breaks the rules.
What each person needs is a relationship with God regardless of political ideology, gender identity, or socio-economic status. When one gets closer to God, one is able to let go of the need to protect the ego (the primary obstacle to spiritual growth and happiness), and has a greater concern for the poor.
If one is following Christ, one doesn’t climb the social ladder, one descends it. One does not accumulate possessions; one learns to live with less. One doesn’t work to bring a greater disparity between the wealthy and the poor, but one works and votes to close the gap. One doesn’t work to make him/herself more protected and safe; one learns to trust in God, although this may make him or her more vulnerable. This path leads to happiness. This is what we are all seeking.
As a pastor, I hear all of the time about people’s preferences. If the Church would only do this or that, then I would be a better Catholic. There are more Catholic churches (a little over 50) spread out over Utah. Those who gather at many of these communities do not cover the expenses of these church buildings, much less the cost of the priest or deacon who travels to them, so the Diocese and the Catholic Extension Society makes up for what is lacking.
If one truly is converted, one understands the importance of the Eucharist or a community meeting to pray together to God. If a person is converted, that person will sacrifice by being part and supporting a community of faith because it is important and necessary. If we are not converted, then we make excuses and blame others for the hole we find in our souls.
To quote a spiritual textbook I was reading earlier, we have entered a post-Christian age living with a pre-Christian morality. We are slightly behind our European cousins, who stopped going to church 40 years ago. As a diocese we are in a desperate effort to do more with less. We try to do more, please more, serve a growing number of people with different languages and from different countries.
We have all of this stuff going on: bingo, parish festivals, school fundraisers, and parish group activities within the parish and out in the community. These can be fun and good for the community, however if that is all we have, we have forgotten the point of why we are here. It all means nothing unless people open up their lives to God’s grace and try to build an authentic community of faith.
Hope lies not in doing more, building more, or providing more varied opportunities to satisfy every desire and whim for each individual. We either have community or we don’t. We either allow God to enter into our lives or we keep them shut. We either walk the path of the discipleship or we are slaves to our ego, which keeps us restless, busy, and empty.
The church and her organizations are now operated by lay people who need real salaries, real benefits, vacation, weekends off, and time with their families in the evenings. We no longer have the celibate men and women who vowed to live a life of poverty to build the Kingdom of God except for the few priests and even fewer sisters.
We expect more, yet we have fewer resources. We are still running on the fumes of the past. It is hard to develop a plan for the future, when you don’t understand the reality of the present. We still have the corpse, but the soul has left the body.
We need to bury the past, mourn what is gone, and listen for God’s call in the present. To quote the Rule of St. Benedict, “speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”
As a church we need to stop frantically running around. We need to sit, and to listen.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.