High School, Mean Girls, and What a Fall in Popularity Might Mean for the American Church

It’s true and verified by Pew Research, Christian America is breaking apart. The political, social, and communal ability of American Christianity to set the tone, tenor, and context of the American dialogue is breaking up. Christianity and the Church is losing its hold on the American psyche. No longer is Church membership a must have for any politician or business-person wanting to be successful. In fact if one identifies as an Evangelical then identity may have a net negative effect. No longer does the Church have the ability to silence and shame its critics and those who question it. No longer are people hanging on to a Christian identity apart of commitment to the local church. No longer are people willing to belong without believing.

In circles which have traded on this cultural hegemony, the end is nigh; and the sackclothes and ashes are being handed out. In these circles anger is raging with promises to take our country back. Listening to these speeches one might assume that the power and prestige is more important than the ethics and morals.

Yes, at the time my parents were born, some 90% of Americans self-identified as “Christian.” Now it is in the 70s. Yet, I have to ask if this is really as bad as it seems. Despite our warm fuzzies about those sunny 50s where everyone was a Christian, I must ask. Would my black brothers and sisters welcome a return of the 50s? Would my sisters? Would anyone struggling with their sexual identity? Would anyone who despite their best efforts could not be a Ward or June Cleaver?

I, for one, would not. Suits, homogeneity, and aw shucks modesty have never been my strong suit. My mom once told me she was glad that she and not me had lived through the 60s.

To honestly look at our American history is not for the faint of heart. Yes, more people claimed Christ but I think escaped slave Frederick Douglass was on to something when he proclaimed,

“I make the widest, possible difference between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ.”

America has always been Christian; but too often it has not be Christ-like.

The Church is like the popular kid at school that has been shown up as a bully; and is now watching her friends melt into the lynch mob. If high school (and John Hughes) taught me anything, it’s that when the allegations fly and the rumors abound, that’s when you see who your real friends are. Christianity has lost some of its luster and popular shine. No longer does it control the unruly mob that is American life. Suddenly the kid that was bullied into going along with the crowd is not so scared of her anymore. But if high school (and Tina Fey) has taught me anything, it’s that a fall in popular status is not the end. In fact it may be a beginning.

Over at Sojourners, Stephen Mattson writes:

“For a faith based upon following the example of Jesus — who brought healing, restoration, empowerment, peace, forgiveness, justice, and love wherever he went — the statistics for when Christianity had the largest majority of the population within the U.S. unfortunately correlates with some of our country’s most racist, unfair, violent, and inhumane moments.

So before we lament the decrease of “Christianity” and mourn its death within America, maybe we should be hopeful that this is an opportunity for followers of Christ to actually act like Jesus — becoming a Christian nation for possibly the very first time.”

This may be the end of Christian America; but it does not have to be the end of American Christianity. In fact this can be our beginning. Without the hangers-on and the people attracted by our status; perhaps, we can see who are real friends are. Perhaps without the expense of energy keeping our American high school in check, we can focus our energies on being who we really are. Perhaps like the man we claim to follow, we actually start picking up our cross and following him– not making that geek carry it for us.

Maybe instead of listening to all the banter of the crowd, we might silently wait for the still, small voice in the crowd. Maybe we will stop caring about the coolness of our clothes, our tastes, and our images; and start caring for the poor, destitute souls at the uncool table. Sitting among the rabble, participating in their lives, re-finding relationships with those we cast off as useless to our rise and maintenance of power- that would be a start worth losing our place at the head table.


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