In Floyd County, where the church and religion dominate so many lives and families, I’ve listened to a number of once-faithful Christians say they are not sure they will return to church when it reopens.
Some express dissatisfaction with how their minister may or may not have handled dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic while others say the disease itself has shaken their faith and belief in a Supreme being that lets tragedies like this happen.
“It’s like a father who can’t do for their child,” the Rev. Rickey Scott, paster of East St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church near Oxford, Miss.told The Washington Post recently. “Like if God sent Jesus to Earth but couldn’t do anything for him. There’s nothing I can do, and that’s one of the worst things a father can say to a child.”
Some soon-to-be-former church members say the church closings driven by the pandemic has driven home the fact that churches are businesses that depend on funding to survive.
“I can’t get the help I want because of all the demands for money,” says one who asks not to be identified. “I’m out of work. I don’t have money to feed my family, much less send some to the church.”
The 2018-19 National Congregations Study found that less than 20 percent of churches have any reserves. Like so many in their congregations, they are living hand-to-mouth.
The blow has been hardest on the nation’s many small congregations. Some experts think the coronavirus could reshape the country’s religious landscape and wipe out many small houses of worship. These are places where members typically go to seek guidance and comfort, but members are now finding closed buildings and desperate pleas for funds.
“The religious landscape of the United States continues to change at a rapid clip,” Pew Research found in a survey released in October of last year.” “In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.”
The declines occur heaviest in Protestants and Catholics. In 2009, most Americans declared themselves Protestant. Now they in the minority at 43 percent and falling.
Pew also found that “U.S. adults are resoundingly clear in their belief that religious institutions should stay out of politics. Nearly two-thirds of Americans in the new survey say churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters.”
Many Americans now find no home in organized religion.
In his book, “The End of White Christian America,” Robert P. Jones says ” this phenomenon is at least partially responsible or the rise in white resentment of urbanites — the feeling of loss of social and cultural primacy — that President Trump so adeptly manipulated.”
The American Family Survey says “For Millennials and even GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all. The Nones claim 44% of the 18–29 age group, and nearly that (43%) among those who are 30–44.”
Among Americans over age 65, the “nones” are also gaining ground. “Americans older than 65 say they are atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular.”
In the early 1990s, the historical tether between American identity and faith snapped. Religious non-affiliation in the U.S. started to rise—and rise, and rise. By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn’t associate with any established religion (also known as “nones”) had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size.
Notes Derek Thompson (no relation) in The Atlantic:
The Church is just one of many social institutions—including banks, Congress, and the police—that have lost public trust in an age of elite failure. But scandals in the Catholic Church have accelerated its particularly rapid loss of moral stature. According to Pew Research, 13 percent of Americans today self-identify as “former Catholics,” and many of them leave organized religion altogether. And as the ranks of the nones have swelled, it’s become more socially acceptable for casual or rare churchgoers to tell pollsters that they don’t particularly identify with any faith. It’s also become easier for nones to meet, marry, and raise children who grow up without any real religious attachment.
To further complicate the issue, let’s remember the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District, which ruled that the iconic statement “In God, We Trust” that is found on money, courthouse and school walls, is “not a religious statement.” Instead:
It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise.
What American Christian would let a secular judge declare that his or her god is not religious? Or that trusting in that god is not a religious declaration? Where are Liberty Counsel, First Liberty Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom, Todd Starnes, Fox & Friends, and the rest of the pearl-clutching fearmongers and their claims of religious persecution? No less than ten federal courts have said that trusting in their god is not a religious statement. Where is the righteous rage?
And therein lies the hypocrisy. Christian nationalism benefits when the federal courts declare that “In God We Trust” is not religious. This wink-wink rationale allows the motto that was designed to be religious, which everyone understands to be religious, and which religious legal groups defend with a religious fervor, to remain on our coins. And in our schools. And in the Capitol. This hypocritical legal fiction allows Christian nationalists to use the machinery of the state to promote their personal religious agenda. It turns out that Christian activists are perfectly willing to let federal judges desecrate their religion, so long as the desecration also allows them to promote their religion.
God, what a mess…