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Evangelical Christianity to Collapse in 10 Years?

evangelical-christians-cSo says self-described evangelical Michael Spencer in a broad-ranging essay for The Christian Science Monitor called “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” We’re pretty skeptical about the power of prognostication here at Queerty (Pick up an issue of Wired from the mid-nineties and read it for laughs sometime), Spencer makes some good arguments as to why evangelical Christianity’s days are numbered. Reason #1: Evangelical Christians don’t know the first thing about Christianity.

Spencer breaks the reasons for evangelical Christianity’s impending demise down to seven reasons, which we further distill for you into simply talking points:

  1. Evangelicals are so tied to the “culture wars” that they look to the public at large like they’re blocking progress.
  2. “Young Christians know next to nothing about their faith except how they feel about it.”
  3. Megachurches have eaten up evangelical Christianity.
  4. Christian education does not compete with secular education.
  5. Shifting cultural values make evangelicals want to “do good” in ways that are incompatible with the faith.
  6. Kids don’t want to hear your crazy Bible talk.
  7. No money!

The whole article is worth a read and Spencer has some interesting ideas on what the future holds for evangelicals.

There’s a subtext here that part of the reason evangelicals are in danger is that they stand in the way of social progress issues– you know, like rights for gays and lesbians. The more it becomes socially unacceptable to hate on gays and lesbians, the less support churches who promote bigotry will have.

This is one of the brass tacks facts that have emerged post-Prop 8. Mormons, evangelicals and Catholics have decried gay boycotts and protests against their anti-gay rhetoric and involvement in political campaigns and the truth is, there’s no middle ground on the issue. These churches are absolutely right that gays and lesbians are intolerant of beliefs that say it’s okay to deny gay people their civil rights. The danger to these churches is that the more mainstream society finds their beliefs unacceptable, the more marginalized they’ll become.

By:           Japhy Grant
On:           Mar 10, 2009
Tagged: ,
  • 29 Comments
    • The Gay Numbers
      The Gay Numbers

      Sound about right. I grew up in the black Baptist Church down South. I lefted it behind as I realized it was not for me. But, the reality is that todays version- including the megachurch- are far removed from even what I grew up being taught. For example, recently, I read that one church pastor was praying to God about a Lexus. I just shoke my head. Whatever redeeming value the faith had died when I read that.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 9:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • BradK
      BradK

      Spencer’s lament is from the POV of a truly spiritual Christian who understands how shallow and meaningless the “Cult of Christ ™” has become in America today. Evangelical mega-churches such as Brokeback, er, Saddleback have precious little to do with the actual teachings or intentions of the man whose name they’ve subverted. Like any for-prophet enterprise they are all about growth. Keep the pews full and the tithes coming in. The WalMart of faith.

      And what better way to rally the sheep, er, “flock” than to give them an enemy to rally against. “Think of the Chilllldruuunnnn!” Whether it’s Ozzy records, stem cells, or those god-damned radical homosexuals with their heretical agenda, it all MUST BE STOPPED. The more traction their ideas gain — and as the “win” column fills up — the more the lust for power kicks in. Once attained, that power is very hard to relinquish.

      So why do people attend church? To have sense of belonging to something? To provide hope in times of hopelessness (remember how attendance spiked right after 9/11)? Or is it a truly spiritual seek? Spencer seems to be in the latter camp while mainstream Evangelicals are firmly in the first (Jesus) camp.

      Let us pray that Spencer’s vision comes to fruition.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 9:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • tavdy79
      tavdy79

      The more it becomes socially unacceptable to hate on gays and lesbians, the less support churches who promote bigotry will have.

      And in theory the more support churches that directly oppose bigotry will have. Expect to see a rise numbers both in and of MCC, Unitarian and Quaker churches/meetings.

      Personally I do not think that Evangelicalism in western Europe is as liable to collapse as evangelicalism in the US and Africa, and I think this highlights the weaknesses of religious extremism. There are big cultural and ethical differences between US/African evangelicals and their cousins in western Europe, and I know that many west-European evangelicals feel increasingly uncomfortable with the term because of the increasingly ridiculous antics of their US cousins. I’ve found evangelicals where I live (England) to be somewhat more moderate and tolerant, probably because of a general antipathy towards extremism in western Europe that has its roots in WWII and the Cold War.

      Also, I do not think that African evangelicals can survive long-term without support from Europe and the US. Like the Anglican church in Africa, is it subsidised by the West – so if/when US evangelicalism collapses Africa’s evangelical churches may well soon follow suit. This is especially likely if US & African evangelicals continue on their current tack of alienating their west-European cousins.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 9:46 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Alex
      Alex

      Um, wasn’t the Mormon/LDS church super-racist back in like, the 70s? Then they recanted and now they’re mainstream homophobic. Isn’t it more likely that after these churches lose the culture they’ll simply downplay their views, or scrap them all together. You don’t hear the Catholic Church talk much about usury these days, but back in the day, my ancestors got a lot of shit over that stuff.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:04 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • BrianZ
      BrianZ

      It was an interesting read. I’m left wondering if his hypothesis of impending doom for the evangelicals is prophecy or wishful thinking. I’ve noticed, and commented on previously, that many Christians of various flavors are moving away from the message of intolerance and hate. We have seen iterations of this hate-cycle before. Such negativity may unite a group who lives in fear, but fear is fleeting and that unity is ultimately hollow. People are genuinely moved by messages of hope and tied together through a shared vision of good.

      “Jesus loves me” has been effectively replaced with “God hates you” and the evangelicals who have been at the front lines, pressing that message are reaping their rewards. They have supplanted their own God’s message of hope and eternal salvation with earthly bigotry as a means toward shameless greed and power.

      I think their ultimate undoing will be the close association with the politics of the era. Even Republicans who rejoiced at the Rovian genius of tying the evangelical christian to the party are realizing their folly. Perhaps the admonition to remove religion from politics was as much for the good of religion as politics? A whole generation, or two, will not soon forget as much as both the christians and Republicans might like them to.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:06 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Gurlene
      Gurlene

      This comment is going a bit off topic but it is still about religion. On any given friday and saturday night there are more people in clubs throughout the NYC metro area than there are that attend all catholic churches region wide (northern nj, conn, and ny) on sunday combined. This has gone on for years.

      Not only that but the teflon shield that hadidic jews once had with the press has vanished. More taped evidence of jews (running from the scene of a accident, credit card fraud, extreme child abuse and young hasidic males being raped by older rabbi’s)is hitting and staying in the news. Jew shall not kill jew but lets forgive Madoff for fleecing his fellow jew out of thier life savings.

      Religion amounts to nothing else but a belief. There is no proof that a heaven or hell exist. The bible was written by man in a time of turmoil. When compared to the way things are going now I am glad I saw years ago just what religion was and still is.

      Political control in the guise of a god.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Gurlene
      Gurlene

      @Alex: The Salamander letter alone exposes the Church of LDS for what it ain’t or what it wants to be but by know has to know it clearly is not.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Alex
      Alex

      @Gurlene: Just for the record, nowhere is Jewish tradition is there anything like “Jew shall not kill jew.” There are prohibitions on murder, and like any group, there is a communitarian feeling of mutual support. That said, I’ve heard many Jews hoping Madoff gets shot (or kills himself), and no one, Jewish or non-Jewish, willing to forgive him. I personally have no love for Hassids, or any other fundamentalist sect of any religion.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Distingué Traces
      Distingué Traces

      /is planning formal baptism

      /is getting in on a trend just as it is fading, as usual

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      Probably 20 years.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:30 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dick Mills
      Dick Mills

      The one thing that he didn’t mention is the fact that all of the old racist, bigots are dying off, and there won’t be enough of them left to fill a church, let alone wage war on the fags. And, ten years might be overstating their viability. I would give them five or six at most, but that may just be wishful thinking.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 10:40 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Larry
      Larry

      I’m also skeptical of attempts at prognostication. Ideologies of intolerance and fear tend to thrive in times of crisis, hence Germany’s horrific metamorphosis from a gay mecca to a place where gays were being shipped off to concentration camps.

      The article read like a work of dystopian sci-fi, but I saw in it a sense of deep anxiety that I think is well-warranted.

      More and more of religion’s assumptions are being challenged by science, notably the possible recent discovery of a part of the brain that may lead people to become believers, as well as the mounting evidence supporting the idea that homosexuality is inborn. Likewise, I don’t think it’s just because of 9/11 that anti-religious works by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens became bestsellers.

      I’m not one to get too cocky and assume that better days are just around the corner, but I think there’s a big grain of truth to that article.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Gurlene
      Gurlene

      @Alex: You are correct. I remember when Yitzak Rabin was killed by a jewish zealot and what I recall was Shimon Peres saying that exact phrase. The way he said it sounded like a biblical verse. Thank you.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 11:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jkiska2
      jkiska2

      @Gurlene

      I agree; religion is a method of political control.

      It’s sad that so many people by into the fanaticism present in evangelical churches. Thank goodness I didn’t grow up in such an intolerant household.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 11:56 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • getreal
      getreal

      I personally think the hyper-policitized ultra right wing fundamentalist christian movement has passed it’s peak. Their persecution of LGBT people’s is helping their collapse to the general public their consistent championing anti-gay legislation is looking less and less like religion and more like a vendetta. Their behavior is quite simply becoming more and more hypocritical and harder to ignore. For the record I am a christian so this does not come from an anti-christian bias.

      Mar 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • kevin (not that one)
      kevin (not that one)

      Please people, this is absolute wishful thinking.

      Will we see a shift in how the evangelical movement focuses itself? Probably. In fact, we may see them go in a lull while waiting for the next big “awakening”. And I think that during that time we don’t hear from them, they’ll be organizing in their communities and churches – which is something they excel at.

      There are positive fronts in evangelical Christianity that might take hold, such as the Emerging Church and a move to the left for long-time evangelicals. I think the influence of the Jesus Seminar folks and people like Bart Ehrman will probably affect many well-meaning evangelicals, and many more mainline Protestant and Catholics. But I honestly can’t see this version of Chrisitanity going anywhere anytime soon. For one thing, evangelicals might lose followers in the US, but they are gaining many in Latin America, the former Soviet Union, and in China. That’s where their growth potential lies. And that’s also where we will continue to see the worst aspects of evangelical Christianity living on.

      I don’t even see the megachurch movement letting up anytime soon. I do see it becoming less fire-and-brimstone, which is what we see in Joel Osteen’s church in Houston. Even I like to watch to the “smiling preacher” on Sunday morning, but that’s because it’s like listening to one long positive reinforcement lecture.

      Because evangelicals are tied so closely to the dominant culture of the US, the anti-gay rhetoric that comes from this traditionally right-wing sect of Christianity will likely fade away as the dominant culture accepts LGBTs more, or evangelicals will have to further isolate themselves from the modern world. But I don’t see them disappearing in 10 years.

      And despite all of the talk over the new report about religious belief in the US, I don’t believe people are losing faith in God. I think they are losing faith in the religion they were born into and rejecting a lot of the hate and ignorance that is attached to “organized religion”. But this is creating a pretty large vacuum – one in which either an oppressive new religion or an enlightened compassionate one will eventually fill.

      I think the elephant in the living room that no one is mentioning is the coming disintegration and civil war within the Catholic Church. Before evangelical Christianity fades into sleep, I’m pretty sure we will see a split in the Catholic Church that hasn’t been seen since the 16th century. The sex abuse scandals and that case in Brazil where a woman was excommunicated because she ended the pregnancy of her 9 year old daughter who was raped is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to highlighting the glaring cancer within the Catholic Church.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 1:52 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Stenar
      Stenar

      @Gurlene

      The Salamander Letter was a forgery by Mark Hoffman. No such real letter ever existed. I’m not saying Mormonism isn’t a crock of shit (having grown up Mormon), but at least use actual real evidence to back up your claims.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 4:25 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark
      Mark

      In the late 19th century there was a great American named Colonel Robert Ingersoll. His claim to fame was that he was one of America’s best orators. His essays and speeches are located at infidels.org. He is most famous for being a total thorn in the side of Christianity.

      But my point here is that despite how important voices rise up against Christians, and despite the tide that turns toward science, justice and reason, Christians will ALWAYS be there to stop it. That is their purpose: to stop social progress.

      Anyone who claims that evangelical Christianity is losing ground needs only to look at what the anti-evolution groups are doing right now. They are DOUBLING their efforts to stop secular education from marching forward.

      Do NOT for one nanosecond think that Christians are going away. They’ve been here for 1700 years, they absorb the dregs of the population into their messianic visions of streets paved with gold, and the population is growing and growing. Thus, they have plenty of recruits. The stupidest people need to be duped and Christians are right there to do the duping.

      In addition, Christianity, especially the messy apocalyptic version of it, is growing ever stronger as the economy melts down further and further.

      Not for one attosecond do I think, believe or observe that Christianity – especially evangelical Christianity – is on it’s way out the door. If anything, it will become even more of a force to work against as the 21st century progresses.

      Look out. Beware of Christians at all times. They’re still working to make sure our marriages are invalidated – and they’re still working to make sure we are 2nd class citizens. If you go to sleep now YOU will find yourself with a sharpened cross in your heart.

      My marriage to my partner might very well be invalidated come June (in CA) because of one of those f*ckwad evangelicals named Ken Starr. Do NOT tell me that evangelicals are not harming me PERSONALLY and don’t know what they’re doing. They know PRECISELY what they’re doing and they powerful people in very very very high places.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 7:31 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • osocubano
      osocubano

      Not a minute too soon…

      Mar 11, 2009 at 7:45 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • rick
      rick

      they have a witch hunter on their side and think dinosaurs lived at the same time as people and were killed in noahs flood 4,000 years ago.

      yes they are doomed. nobody wants to put up with their bullshit nonsense anymore.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 8:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • rick
      rick

      everty time i see a creationist/intelligent design letter in the paper i always send in a rebuttal. i have thus been in favor of teaching astrology and alchemy to public school chldren right along with chemistry and physics.

      i wrote one in that said if oil comes from the time of the dinosuars and the dinosaurs died when all the people but noah died in the flood how did we know if the oil was coming from dinosaurs or people since they all would have been mixed up together.

      somebody actually wrote in and said dinosuars had been spotted in the congo.

      they are nuts.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 8:55 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • rick
      rick

      these assholes are getting tv shows where they can claim that for 50 bucks a month they can get the supernatural involved in your life. local money hungry preachers and the big time money grubbing preachers are going to bring it all down on top of themselves.

      it isn’t just the evangelicals. it is all of them. they are being shown to be the outmoded way of thought they are.

      i do my best to try and show them up for what they are.

      i wrote a pro gay rights editorial and got it published in my local paper and there has not been one response from the christian right in town, who love to bash me in replies, because i hacked all of their arguments off at the knees and even managed to work slavery in. it is possible to make an unassailable statement of truth in favor of gay rights. the same cannot to be said for the opposite side.

      their stupidity and will do them in along with their extreme views.

      they think a 9 year old rape victim should have been forced to carry twins to term.

      it will lead to their downfall.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 9:05 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • BillyBob Thornton
      BillyBob Thornton

      Didn’t read the article, don’t want to get my hopes up. I have seen just how entrenched the roots of radical religion go, and don’t see it happening. I hope I am wrong. GOD I HOPE I AM WRONG!!!

      Radical Religion and it fanatic followers are extremely persuasive in their arguments, and have no qualms about using guilt or whatever means necessary to get more members.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 9:29 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kurt
      Kurt

      Less a collapse as Evanglicalism will morph into something different. Evangelicalism has long had its best success with atheists and non-church goers looking for meaning but without any intellectual/theological background. Jerry Fawell’s daddy was an atheist.

      The writer is correct that educated Evangelicals will migrate to the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. They will find there the intellectual depth and historicity Evangelism lacks. It will eventual dawn on them that in supporting “traditional Christian values” they should look back 2000 years, not 20.

      The rest of evangelism lacks the structure to resist evolution (pun intended) towards either theraputic ministries or congrengations identical to the mainline Protestantism they disregard. (This is the same path as the Methodists, a truly extreme movement in its founding, now the definition of mainline Protestantism). The decentralized nature of Evangelicalism makes it too prone to the fad of the moment. Now its culture wars but as that fades, they will find a new face.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 11:53 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • kevin (not that one)
      kevin (not that one)

      There are two outcomes that have a potential of developing when you learn about someone: you come to fear them more, or you come to fear them less.

      The more I learn about Christianity as a whole, the less I fear it. The more I learn about fundamentalists, the more I fear them.

      If we cannot make a distinction between those we fear and those we don’t, then how can we ever make a convincing case for LGBT rights to the many Christians who are on the fence?

      People like Mel White, Gene Robinson, and many, many pastors who belong to the Christian faith: these people are our friends. We need them.

      And I don’t really wish to bash other religions, but I read the news everyday and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a high-profile Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist religious leader making the case for gay rights in the US. And how many straight atheists like Richard Dawkins are standing up for LGBT rights? Most atheists simply wash their hands of anything dealing with religious attacks on LGBTs – not for, but not speaking out against either.

      Christians for gay rights are in the news fairly often, so I don’t think Christians are as terrible as some of the folks in the LGBT community make them out to be.

      Try being a gay Jew in Jerusalem. Or a gay Muslim in Riyad. Or a gay Buddhist in Lhasa. Then tell me how awful Christianity is.

      (and I speak as someone who was just out last Thursday in the middle of a snake pit of Christian fundamentalists.)

      Mar 11, 2009 at 12:01 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • getreal
      getreal

      @kevin (not that one): What a wonderful posts. As a christian who is passionate about marriage equality I sometimes get anger from both sides. I spent this last weekend at Camp Courage activist training for marriage equality and was wowed by how diverse it was gay and straight christian and not every race was well represented even muslim arab american. I think we should all be proud of that.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 12:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Beth
      Beth

      I would highly recommend that anyone interested in the collapse of orthodox Christianity or the highjacking of Christianity by fundamentalists read any one of the books written by John Shelby Spong. “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” is one of my personal favorites. Spong has a vision for a Christian future that doesn’t require any one to shut off their intellect or give in to hate. He is a true disciple of Jesus and a self-proclaimed “believer in exile”. I think his words are valuable for anyone who has felt alienated from the Christian faith or those who are still struggling to keep their place within it.

      Mar 11, 2009 at 4:56 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charles J. Mueller
      Charles J. Mueller

      @Beth: Hi Beth,

      I am a non-believer, but I must agree with you that John Shelby Spong is a veritable paragon of intellect whose writings I very much enjoy. A lighthouse in a sea of darkness, gloom and doom.

      Would that the world had more enlightened “men of God” like him. His concept of Christianity if one that I can live with.

      Mar 12, 2009 at 12:22 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charles J. Mueller
      Charles J. Mueller

      Typo: If should be is

      Mar 12, 2009 at 12:23 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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