There has been a lot of finger pointing. People have blamed clergy sex abuse scandals. They've blamed Sunday morning soccer. They've blamed the misguided values of Christian nationalist extremists, so out of sync with our society as a whole. Scholars have tried to map the social patterns of Western Europe onto the United States, despite the radically different religious histories of the two continents.
And it is true, that churches are being turned into brew pubs and that the “Nones” grow by leaps and bounds every year. It is true that Europe was devastated by religious wars, then saw churches align themselves with the evils of colonization and authoritarianism. It is true that the “Prosperity Gospel” and pastors with thousand dollar suits and private jets look more like con artists than servant-leaders.
But digging into the data reveals something else. While belief in God remains high across socioeconomic classes in America, participation in organized religion goes up with income and class, the exact inverse of Karl Marx's famous claim that religion was the “opiate of the masses.”
Every generation after the Baby Boom is a little bit poorer. Every generation after the Baby Boom goes to church just a little less.
That is one heck of a correlation.
I sometimes feel like I preach way too much about justice, and especially economic justice, but that is partly because most Christian churches preach too little about these matters, so central to the Torah, to the prophets of Israel and Judah, to the gospel message of Jesus, who pronounced blessings for the poor, and curses for the selfishly rich.
Of course, I can't be Jeremiah every week. I also preach to draw attention to the beauty and miracle of every day, to the art that is creation and the arts that we produce, as active co- creators in this amazing project. But it is hard to appreciate all of that love and beauty if all you can think about is your empty belly, if you didn't sleep last night because you were too cold or felt unsafe.
And so I am thankful for you. For listening to both my jeremiads and my sermons of praise, for rolling up your sleeves and taking on issues like Housing Justice, for opening the doors of this church to the vulnerable and putting out free clothing on Wisner Market Day, for being willing to think about an economic system that is just and kind, and praying it into reality through one small act of justice making at a time.