Thursday, March 8, 2018

Your Hand in Front of Your Face.

There are hundreds of articles and blogs about why Americans are increasingly not attending church. In my experience, the vast majority of these articles discuss common things so many American churches do to drive people away. Tending to focus on what the more legalistic, doctrinaire, or reactionary denominations do to alienate people. While this conversation is important. It does not answer the question of why church attendance has fallen universally. Including in the most inclusive denominations. Overall, there is an aging of the church populace. With a greater and greater percentage of the younger age cohorts becoming either "Nones" (unaffiliated with any church, but not anti-church) and "Dones" (unaffiliated and anti-church).

 You can find dozens if not hundreds of articles explaining the "Dones" (including the one I linked above). So we are going to concentrate a little bit more on the "Nones." Those who don't have any innate resentment towards church, and even may have interest in religion. Personally, I believe that there is a fairly simple explanation as to why the percentage of "Nones" is growing.

From the very beginning of Christianity the majority of the churchgoing population has been made up of the lower classes. Jesus himself was a construction worker. His disciples were fishermen, thieves, street preachers, and tax collectors. Yeshua of Nazareth spent most of his time preaching to the truly needy. Those that even to this day are considered the scum of society. For several hundred years after his crucifixion Christianity was a movement of the poor.

Heck, to digress a little, that's even the simple explanation as to why the first book of the new testament wasn't written until 80 years after Yeshu left this earth. The early Christians were mostly illiterate and held the message of Yeshua in an oral history form until then.

Getting back to the modern America. Right now America is experiencing the worst period of income inequality since the Gilded Age. More Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or worse than ever before. A recent UN Investigation found levels of poverty in America not seen outside of the Third World. Why is it, when Christianity in all forms has been refuge to the poor and destitute from the very beginning, is church attendance declining?

The simplest explanation can be found on this map. The largest employer in the United States is the Walmart Corporation. With other retail companies taking a larger percentage of the jobs in America than ever before.  Now, those who have never worked retail will be unfamiliar with this. However, retail companies at the corporate level are extremely hostile towards anything less than full availability, no matter what they intend on scheduling you. You must agree to a "Flexible" schedule where they can work you any time of the day or night. With your hours changing from week to week, sometimes from day to day. Setting aside one day of the week, especially a weekend day (weekend hours are the busiest of the week in retail) will get you one of three things. Either passed over for hiring in the first place, subject to abusive scheduling, or even just the workplace becoming hostile because you are receiving "special treatment." All of which is illegal, but legality is a small matter to most American Companies.

This means that while individuals may actually want the community, support, and other benefits of church attendance. The fight for those things is not worth the extreme difficulty. Singing along with a hymn does not pay rent. Sitting in Silent Worship revitalizes your soul and connection to the Light. However, it does not lessen the burden of needing to eat.

The question we must ask ourselves as people of faith is what can we do in order to bring these poor (literally) people back to church. From my perspective as a Hicksite Friend the answer is simple, to turn to the Quaker tradition of activism. To join things like the Poor People's Campaign and work for the betterment of all Americans. Working towards a nationwide Living Wage indexed towards inflation. Decreasing the power of abusive employers by adopting Universal Healthcare and Guaranteed Basic Income programs. Restoring the power of Unions and other collective bargaining arrangements.

In short. Follow the instructions of Jesus to take care of the least among us.