There is something striking taking place that is, at this point, under-reported. It does not take much to connect the dots to come to this conclusion as it is painfully obvious that people have lost faith in institutions.
There is anger toward our leaders in Washington, D.C. This is not new. People were angry at the government and tossed Republicans out of power. President Bush left office with very low approval numbers and Vice President Cheney was a little less popular than phlegm when he left office. There was a major power shift in Congress. There was a rebellion on those in power. We were in two wars with uncertain outcomes and the economy was bad.
Times have changed but people’s anger has not subsided. President Obama’s approval ratings have dropped and Congress is as beloved now, in Democratic control as it was in Republican control. Combat troops have left Iraq but over 50,000 American soldiers remain there and no one really knows the future of Iraq. Afghanistan remains a mess and the economy is still bad. The strategies for dealing with the economy changed, but far too many people remain without jobs.
People are angry. Democrats rallied and supported the non-establishment candidate, Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton and followed this through to the election.
People have lost faith in government in a big way. Both parties have attempted to take advantage of this, but if either party had the courage to really deal with this they would find that the problem is that both parties have failed the country miserably. Ideologies are not principles; ideologies are simply ideologies that, when followed blindly lead into an abyss. As our political parties become increasingly ideological, they become increasingly less pragmatic and increasingly less interested in serving people.
People have lost faith because they are being sold a bill of good by both the Democrats and the Republicans. Both parties are living by the same credo: Party First!
But, alas, there is more. People have also lost interest in church. Increasingly people are identifying themselves as atheists or spiritual but not religious. By the end of the next decade I suspect that at least half the churches in existence across the country will have closed. Many will have run out of people and money and will cease to exist. Others will have run out of clergy.
The problem isn’t God. God remains the same. People’s need and desire for God remains the same at gut level. The problem has been the Institutional Church. The child molestation issues within the Roman Catholic Church have been devastating to everyone. If people cannot trust their children, their precious children, with clergy in the church, who can they trust? That lack of trust is devastating.
But it is far more than the Roman Catholic Church. The Institutional Church, on every level, has been in a civil war. Conservative versus liberal. Prosperity Gospel versus Liberation Theology. Traditional versus contemporary. When the author Anne Rice made the observation that the Christian Church was more interested in fighting amongst itself, her words were an honest indictment on Christianity. Denominations, often seem more interested in determining how to survive than how to serve. Local churches are often trying to figure out how to stay alive for even five more years than to serve the communities around them.
I love the words St. Paul wrote to Timothy so many years ago:
I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
In watching Glenn Beck ‘preaching’ it was startling. His ‘theology’ was bogus nonsense. He had nice pious platitudes wrapped around the Prosperity Gospel and seemingly Messianic ambitions of his own. But there are a lot of itching ears embracing his words and believing in him. As a member of the clergy who does try to embrace the truth of God, it was chilling and frightening.
Yet, I don’t blame Beck. He’s filling a void and his coffers. I feel badly that people embrace this nonsense, but I’m also recognizing that they are embracing it because the Institutional Church has failed and is failing on so many levels.
People have lost their faith in institutions because those institutions are failing them on a regular basis. I’m going to continue to wrestle with this over the next days and share my wrestling match with others. I’d love to hear others’ observations as well.