That Gallup released its survey results showing dropping church attendance on Holy Week is no surprise.
Six days before Easter the 86-year-old polling organization revealed that for the first time, church membership among Americans has dipped below 50 percent.
That’s right. Just 47% of us claim to belong to a church.
We suspect that number may be slightly higher here in Ripon, where we appreciate all 13 of our communities of faith.
But the fact that Ripon 30 years ago enjoyed 15 houses of worship, probably with higher attendance, is a reminder that even here church membership is waning.
That organized faith is diminishing in our community as elsewhere should be concerning for the public.
And it should be a call of action to its churches, mosques and synagogues.
Because for better or worse, organized religion remains the primary spiritual touchstone of American society. While church membership decline doesn’t necessarily mean society is heading into moral anomie — the notion remains that one needn’t worship on Sunday to find God — it does suggest that fewer of us are taking advantage of the communal experience of walking our spiritual journeys together, asking many of the same questions while respecting each others’ differing answers.
While most of our 13 opportunities to worship collectively in Ripon were busy last Sunday with residents celebrating Easter in person or online, we can’t escape the notion that when the “chreasters” — those who darken church doorways only on Christmas or Easter — are absent on normal Sundays, our churches are in decline.
This follows the diminution of many American institutions, from the FBI to the Supreme Court to Wall Street to City Hall to higher education to democracy itself, where skepticism is supplanting respect, trust and gratitude.
That 53% of Americans no longer affiliate with a church says something about the citizenry at large. Unmoored by spiritual tenets, which at their most wondrously radical put “the other” ahead of “self,” many of us feel free to disrespect each other in ways we wouldn’t have dared consider as recently as two decades ago.
In 2000, 70% percent of U.S. respondents told Gallup pollsters that we belong to a church.
Today, at least two of our city’s households felt free to hang flags and banners outside of their homes that gave a verbal middle finger to our president — one to Biden, one to Trump.
Today, many of us refuse to wear a mask in spite of established science that shows we risk infecting others with our cavalierly selfish demonstration of personal freedom.
Today, a fair amount of us seem powerless to do anything except clutch our guns a little tighter while our brothers and sisters die in grocery stores, offices, movie theaters, at concerts in schools and most frequently, in their own homes.
Fingers on hands once folded in reverence to a higher being now too often are on keypads, hastily stroking letters online to post evidence of our ignorance, misogyny, nativism and hatred of each other. And we seek personal vindication by asking friends and strangers to “like” the disparaging garbage we spew on Facebook and Twitter.
Indeed, the church is needed now more than ever.
But guilt no longer is an effective motivation to worship, nor should it be.
Better that our churches view the decline of mainline Protestantism and Catholicism as opportunities for resurrection.
This is not to reject age-old sacraments and traditions and teachings. But upon them we must build new opportunities to provide meaning, stability, comfort and guidance to speak to a spiritually adrift people with many getting their guidance from CNN, FOX News, Facebook, Instagram, trash TV, lewd lyrics and other false Gods.
America is under threat by a globally hegemonic China, a North Korea with an itchy nuclear finger, and a Russia that hacks our government and then denies its complicity.
At the very time we need to be united in our resolve to be a force for peace by championing democracy, strengthening worldwide alliances and demonstrating respect for differing views, skin color and ethnicities, we engage in infighting and resent those with differing perspectives.
We’ve become an angry, anxious and dispirited people
And most of us no longer attend church.
Our churches, working as trans-denominational agents of transformation and renewal, have an opportunity to bring us together, not as one faith, but as one people in fidelity to the notion of charity toward all.
Will they except that mantle? Will we encourage them?
Gallup will let us know.
— Tim Lyke