Today I am returning to “For Another Voice.”
I hope that I have something of value to say in the coming days and weeks. My main concerns remain the search for truth and a contemporary understanding of Christian faith and belief. Both can be challenging projects these days. Too many people promote their own fabricated fables as facts, and too many people simply accept such nonsense while refusing to think or question. And far-right Christianity (Protestant and Catholic) is very far removed from the teaching and witness of the historical Jesus.
My June traveling days were a time of genuine delight. (I will forget a few unexpected airport frustrations.) I crossed the Atlantic twice. I gave a much appreciated lecture at a conference of friends and colleagues. My focus was on the church as a healthy Christian community. Participants and I shared visions and concerns about today and tomorrow. My wife, Joske, and I also had wonderful reunions with family and friends, many of whom we had not seen for a few years. And, this summer, as younger relatives celebrated their weddings, Joske and I celebrated our fifty-second wedding anniversary. Still very much in love.
As an older U.S. American, and a long-time researcher about religion and values in U.S. society, my eyes and ears were open everywhere this past month. What I observed first-hand in my homeland raises a lot of concerns. The polarization IS extreme. More extreme than at the time of the nineteenth century Civil War. Misinformation and mistrust are rife. It is not always clear who is really telling the truth. Or where one finds reliable sources of truthful information. And, of course, the recent supreme court decisions are promoting even more dismay, anger, and feelings of powerlessness. As I write this, the July 4 weekend in Chicago witnessed a shooting incident in which at least 30 people were injured and 6 killed. U.S. Americans have witnessed too many mass killings and buried too many children, parents, and grandparents.
In my USA journeys I did a lot of listening and observing of church people: members and leaders. I was pleased to get his most recent article from a religion professor at Western Michigan University. He confirmed the Catholic exodus in the areas where I grew up. When asked why people are walking away, he stressed: an increasingly conservative and often unfriendly “1950s style” young clergy, ongoing revelations of clerical sex-abuse, the church’s role in banning gay marriage in Michigan, efforts to limit access to abortion and contraceptives, and the treatment of women as “second-class citizens.”
Big changes are underway and the religious shifts in contemporary U.S. society show no signs of slowing. In 2019, 14% of all U.S. adults said they never went to church. But in 2020, that number jumped to 53%. Today it is about 73%. Many researchers now say that a lot of people who stopped going to church due to Covid-19 are just not coming back. They really don’t miss what they no longer experience. The Roman Catholic exodus continues.
Is the ongoing U.S. cultural change bringing a crisis for Christian churches? Everything depends on how one should understand such a “crisis.” Membership is certainly decreasing, especially among younger U.S. Americans. What some see as a crisis I see as a challenge. I ask: what does the proclamation of the Gospel mean in our rapidly changing cultural situation? And in a greatly polarized USA. For me, the question is whether a person, who is fully integrated into our culture, can be touched by the power and beauty of the Gospel.
The questions I ask about the institutional church are the same kinds of questions I ask about contemporary professional and political institutions. I see a lot of self-protective institutions increasingly out of touch with contemporary reality: not asking how they can be of service to people but asking how people can better serve them. This is institutional self-worship.
We need institutional reform and we need to dismantle oppressive systems.
As the U.S. pastor and author, John Pavlovitz, wrote recently: “Church, people are leaving you because you are silent right now in ways that matter to them. You aren’t saying what they need you to say and what you should be saying—and it makes them sick. They spend their days with a front row seat to human right atrocities, to growing movements of cruelty, to unprecedented religious hypocrisy, and to political leaders who are antithetical to the heart of Jesus. They live with the relational collateral damage of seeing people they love abandon compassion and decency; people who are growing more and more callous to the already vulnerable.”
During a long layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I read the newspapers and then re-read articles on my iPad, especially an article about the English anthropologist Jane Goodall, now 88 years young. She is a wonderfully prophetic and inspiring person. I remember her 1999 book Reason for Hope. The book details her own spiritual journey and her belief that everyone can find a reason for hope.
“Each one of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference,” Goodall wrote. “It is these undeniable qualities of human love and compassion and self-sacrifice that give me hope for the future. We are, indeed, often cruel and evil. Nobody can deny this. We gang up on each one another, we torture each other, with words as well as deeds, we fight, we kill. But we are also capable of the most noble, generous, and heroic behavior.”
With constructive criticism, mutual respect, and collaborative efforts, we can indeed be “noble, generous, and heroic” in church and in civil society.
I look forward to traveling with you once again. I hope I can ask worthwhile questions and provide helpful pointers toward finding honest life-giving answers.
12 thoughts on “A Shared Vision and the Search for Truth”
So happy that you had a wonderful and productive vacation. We’re welcome your wisdom, knowledge and counsel back again. YES! “Each one of us matters” when we vote and encourage others to do the same.
Many thanks Betty!
Thank you for your words. Very appropriate and reflective on Church and society at large.
You pose good questions here such as how any of us steeped in our culture could be imbued with the gospel. It really can seem so overwhelming but the answers are never far off as good people exhibit the day to day love for the common good that I see around me. May that be basis for any transformation of our country and the backdrop for the coming light within us emerging. Thanks for writing Jack.
Jonny and I so enjoyed seeing you and Joske. It was wonderful to share a meal and stimulating conversation with good friends. It was truly a special gift.
Your words this week are so important and timely. Chatting with you in person dramatically reinforced how much having a personal connection with ones who share a deep faith bond is sustaining and nurturing. We have been craving the intimacy of a loving spirituality that, sadly, has been missing from our Catholic church of late. The rules driven mode of guidance is not enough to make it through these hard times.
We were pleasantly surprised by a homily this past Sunday by a priest in a parish we visited away from home. He simply stated that in these truly divisive times, we have to look to the love that Jesus gave and be like Him in the world. It is our mission to spread love and peace in our daily lives. Simple, direct, and uncomplicated….but incredibly difficult to do!!
Keep spreading the Good News, Jack! Peace to you and Joske.
Frank, it was wonderful being with you and Jonny! Thanks for your friendship and support. Good friends!
When Senator Ted Kennedy tried to introduce a “Right to Privacy” bill, our Catholic bishops strongly opposed it. I see that as a violation of God’s primary relationship with human beings, respecting the primacy of our conscience, and as rejecting inherent human dignity. Shame!
Very well said!
Thanks so much, Jack, for the great questions you pose here. And for your willingness to be of service to us modern believers. Your writings make me examine my own faith, find answers to the questions, and have a “closer walk” with Jesus, as the old hymns say. I really appreciate your courage, honesty, and leadership in facing the world and asking those questions. Can one be so totally immersed in the culture, be touched by Jesus?
A good friend of mine, a fence-sitter re: faith in God, just had a cancerous tumor removed from a kidney and is recovering very well and with a good prognosis. She is over-the-top with praise for the wonderful care she is receiving from the medical team at Simon Cancer Center here in Indy. Her face lights up when she tells me about them. This is her best experience of joy in life — someone touched her in a personal way and “made her whole.” A question I ask myself is, “How can I touch [thisperson] in a personal way so they feel noticed, important, understood or supported, so that they go away feeling joy or happiness. I’m not a surgeon but I can help make people feel more whole and hopeful.
It’s in asking the right questions that we come to the right answers and thereby bring peace and understanding into our world. “Let it begin with me.”
Thanks Mary…We work together.
Welcome back, Jack. Happy to hear you enjoyed your time away. Congratulations to both you, and Josie, on your 52nd Wedding Anniversary. That is just wonderful. Blessings to you, and yours.
Many thanks Pat!