Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Because the product is never the problem

From EpiscopalLife Online, an opinion piece by the Rev. Tom Ehrich on the recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey on the U.S. religious landscape [boldface mine]:

My first reaction to the much-publicized U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life was, "Hooray for common sense!"

In finding that 44 percent of Americans change their religious affiliation as they grow up, the survey proved that religious life isn't an exercise in brand loyalty but rather a dynamic process of making adult decisions about life and God.

In fact, I would find it discouraging if children passed through the ferment of adolescence and into the challenges of adulthood without rethinking their faith. After all, a primary work of adolescence is pulling away from one's parents and claiming one's own identity. Failure to differentiate tends to stunt one's adulthood. And if faith has any central place in one's childhood experiences, then faith must be part of that pulling-away. Otherwise, faith is just an unexamined habit of childhood.

The Pew findings that religious behavior is marked by "fluidity," not consistency, might frustrate institutional managers who had hoped brand loyalty would last a lifetime. But it strikes me as good news that people take their faith seriously enough to examine it and to go in search of real bread. . .

If "none of the above" is the fastest-growing American religious affiliation, then we need to ask: What do adults in America find missing? What movement of the human spirit are we in the religious world failing to sense? What matrix of needs are we ignoring in our stubborn insistence on tradition? What questions are we unable to hear?. . .

If, as the Pew study found, mainline Protestantism is a dwindling flock, I'd suggest mainline leaders visit growing congregations, learn from them and discern what methods can be appropriated without abandoning their progressive theology. In my opinion, our mainline worship tends to be dull, our music lifeless, our ranks too dominated by warriors in theologically insignificant causes, and our openness to new ideas and new personalities dangerously small. . .

Read it all.

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