"Society" Is Never One Thing
Society is never one thing. Humans are always disassembling and reassembling. Often we sense the changes going on around us without recognizing their full implications. A study released in August notes a disturbing trend for the church (see “No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class"). The study focuses on high school graduates of northern European descent who have never completed college degrees – “working class whites”—a group that makes up 60% of the population in the United States. The study found this group’s increasing disengagement from the church – both in absolute numbers and, interestingly, relative to college-educated and wealthier populations. The study hypothesized that “shifts in economic opportunities and in family formation over the last four decades have made many of the moral logics associated with American religious institutions both less realizable and less desirable among moderately educated whites” (p. 7). Statistical surveys of specific data show that, unlike those of African-American and Hispanic origins, those in the United States who are least and moderately educated have fallen in church adherence from levels set in the 1970s. [callout title=Callout Title]Contrary to “secularization” theorists, the church has not lost its impact on the educated; it is those poorer and less educated, particularly whites, who have been absorbed back into the world.[/callout]The dissolution of family life and economic instability among the least and moderately educated whites have produced very negative effects on their involvement in the life of the church. Contrary to “secularization” theorists, the church has not lost its impact on the educated; it is those poorer and less educated, particularly whites, who have been absorbed back into the world. Without the skills of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American Christians who know that solidarity with the church can save you from the prejudices of society, less educated and marginally educated whites have proven particularly vulnerable to losing the formative impact of the church as the social center of one’s life. A spiral ensues: with the loss of the church comes the loss of the sexual and familial practices of the church; with the loss of sexual and familial practices of the church, those imperiled by deep economic shifts lose social contacts necessary for formations that help provide the necessary stability for human beings to prosper; with the loss of such social contacts and formation, persons become more deeply alienated from the church, which, to them, represents an ethic that inhibits the “freedom” of their sexual and familial practices. And so on. Here we find how the project of the Colossian Forum goes beyond “mere science.” By placing the relationship between science and the church in the context of worship, the Christian virtues, and Christian practices such as hospitality, we find ourselves drawn beyond the scientific educated elite into the life of our sisters and brothers in the Church. This will increasingly draw us into the lives of those that stand outside the life of the church, possibly even in rejection of the church due to unfair stereotypes. In our efforts to reach the educated, we cannot forget that these persons do not represent the majority of persons even in the United States, let alone the world. What do the practices of Christian hospitality look like within these broader networks? How do we as the church allow ourselves to be formed in faith, hope, and love as we engage those who have rejected the formation of the church to complicate their own lives? How do we open ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to form us through the gift of these people? How do such practices of formation empower good lives to be lived among those suffering increasing social and economic vulnerability? Most persons in the United States learn to live outside of control of their lives. They work when opportunity affords itself at the wage that is set for them and deal with their bodily health as it comes. They thus become a gift for the church which must develop the virtues necessary to live outside of control in order to live faithfully to Christ – virtues like patience, faith, hope, and love. Only when our worship reflects the Lordship of Christ rather than the economic and ethnic stratification of the world can the visibility of the church reflect the reality of the kingdom of God into which the Father calls us through the Son by the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Rev. Dr. John Wright (PhD, University of Notre Dame, 1989) is Professor of Theology and Christian Scripture at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA and the senior pastor of the English-speaking congregation of the Church of the Nazarene in Mid-City, San Diego. He is the author of Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation (IVP Academic, 2007) and the editor of the up-coming volume, Postliberal Theology and the Church Catholic: Conversations with George Lindbeck, David Burrell, and Stanley Hauerwas (Baker Academic), to be released on March 1, 2012.