I repost this from Sojourners magazine.
Much has been made of the "rise of the nones" — that is,
the increasing percentage of Americans who identify with no religion. It
is a fascinating and undeniable trend, and one that should catch the
attention of religious leaders.
I know quite a few Nones. Few of them
were raised in the absence of any faith tradition. Instead, most were
part of a Christian denomination at some point, but consciously made the
decision to leave. What interests me about their stories is this common
thread: The majority left Christianity because of the attitudes of a
person, and that person was not Jesus.
It was an overbearing parent, or a
judgmental minister, or a congregant who told them they did not belong
because they were gay or they were questioning or they had conflicted
ideas. In many cases, it was a combination of these types of influences.
Something is wrong when we drive so many people away. I think a big part of that something is arrogance. This
raises the question, then, of how to be a public Christian, even an
evangelical Christian (which is how I identify myself), without running
the risk of arrogance.
I don't embody the ideal I'm
about to describe in answer to that question, but I know some people who
do. These are the people who made me want to be a Christian. What I see
in them are three key attributes: They are authentic, unashamed and
By authentic, I mean a faith that truly
reflects the narrative of the individual, one that is shaped by their
own life. Because Jesus taught principles rather than one-size-fits-all
rules (consider the two Great Commandments),
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all
your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love
your neighbor as yourself.'"
his directives will ring
true to each of us in a different pitch. It means something that Jesus
didn't have a catchphrase. Instead, he spoke to everyone he encountered
in their own context. It was not an accident that when he talked about
"living water," he was addressing the Samaritan woman at the well.
I mean that Christians should talk openly and publicly about the way
their faith influences their actions, even when this brings this into
conflict with others. If we choose to do something or not do something
because of our faith, we should say so. This is different than feeling
the need to impose our beliefs on others; rather it means not changing
ourselves to conform to the majority.
For example, consider the
important question of the Sabbath. A Christian should probably try to
keep the Sabbath holy, since Jesus was so clear about this, and be
unashamed to take those actions. However, we can do that without
insisting that everyone else close down their businesses on Sunday.
I mean that we should not pretend that our faith or our life in faith
is perfect, or makes us perfect, or is easy. We should be honest about
our doubts, and about our own failures. Christianity is humbling, and we
should be willing to be truthful about our problems and struggles. A
Christian is not a perfected human, after all. I once heard someone say,
"You can't be an alcoholic and a Christian," and I completely disagree.
You absolutely can be a Christian struggling with that problem, just as
we all struggle. To claim that Christians are different than others
because they behave better is just not true, based on any honest
evaluation. What makes us Christian is the struggle itself.
might be that our first job in responding to the rise of the "Nones" is
that we should stop creating so many of them through our own arrogance
and our attempts to judge others (contrary to Christ's express
instruction). People are drawn to those who are strong and humble; is
there any more compelling combination of attributes? Perhaps it is now
the time to be those things, as Christ was, rather than smug in the
conviction that we are always correct, and always the best.
are often wrong, and we often fail. Our victory is that we do so in the
service of something greater than ourselves. Christ's flag may be one
of victory, but ours is one of humility, and that may
be as good as it
Mark Osler is
a Professor of Law at the University of St, Thomas Law School in
Minnesota. A graduate of the College of William and Mary and Yale Law
School, Prof. Osler is a former federal prosecutor whose work has
consistently confronted the problem of inflexibility in sentencing and