Hypocrisy and the Nones

  

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:26-27

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:10

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Matthew 23:13

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Ephesians 5:11

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7

There is a crisis of faith in the world today. It’s not because of liberals, the LGBT, sexual promiscuity, science, drug use, or any of the myriad of things that religious conservatives claim is at the heart of every problem in the world. The greatest problem religious leaders face is their own hatefulness,a me what often turns out to be hypocrisy. I think this tactic of evangelicals is one that is fueled with hatred and fear, two things that I do not believe Jesus would have ever approved of using, but that of something Satan would wholeheartedly approve.

 Before I go any further, I want to briefly discuss the concept of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not actually hold. Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. The modern notion is that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another, a person who is two-faced, who is inconsistent or phony. Jesus’ teaching on Hypocrisy does not exclude this notion but is far richer. The Biblical understanding enunciated by Jesus is rooted in the original meaning of the Greek word ὑποκριταί (hypokritai) which means “stage actors.” At one level it is easy to see how this word has come to mean some one who is phony. For what they claim to be, they really are not, they are just acting a role. But when no one is looking (i.e. the audience is gone) they revert to their true self, which is some one quite different. But Jesus in his teaching here develops the understanding far more richly that shows how sad and poignant hypocrisy is, what its origin is and how it can be overcome.

In effect Jesus describes hypocrisy as the sad state of a person who reduces himself to being an actor on a stage, because he does not know God the Father. There are many people who live their life in a desperate search for human approval and applause. They discern their dignity and worth, not from God, (who is in effect a stranger to them), but from what other human beings think of them. They are willing to adapt themselves often in dramatic ways to win approval. They are willing to play many roles and wear many masks to give the audience what they want. They are like actors on a stage, who seek applause or perhaps laughter and approval. Most politicians fall into this category. Notice the way Jesus describes the heart of hypocrisy:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” ( Matthew 6:1) Jesus goes on to say that they blow a trumpet so that others will see them giving alms, they pray ostentatiously so that others may see they are praying, and they alter their appearance so that others may see they are fasting.

There are many examples of people Jesus would call a hypocrite. I doubt mp that very many of us could pass His test, but there are those who are in the limelight who are outward examples of hypocrisy. The Duggars are the latest example, but far from being the only example, of people who have held themselves up as a model of Christianity: wearing their religion on their sleeves, being politically active, and professing deeply conservative, anti-LGBT, patriarchal, and anti-science views. Some members of the family have adopted a particularly evangelical bent to their faith, telling other Christians: if you aren’t as conservative as us, you’re not real Christians. 

“Real Christians” like the Duggars would like to think they’re doing God’s work. But if they’re judged by the fruits of their tree, as the Bible teaches, they’ve actually driven Americans away from churches. And new research indicates that their entrenched, anti-LGBT positions are part of why Americans are abandoning the faith in record numbers — and not coming back, but it’s not just their anti-LGBT positions, it’s their intolerance of anyone who disagrees with their brand of hatred. However, this is not something new, and numbers have been declining since the 1950s.

When the Pew Research Center released its latest religion in America survey results, it highlighted a trend that has been ongoing for years: people are leaving organized religion in droves. In response, churches have been attempting to combat this declining attendance, with attempts to “jazz up” services that range from engaging youth pastors, rebranding efforts, building activity centers (I know of one church that put in a bowling alley, while several others have put in coffee bars), and anything else they can think of to get Millennials back — apparently to no avail. The number of people who identify with any religious denomination keeps shrinking.

There are now approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults (those identifying as agnostic, atheist, or “nothing in particular”) in the U.S., according to Pew. In light of this group’s “none of the above” attitude toward existing organized religion, the group is sometimes referred to as the “Nones.”

The Nones are more numerous than either Catholics or mainline Protestants, according to Pew’s latest survey. Indeed, the unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups in the U.S., and growing faster than any other group. The Nones are more likely to be young, white, and educated, although growth is occurring across almost every demographic.

But the Nones also tend to be one of the most solidly Democratic and pro-LGBT demographics as well. This isn’t coincidental; prior studies from the Public Religion Research Institute have shown that up to a third of Millennial Nones left traditional faith communities because of religious intolerance, especially toward LGBT people.

You would think that because Mainline (Non-Evangelical) Protestants tend to be more accepting of LGBT Christians, that their numbers would be growing, however membership in these churches have fallen faster than for any other group in the Pew survey, by virtually any measure. Some, particularly those in evangelical denominations, blame the declining attendance on the liberalization of these churches, saying they have watered down Christianity into moral relativism, with no clear delineation of right and wrong. Some sociologists hold that demographics, such as differences in birth rates, are the real reason why the ranks of mainline Protestants are declining faster than evangelicals.

Others point to a groundbreaking 2010 study by Putnam and Campbell, which argues there is a strong link between Millennial disenchantment with Christianity and the rise of evangelical conservatism in the 1980s and ‘90s. That study hypothesizes that Millennials have come of age in an environment where being Christian means being conservative (and Republican). More socially progressive Millennials — which is most of them — view the choice before them as an ultimatum of sorts: identifying with one’s political identity, or their religious identity. When it comes down to brass tacks, Millennials are apt to change the latter, given how little effort it takes to drop out of organized religion. In short, when there is a conflict between religious and political identity, the path of least resistance involves giving up the religious one. I tend to think that with twenty-four hour news channels comes more sensationalism that points to the hypocrisy of those who profess their beliefs in Christianity but yet have secret lives that are in direct violation of what they profess as right and wrong. The hypocrisy turns people away from Christianity.

The solution, from Putnam and Cambell’s perspective, would be to sever the link between religion and politics. But recent polling indicates that 57 percent of Republicans want to see Christianity as the official religion of the United States. Additionally, greater religious involvement in government is a core tenet for many evangelicals. But given the shrinking number of mainline Protestants compared to the sizable and growing membership of the evangelical community, the researchers’ solution seems a slim chance of becoming reality.

Sadly, the LGBT community is less likely to be religious than the American population as a whole, according to a recent Gallup poll. Given the scarcity of LGBT-affirming faiths, how often LGBT people have been mistreated by the faith communities they were born in to, and the link between anti-LGBT religions and politics, this reality is unsurprising. But that hasn’t stopped national organizations like The National LGBTQ Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign from having dedicated religious outreach campaigns. These organizations see such efforts as essential to their missions. Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, describes religious outreach as one of the group’s top priorities in fighting for LGBT equality:

“There’s sort of two pieces of this work. Number one, and first and foremost, is changing hearts and minds. You change hearts and minds by building bridges and by having a conversation with business leaders, with faith and religious leaders, with community leaders, and also with elected officials at the community level and at the state level.”

These religious outreach efforts have several purposes. According to a National LGBTQ Task Force Report on inclusive religious organizing, “Pro-LGBTQQIA faith-based leaders and leadership structures bring significant resources to the fight — the ability to speak with moral authority to large numbers and through a variety of communication vehicles.”

The ability to have religious leaders testify in favor of pro-LGBT legislation significantly alters the perception that LGBT issues are purely religious or moral, according to the report. It also allows for greater reach into communities where people of color suffer the most from the confluence of multiple forms of discrimination and oppression.

Unfortunately, the influence of LGBT-affirming churches is waning as their membership declines. Relatedly, research shows that increased Internet access — especially when used to access progressive media sources like Right Wing Watch and ThinkProgress — helps tighten the spiral of religious de-identification by consistently pointing out the link between conservative religions and politics.

“For people living in homogeneous communities, the Internet provides opportunities to find information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally,” wrote Allen Downey, a computer science professor at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering who studied the impact of web access on religious identification. The Internet also provides LGBT Christians, like myself who find that in rural America LGBT inclusive churches are basically nonexistent, with a place to interact with other LGBT Christians. It’s one of the reasons for my blog, to reach out to other like-minded individuals.

No matter how the demographics are sliced, the decline in denominational identification is accelerating. So is the decline in church attendance. It seems likely that this trend will continue for years, if not decades. While the end result is uncertain, current shifts in religious messaging imply that a segment of conservative religions will hold on to a core constituency for a long time to come, even without moving toward greater acceptance. A contrarian social outlook (no matter how unpopular) will always have adherents: just look at interracial marriage, which has been legal across the U.S. for more than 50 years. But approximately one in six Americans is still opposed to interracial marriage, according to the Pew survey.

Right-wing pundits who support the church maintaining its anti-LGBT stance have seized onto the fact that evangelical groups are holding on to members better than denominations that affirm LGBT people, yet they don’t seem to realize that their own intolerance is what is driving people away from all churches.

In an August op-ed for the Federalist, Daily Caller reporter Alex Griswold sardonically concluded that the fastest way to “Shrink Your Church in One Easy Step” is to become LGBT-affirming. “A number of Christian denominations have already taken significant steps towards liberalizing their stances on homosexuality and marriage, and the evidence so far seems to indicate that affirming homosexuality is hardly a cure for membership woes,” wrote Griswold. “On the contrary, every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization of sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.”

This observation is factually correct, but it misses the bigger picture. Conservative faiths are holding steady while moderate progressive ones are shrinking, but Pew’s research indicates that it’s actually conservative faiths that are making all of Christianity toxic to moderate and progressive Millennials.

LGBT rights aren’t the only social issue where conservative theology drives younger moderates and progressives away. As prominent atheist blogger Hemant Mehta noted at CNN, those conservative faiths are “antigay, anti-women, anti-science, anti-sex-education and anti-doubt, to name a few of the most common criticisms.”

Churches that dig in their heels on anti-LGBT positions might hear more about how that issue is driving away new members, but that’s because public opinion on LGBT people has shifted faster than any of the other issues the church is refusing to evolve upon.

As proof, look no further than a 2007 study by the Barna Group, which found that the most common word used by Millennials to describe Christianity was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about key Christian qualities. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. The next most common negative descriptors were “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics,” according to David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ book UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Matters.

Whether the rise of the Nones — and the concurrent decline of moderate religions — ultimately speeds up or slows down efforts to secure legal protections for LGBT people as a whole remains to be seen. What we do know is that is that the rise of the Nones and the increasing acceptance of LGBT people are strongly linked.

And neither is likely to be undone.

A friend of mine who read an early draft of this post, brought up an important point and one that I find the saddest of all about the Nones. While the LGBT and the Nones may be turned away from religion by anti-gay religious organizations and the conservative right wing, each individual has his own choice/free will to choose his faith, religion, and God. All of the blame cannot be put onto these hypocrites – but each individual who turns away from God is ultimately the one who holds the blame and will be accountable for his or her own decisions. God will not give those individuals who turned away from Him a free pass because they were driven away by fanaticism and hypocrisy. The reality of this breaks my heart, which is why I am a primitive restorationist (the core idea of the churches of Christ that we should return to the original church Christ established), who believes we should return to what Christ taught about love and faith in God’s grace.

In the wake of the Surpeme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, we have seen many evangelicals speak out against marriage equality now that it has become the law of the land.  I think more clergy should follow what Episcopal Bishop Robert Wright said in a statement on the Supreme Court decision:

“Today the nation’s highest court has concluded that the Constitution guarantees a nationwide right to same-sex marriage.

In the days ahead, whatever your position, I ask you to keep close to your heart and lips the words of scripture, that “God is love.” Christ’s church is trans-political, above all earthly partisanship.

Therefore, if love has won even a small victory today, then let us rejoice.”

Source: This post is largely adapted from an article from The Advocate, “How The Nonreligious ‘Nones’ Are Driving LGBT Equality in the U.S.” http://www.advocate.com/politics/religion/2015/06/08/how-nonreligious-nones-are-driving-lgbt-equality-us

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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