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                                                                                                                            A New Reformation  (Spring 2014)

Canadians are not supporting Christian Churches as they did seventy years ago.  During the baby boom (1946 and 1964) new housing surveys always included plans for several churches.  Costs were easily met by volunteer giving and people not supporting a church were oddities.  Even when housing developments were planned to house Canadian Armed Forces families, those communities built two large chapels (Protestant and Roman Catholic) at public expense.  This was normal in an age gone by.
                When the baby boomers pass beyond the age when they can run, finance and support organizations, the number of churches across Canada will shrink.  This trend has already started.  The number of people supporting the church today is simply not high enough to maintain the current Christian “footprint”.   A baby boomer myself, I have dedicated 36 years to the furtherance of religion in Canada.  I believe that well-being includes sound spiritual thinking.  I am saddened by the strong evidence indicating that the next generations no longer support religious institutions.  The church-going generation knows how valuable church is to their quality of life.  The choice of huge numbers of Generation X and later to embrace a great range of activities except church distresses the devout.  However: watch what happens if apathy and antagonism towards the church are considered to be good things.
                Populations support institutions when they are consistent with their lived experiences.  The generations no longer strongly supporting Canadian Churches are living in a culture with an education that is as advanced as any in the world.  Their rejection of conventional Christian Church may be lamentable, but it may very well be the beginning of a new re-formation of Christian Spirituality.  Indeed no one should be surprised at the dwindling trend away from the rigidities of the conventional church.   The lived experience of Generation X (plus) in Canada is inconsistent with almost every area (sexuality, morality, educational processes, history, current affairs, universality, environment, justice, equality of personhood) of Western Christianity’s apparent dogmatic loyalty to ancient metaphysics and practices.
            Canadian active support for multi-culturalism and our openness to all creeds, races, and countries of origin are practices inconsistent with any religion in Canada which makes an exclusive claim to “the absolute truth”.  How can a teenager attending our wonderful culturally diverse schools accept a worship service which claims its way to heaven is the only way?
            Education processes for Generation X plus are dynamic, interactive and experimental.  Those processes are inconsistent with the standard religious lecture called sermons proclaimed by persons separated from “students” by furniture, clothes and status.  The lived experience of the post boomer generations easily trumps the obsolescence of traditional church pew education and intellectual literalism.
            Our ecological crisis forced a re-evaluation of the relationship between human beings and the whole of the living planet.  That re-focus is inconsistent with the anthropo-centric and hierarchical theology of most of the Western Christian creeds
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            Theoretical astrophysics reveals mysteries in science which are uncomfortably close to the mythical accounts of creation.  This has initiated a review of what is truly wondrous and mystical.  That review is inconsistent with the “black or white” thinking deeply ingrained in the beliefs of the Western Church.
        The battle for gender equality (which is not yet complete) has been a significant movement in Canada for decades.  The lived experience of those actively pursuing gender equality is inconsistent with the ancient patriarchal male dominant power structures actively or unconsciously being practiced by Christian denominations
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 Positive life-enhancing passionate sexual relations that Canadians are today increasingly free to practice without shame are inconsistent with the narrow morally driven top-down expectations of many religious institutions.  There is an enormous inconsistency between the lived experiences of those practicing well-informed healthy sexuality and that which is addressed in the churches.  The silence or condemnations by the church in regard to erotica, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, common-law living, homosexuality, sexual life outside marriage, safe sex practices, and so on offers little value to most young couples.  Outside the dictates of religious rigidities and silence many couples are experiencing a wondrous guilt free enlightened healthy sexuality, where the dualism of eros and agape no longer exist.  Many people often report (rightfully) that their religious institutions were sources of great pain due to closed-mindedness, ignorance, arrogance, rejection, failure to understand, and active suppression.  When you add to that the inexcusable abuse of minors by persons of trust in the church, how can anyone be surprised that public trust of the church has weakened?

The lived experience of Generation X (plus) includes witness to violence perpetrated apparently in the name of religion or by countries deeply influenced by religion.  In Christian dominated Europe, during the last century, perpetuating imperial male-dominated power often appeared more evident than justice and liberation.  The violence between the west and east, the troubles in Ireland, the violent breakup of Yugoslavia and other world conflicts feed a perception that the church is hypocritical.  The lived experience strongly suggests that religious structures and beliefs have been major contributions to the mayhem on earth.

The lack of church support from Generation X plus may be fed by the difference between their lived experiences and the institutions perpetuating imperialistic, patriarchal power structures and dry obsolete theology.  Mass numbers of those generations have radically reconsidered their spiritual practices and what will emerge has yet to be seen.  Maybe this exit is a spiritual restlessness amongst people seeking the mystical elsewhere because there is a felt sense that it can no longer be found in the conventional church.  From that perspective, this could be a major re-formation as radical as that of 1517 under Martin Luther.  Our lament at the beginning of this re-formation may yet become a celebration.  If it is not too late, let the church hear the voice of a new re-formation in our time.

 

George Zimmerman, Captain (Navy) retired
Minister, St. David and St. Martin Presbyterian Church
,
http://www.thesaints.ca/

Published courtesy of Manor Park Chronicle



St. David & St. Martin is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.