THE LAST WORD: How can the ‘City of Churches’ now be thought of as post-Christian?
Fort Wayne has long been called the “City of Churches,” but it ranks 76th in the nation as post-Christian. How can that be?
“Post-Christian” means there has been an observed decline in the influence of the church: Christianity is no longer the dominant religion where it once was. The fact that there are at least 360 churches in town apparently doesn’t make Fort Wayne a bastion of religious belief and practice, according to a compendium of some of the metrics used by Barna research to evaluate faith trends in the U.S.
The Barna Group is an evangelical Christian polling firm based in Ventura, Calif. Its new subscription-based online database called FaithView “has compiled the results of telephone and online interviews with nationwide random samples of 21,378 adults conducted over a 10-year period, ending in April 2018,” according to its website (www.barna.com). “The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is plus or minus 0.7 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.”
Data gathered and compiled from the survey show trends including “a general reluctance to engage in spiritual conversations, an aversion to evangelism and the erosion of religious belief and practice.” Conclusion? The results indicate that we live in an increasingly secularized nation comprised of increasingly secularized cities.
” ‘My country ’tis of Thee, sweet land of Secularity’ will be our new national hymn as America enters the uncharted territory of a post-Christian era,” wrote David Davenport in 2015. A research fellow at the Hoover Institution and former president of Pepperdine University, Davenport continued, “Long known as ‘a Christian nation,’ the U.S. has turned sharply in a secular direction, thanks to the trickle-down influence of elites and handed-down dictates from courts. This historic shift will affect everything from elections to education to ethics and beyond.”
To qualify as “post-Christian,” according to Barna, those in the sample who were interviewed had to meet nine or more of the following factors: do not believe in God; identify as atheist or agnostic; disagree that faith is important in their lives; have not prayed to God in the last week; have never made a commitment to Jesus; disagree the Bible is accurate; have not donated money to a church in the last year; have not attended a Christian church in the last six months; agree that Jesus committed sins; do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”; have not read the Bible in the last week; have not volunteered at church in the last week; have not attended Sunday school in the last week; have not attended religious small group in the last week; Bible engagement scale is low (have not read it in the past week and disagree that it is accurate); not born again.
According to the results, the most post-Christian city in America is Springfield-Holyoke, Mass., with 66 percent of its population qualifying under the list above. In fact, the top eight cities on the list are from the same Northeast region with percentages 55 percent and above.
Fort Wayne ranked No. 76, at 37 percent. Indianapolis was No. 87 (34 percent).
Casey Chalk, a student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College, wrote for the American Conservative: “There have been many passionate attacks on traditional, religious ways of life in America – assaults on Christian adoption and foster care agencies, attempts to disqualify Christians from public service because of their beliefs and affiliations, litigation against Christian businesses. Do these portend even more aggressive, possibly violent political efforts akin to what Catholic France suffered in 1789 or what Orthodox Russia underwent in 1919? Or will the destruction of what little remains of Christian culture in the West appear as a more seamless, natural transition?”
Chalk calls where we are today a “shrug of the shoulders” culture.
“Those who fall within this description,” he says, “influenced by public education, mainstream media and perhaps the lukewarm religiosity of parents … view belief as a preferential, dispensable thing, akin to a hobby. Perhaps they were told that religion’s main purpose is to make us better people, or that church attendance has more to do with familial and cultural obligations than sincere belief. They recognize that religion may play an important role in some people’s lives, but have decided it won’t in theirs, and certainly shouldn’t influence the public square.”
So, should Christians despair? Not necessarily, says Davenport.
“Christianity has survived governments and societies of all kinds throughout the ages. But the losers in this may be less the Christians than the larger society. The Founders consistently warned that in order for a free republic to work, a virtuous people would be needed, and the source of that virtue, in their experience, was religion.”
For Christians, a post-Christian America means a mission field right here at home.
Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.