Christianity certainly has a lack of cultural diversity. Within the Southern Baptist Conference (SBC), 85% of Christians are white and only 6% are black. The followers of Jesus have an even larger diversity problem. The virtual absence of diversity of Christian thought is leading to the decline in membership numbers across Western Christianity.
Churches are scrambling to figure out how to slow the hemorrhaging of, primarily, millennial members. While they focus on modifying the ‘marketing strategy’, there is little attention paid to the destructive homogeneity of Christian thought.
After Jesus’ resurrection, followers began to understand differently ideas they always believed they understood. The passages modern Christians refer to as messianic prophecy were not known by that name in first century Jerusalem. If they were, every person familiar with the Torah and the writings of the prophets may have understood Jesus to be messiah prior to the crucifixion. Once word spread of the resurrection, Jews, followers of “The Way”, and others were forced to reread and re-imagine the scriptures in light of this new information. This led to many different ideas about what happened and what it meant. Some believed Jesus resurrected, in the sense we understand it today. Others believed he resuscitated. While others, chose to focus more intensely on the Torah, the inclusion of the Gentiles, or Jesus’ life, ministry and teaching. There were debates, disagreements, and different groups forming around what they believed was the correct or most important interpretation of Jesus. It is in this atmosphere that the gospel spread.
Over 2,000 years later, Christianity has spread all over the world. In Western Christianity, we believe like some early groups believed, that our understanding is THE understanding. We do not acknowledge Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, or any other thought variant as a legitimate understanding of the faith. In many cases, we are unaware that other ideas exist (and have existed) within Christianity and are being taught in Christian seminaries across the world. We believe in one theory of atonement (Jesus died for our sins), one view of eschatology (a rapture, a hell, and all that jazz), and a handful of issues that are based more on political influence than scripture. If someone were to introduce a new idea (or an old idea long forgotten), we are efficient at labeling them a heretic. There is no debate. Because of this, there is no iron sharpening iron. Only a single iron, growing more dull by the day. That is our faith. Dull.
People are leaving church because we live in an age where information is more available now than ever. Information about other streams of Christian thought, other faiths, or no faith at all. That access to information leads to questions. Without a space to explore those questions, the inquisitive will find their own space. They will search for truth without us.
I use ‘us’ incorrectly. I am the inquisitive. I question. I search. When the environment does not nurture exploration, I will not starve for a space to engage in intellectual, genuine seeking, and often disagreeable dialog in search of truth. The truth matters. If it only seems to matter to a few of us, churches will continue to find their numbers fewer.
This is not the only reason but it is common. Who is listening?