I run across a lot of things while reading for sermons and trying to keep up with what is going on in the wider world around us. One of the websites I got to with some frequency is called The Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center is “is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. We conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. We do not take policy positions.” One of the sections that gets updated regularly is concerned with trends in American religion, called Religion & Public Life.
I ran across an interesting study that was finalized last month called What Americans Know About Religion. The study got responses from nearly eleven thousand people across the United States and across all religious persuasions. According to the results of the study, Mainline Protestants (Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and of course, the UMC) are less knowledgeable about religious ideas than Jews, agnostics, atheists, and evangelical protestants. And even those who had the highest scores on the thirty-two-question quiz could only muster getting sixty percent correct. Mainline and evangelical Christians barely broke fifty percent, (the study results are here https://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/u-s-religious-knowledge-quiz/ and you can try the quiz yourself).
Given the general importance that people ascribe to their faith, especially regarding politics both within and without the church, we should be appalled at our collective ignorance. The Letter of 2 Timothy admonishes us to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” How can we explain what we do not know? How can we avoid being ashamed when our knowledge is so lacking?
I believe the religious climate of the last hundred to hundred and fifty years has led some to think that Christianity can be summed up in a prayer to start the journey, a few rules on how to behave, a list of social dos and don’ts, and customary attendance at a house of worship. The kind of religious education that used to be second nature in Methodism with classes and bands during Wesley’s time in England hardly exists today. We have embraced soundbite, social media Christianity and abandoned a life of deep study, contemplation, prayer, and service. We have reduced the True Gospel of Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 4:18-19; Matthew 5-7) to a repeated prayer uttered in a time of distress. We have taken up a belief about Jesus (a set of ideas that describe Jesus) and abandoned a belief in Jesus (a trust in following the Way of Jesus, his life, ministry, death to self, and resurrection to new life in the Spirit).
It is time to walk away from the worldly, generic, lifeless version of Jesus that we have embraced in comfort and take up our crosses – the difficult way of deep study, contemplation, prayer, and service – that we might find the truth of our faith, a faith forgotten in many ways, once again.