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Six ways for moving forward beyond our own dying


The headline is provocative: “White Christian America is dying.”

The article that follows is more nuanced than the headline, but it makes the familiar point that mainline and evangelical congregations are weighted toward elderly constituents and have little appeal to younger cohorts. Read Article Here

Okay, okay. Old news to anyone who has been observing the changing shape of Christianity in America. But the question remains, what do we do about it?

I have six suggestions for moving on to a better future.

First, we need to see that keeping on keeping on is a losing strategy. Things have got to change. Specifically, we have got to clean up the toxic environment we created by fighting over everything. Our battles over women’s place, homosexuality and liturgy got so nasty that even our own people are walking away. Who wants to be part of something so self-absorbed and sour?

Second, stop fighting. Fifty years of fighting are more than enough. This goes both ways. Those who still resent women in leadership, gays in the open, and language and hymnody in modern tongues have got to get over it. And those who won need to get over it, too. It’s time to stop marking the “first woman this” and “first gay that.” I know we think we are being historic. But it comes across as triumphalist and self-congratulatory.

Third, seek true diversity, not just the tokens we have pursued. Instead of getting better jobs for our own, we need to stand with all women and all racial minorities and all victims of exclusion. If we want to have a future, we need to look beyond our own kind and learn to speak in the many languages of our diverse nation and address the grinding conditions that people we don’t know face every day.

Fourth, we need to look outward, not inward. We keep having the same self-centered conversations: talking to each other about each other. That works in families and clubs. But the body of Christ cannot survive if it lives only for itself.

Fifth, we need to change the narrative. We are known – like it or not – as angry, conflictual, judgmental, old and dull. With that as our known narrative, we have no future. We need to tell a different story about ourselves – and it must be a real story, not a onetime marketing blitz grounded in noblesse oblige. The world needs to see us caring for the least of these and giving our wealth away and caring less about our comforts and style and more about single moms on food stamps – not because we have gotten better at charity, but because we are they, they are we, and God is in us. We need to stand for progress, for justice, for the joy of being one.

Sixth, and to that end, I think we need to give up the false security of tax-exempt status. That relic of olden days is like white privilege. How can we justify grand facilities on which we pay no tax while people outside our walls are spending half their monthly income on housing? We need to be free to speak truth to power.

In all this, we need to remember that ample resources won’t save us. Continuity and consistency won’t save us. Liking each other won’t save us. Having a good time on Sunday morning won’t save us. Our only sustainable future lies in being enthusiastic missionaries for Jesus Christ, willing to do whatever it takes to care for God’s people.

About the Author

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of A Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns.


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