A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A "Reasonable" Faith

The Reason Rally, a gathering of people who have no religious affiliation met in Washington DC this past March.  CNN has an article that references a recent Pew Research study that reveals that this segment of society has grown by 25% over the past five years, growing faster than any religious group. One in five Americans have no affiliation with any religious organization.

Whenever I read surveys and articles like these, I tend to have these initial reactions:

1. Sadness that many atheists and agnostics have a negative perception of the church and sadness that we, the church are sometimes our own worst enemy.  The church is often seen as judgmental, narrow-minded, anti-education/science, and pompous.  I know that this isn't the case for most churches, but this is often the perception.

2. Curiosity that gatherings like, "The Reason Rally" assume that Christianity is not a "reasonable" faith.  Many Christian denominations, including the United Methodist Church believe that our faith should include the use of reason in interpreting scripture and living out the faith.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism believed that reason and religion go hand in hand.  This is why over a hundred colleges and universities were started by Methodists, many of them Liberal Arts institutions.

On a recent flight back from a continuing education event, I sat next to a young adult who I discovered does not have any religious affiliation.  She asked me the purpose of my trip and I told her that I was a pastor and had just visited a growing United Methodist Church that is having a very positive impact on the city where they are located.  She was surprised to hear that the church is partnering with inner city schools by purchasing playground ground equipment, providing tutorers, and donating mattresses so that children do not have to sleep on the floor.  I said how this involvement and partnership has led to significantly higher test scores.

After sharing many other ways this church is making a difference, I also told her about my church and how we make and send blankets to nursing homes, police stations, and hospice residents.  We also helped to assemble playground equipment for one of our city's elementary schools.  She looked at me with a surprised look and said, "I had no idea that churches were doing things like this."

Before the flight was over, I gave her a small book about Jesus and serving others and encouraged her to find a good church back home.  I also thanked her for reminding me of how important it is for the church to share the many good things that we are doing.

Now, I don't think that sharing of all of these good things will convince every secularist to become a Christian.  I'm also sure that many would continue to be very suspicious in hearing that there are thinking Christians who use reason and rationality in approaching their faith.

Surveys like this latest one from Pew Research show an apparent chasm between religious and non-religious people when in actuality there is more common ground for us to explore.

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