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May 18, 2007

Losing the Second Generation

We in the West are in angst about the 'lost generations' in church - generally in the age of 30-55; people who have left the church of their parents, many having abandoned the faith altogether. We have a noted rise in alternative spiritualities, which are often grounded in ancient practices.

The Religion Report of May 16 spends some time analysing the shift away from Catholicism in Central America, a report coinciding with the Pope's visit. While the ratio of priests to Catholics is about 1 to 7000, in evangelical churches it is 1 to 300, going some way to explaining the drift from Catholicism to evangelical and charismatic churches. But that's not the whole story. Michelle Crowther reports:

But the Catholic church's great exodus is not only at the hands of its competitors. In pockets of Latin America, the debate is no longer between different faiths. Many of those who leave choose no organised spiritual alternative. In Guatemala for example, polls since 1990 show about 12% of citizens citing no religious affiliation at all. And in Mexico, 43% of second-generation evangelicals have no affiliation with the church. This is a very important reality check for those Christians who imagine that the future vitality for Christian churches in the 21st century, lies in the developing world. Even in the global south, the trend towards European style secularism is beginning to appear. If 43% of second generation evangelicals have no religious affiliation, it may be that the drift towards these sects is just a staging post on the way towards no religion. If they're being born again in Mexico City, it's into a new life of liberalism.

Which gives pause for thought. Is there something about the charismatic/evangelical commitment to the present/immediacy of God that does not sustain? Catholic rites and practices are steeped in ancient tradition... practices and images embedded in daily life. But while the charismatic/evangelical tradition has perhaps countered some of the 'deadness' which often permeates such ritualistic approaches, one wonders whether the roots have been jettisoned also. What is it that sustains faith? What rituals and images bring us back to our centre? That the second generation charismatics/evangelicals abandon at such a rate suggests the roots are shallow... it parallels the well-travelled "back door" of the church in the West. People don't find it sustaining for the long term.

We might want to point our fingers at the wider culture and indicate that it's a type of spiritual ADHD, consistent with the constant clamour for something new, yet that is often the paradigm of worship and spirituality we have embraced... focussed towards "our needs" at the surface level, but apparently missing something at the deeper.

I am one who finds ritual and repetition to be boring after a short period of time. I gave up on a highly liturgical worship after enjoying it for the first couple of weeks because knowing what was coming, both in words and actions, did not help me engage. Yet I acknowledge the place for ritual and repetition, for the disciplines of the faith which bring us back to the same place and remind us of - and tend to - our roots.

This is a continuing challenge. The Mexican experience highlights a reality we have known in the West, bringing it into stark relief. Where to from here?

Posted by gary at May 18, 2007 01:32 PM


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