Factors that Harm Religious & Spiritual Growth
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2).
The Least you Need to Know:
Factors that Harm Religious and Spiritual Growth
Four Members from Generations X and Y
Maria is twenty-seven years old. She was baptized in a Greek Orthodox Church, and attended church sporadically while growing up. She remembers being dropped off at church and being picked up after Sunday school. Her father is a second-generation Greek American, and her mother’s background is Scandinavian, Lutheran. “When we went to church, my father usually didn’t come with us. After a while my mother also stopped going – she’s not very religious. Religion was kind of a sore spot around the house that we all sort of avoided.”
George was also baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church. He is twenty-nine years old. His mother is a third-generation Greek American, and his father is Mexican American. He attended services regularly in his formative years. When he reached adolescence, he states that “church ceased being a big part of my life.”
Socrates was born in Greece. His parents immigrated to this country when he was five. He is now 33. He recently met a non-Christian during his business travels. She grew up in a home where religion was absent. Socrates believes that “they are good-willed people.” He does not understand why the church won’t marry couples like him and his girlfriend. He states, “I believe in God, but I don’t feel church attendance makes the person.”
Lisa is thirty-one. After a long, unsetting dating period, she has recently become engaged to a “good man” with a Jewish background who does not practice his faith tradition. Lisa was unaware of the Orthodox Church’s position regarding interreligious marriages until after she had fallen in love with her fiancée. They plan to marry in six months. She is at peace with her decision, but does admit to being disappointed with her church’s position regarding interreligious marriage. She would like to get married in the “Greek Church,” and says, “I feel as though my church has really let me down. At a time when I need the church, it rejects me. I really don’t know what role the church has in my future.”
As children, three of the four attended Sunday School, two of the four were Greek school students, Maria and Lisa participated in the GOYA, George was an altar boy, Lisa sang in the youth choir for two years, and Socrates and Maria attended a church camp. All four volunteered time during their churchs’ festival.
All four also confess to lacking a rudimentary understanding of their faith tradition when they went to college. George considers himself a liberal thinker who respects the church but is either unaware or does not agree with all its moral teachings. Maria, and Lisa generally concur. Socrates believes that active participation in organized religion is not important. For different reasons, George, Maria and Lisa have not decided how prominently church attendance factors into their future plans.
They observe that their brothers, sisters and friends attended church sporadically. George, Socrates and Lisa state that they will not get married in the “Greek Church.” Socrates’ observations regarding marriage in the Greek Orthodox Church mirror Lisa’s. “My priest informed me that I can’t get married in the church because my fiancée isn’t baptized and doesn’t want to get baptized. This isn’t a deal breaker for us. We’ll get married elsewhere.” Maria states, “I want a church wedding, but I don’t believe that church will be a big part of my life after I get married. George thinks he will likely acquiesce to his future fiancées wishes and let her decide where the wedding will take place. George states, “The truth is, I’m not closely connected to my ethnic background. So, the Greek Church may not be a real good fit for me.”
All four respect Christ, but are uneasy with the Church’s teaching related to his divine nature. They all believe divorce is a viable solution to marital unhappiness. They support pro-choice politicians, same sex marriage initiatives and are ignorant of the church’s positions related to the great moral issues of our time. Like their Baby Boomer parents, they will likely be highly successful professionals. Unlike their parents, their faith background may have little or no affect on their future, marriages and families.
With increased frequency, these four persons are typical of many Greek Americans who are part of the Generations X and Y. A cursory look at the drop in the number of marriages taking place across the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the last fifteen years begins to validate this. 1 So, what are some of the reasons why members of these generations have drifted away from organized religion? How do we begin to explain the drop in the number of marriages taking place in our churches? Are we the only faith group incurring losses? The remainder of this short chapter will provide some information related to these and other similar questions. Together with the details sighted above, what follows generally has a negative impact on those of Generation X’s religious and spiritual development. For more information, consider reviewing the suggested resources embedded within the footnotes.
Organized Religion and Generations X and Y
Are we the only faith group experiencing losses? The short answer to this question is, no. 2 The longer answer is embedded within the information that follows. So, why are more and more members of Generations X and Y drifting away from organized religion? The following societal dynamics appear to be contributing factors. They also appear to parallel what has already taken place in Europe 3 and Canada 4 where church attendance has declined dramatically in the past several decades.
Secular Humanism. Adoption of secular humanistic, postmodern philosophies that disregard the Supernatural and the Divine dramatically impact religious participation. One primary reason is because the basic assertions and presuppositions undergirding these popular theories contradict our theology. 5 Yet, despite the contradictions, a significant percentage of our population appears to be influenced by these philosophies. 6 Nowhere can this be observed more clearly than among members of the X and Y Generations.
To complicate matters, research suggests that religious education programs have not kept pace with the social and intellectual complexity that pervades our multicultural highly technological society. 7 As a result, the right questions were not asked and answered when members of the X and Y Generations attended catechism classes. Further, popular media, peer groups, and social media serve to shape their opinions and worldview more than the faith tradition in which they were raised. 8 Add to this (1) the disintegration of the family, (2) the high divorce rates, (3) challenges to traditional values and shifting social values, (4) increased global instability, (5) a subtle war on religion by persons who are committed to marginalizing and even eradicating religion from the dominate narrative that forms public policy, and (6) the perception that organized religions are too self-serving, too political and often mired in corruption. It is no wonder that members of Generations X and Y view organized religion from a jaundiced perspective. 9
NONES: Generations X and Y Without a Religious Affiliation. When recent surveys have asked members of these generations to select a religious tradition, results reveal that increasingly more members of this generation identify themselves as “nones”, i.e., having no religious affiliation. 10 Many of these same persons profess a respect for organized religion but believe that organized religions are too political and self-serving. Many implicate organized religion with global politics and human suffering. 11 These trends and perspectives also contribute to these populations opinions of organized religion.
Christians Without a Church Home. A large percentage of Christians consider themselves Christians, but are disinterested in belonging to an established church. 12 These individuals maintain that most churches tend to be too exclusive and insular. This growing group prefers to cultivate loose associations with other like-minded Christians who tend to be socially proactive and interested in making a difference in both their personal world and the world around them. 13 This group is said to number in the millions. 14
The Religious Territory is Fluid. The religious landscape is changing rapidly. People are not as likely to worship in the faith group in which they were raised. It is not uncommon for people to shop around for a church home and/ or faith tradition. 15 These trends began with the Baby Boomers and appear to be on the increase with their children. 16
Intermarriage: When Generations X and Y Marry. 17 Churches also have not kept pace with the unique challenges that intermarried couples encounter. Pastoral guidelines are generally in need of review and some updating to account for both these populations’ unique needs. Church ministries are also in need of adjustment if local churches hope to appeal to this growing population of marginalized and disengaged faithful. Clergy, seminarians, lay workers and leaders can also benefit from workshops that are especially tailored to address this population’s growing needs. 18 In addition, since the majority of these generations will intermarry, unless churches are willing to make the necessary adjustments to minister more successfully to intermarried couples and their families, the likelihood is that this dynamic will continue contributing to the general drifting away from organized religion that is taking place among members of Generations X and Y. 19
Some suggest that it is only a matter of time before many of our Greek Orthodox churches begin closing their doors. 20 Whether such predictions are correct remains to be seen. However, what seems to be apparent is that the attrition rates alluded to in this resource have the potential of negatively affecting many churches within the Archdiocese.
As a result, it appears we have a few choices. We can proceed to ignore the societal dynamics and trends outlined in this chapter and further entrench ourselves in policies that have little or no ameliorating effect on these treads, or we can embrace reality and as a people, who believe in the God of the impossible, faithfully embrace the challenge and proactively adjust.
Will this be easy? Absolutely not! It will require us to take numerous steps of faith. Yet, with each step that we faithfully take, the challenges we face in our efforts to address these trends can serve to facilitate a great reformation movement, one that will help position the church to move forward into the 21st century and beyond. So, where do we begin. This program would maintain that a beginning point is interrelated with our archbishop’s challenge to reach out to the marginalized intermarried spouse, couples and families.
Bear fruit in the lives of the families of interfaith marriages. Go and bring them to God’s home, reconnect or, as the case may be, connect them for the first time to the Church. By bringing the interfaith families to the community of faith we bear fruit and so we fulfill our special appointment by Christ. Such fruit is urgently needed if we don’t want to lose people forever. And in this case, as in many others, we should not forget what Christ said at the end of His appointing command: “You should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).” Archbishop Demetrios’ Keynote Address Phoenix, Arizona, 2012
…appoint a committee that will have the duty of creating a list of the Greek Orthodox people who reside in the vicinity of the parish, but are not connected with the church. The committee should organize the means of contact by using personal visits, phone calls, e-mail, notices of church events and distribution of the appropriate printed or electronic material (Archbishop Demetrios’ Keynote, 2008).
God Has “…Put Eternity Into Man’s Mind” Ecc 3:11
Our tradition teaches us that God has “put eternity into man’s mind” Ecc 3:1. Beyond this, the fathers have taught that we were created with a God-given need to be united with God and we are most comfortable when we are united with Him.
As human beings we each have this one, unique calling, to achieve theosis….What does this deep and profound word mean? It means the elevation of the human being to the divine sphere. It means the union with the divine….Human nature ought to be moving toward spiritualization….The human soul is to be polished so that it may be transformed from its present dullness to a shining spirituality….Human nature becomes the outgrowth of divine nature. It is remade into its original beauty. It is reborn to a new life. It is re-created through divine adoption. 21
Despite the jaundiced, cynical perspective of organized religion that pervades our society, 22 many members of both Generations X and Y lack purpose and are keenly aware of an emptiness that pervades their lives. 23 This observation affords us a great opportunity for outreach.
Will everyone respond to our outreach efforts? As previously stated, no. Some will spurn our attempts to reach out to them. However, a percentage of intermarried couples will be receptive to our efforts to listen to them and our attempts for outreach. How do I know this? My statement is based on information that emerged from the Interfaith Research Project as well as the anecdotal information that has emerged in my efforts to help develop a ministry to intermarried couples and their families. Here are a few typical quotes that validate these observations.
“Life is so unpredictable these days. Everybody has answers, but few really do. We know more than we’ve ever known and most of us feel we’re still in the dark. I wish there was a source – a kind of reliable place – where I could find some answers.”
“I want my kids to have faith in something bigger than themselves. I want them to know the living God. I know church provides that. I just don’t know if the Greek Church can provide that to me, my wife and future family.” E-mail Respondent
“Life has to be more than just work, eat sleep and make money. What can you tell me about the Orthodox Church that will convince me that it’s a place where I can find what’s missing in my life?”