Is religion in crisis? “Yes, thank God,” said the Right Reverend Sutton, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of
Maryland, at Goucher’s October 11 event “Bad Faith: When Religion Goes Wrong and How We Can Make It Right.” Study after study suggests that religion in America is on a rapid decline, but the Right Reverend Sutton proposed that these studies merely provide the church with impetus to change.
At the event, six religious leaders of various Christian denominations met to discuss current problems with organized religion and possible solutions to remedy those issues. Confronting issues of inequality, interfaith dialogue, modern science, and the general pitfalls of organized religion, these leaders discussed the current state of American Christianity. The anecdotes shared and strategies offered differed greatly between the structurally and philosophically varied denominations, but every leader stressed inclusivity, outreach to youth, and practical modernization as essential tactics to the preservation of modern faith.
Although the panelists acknowledged that many take issue with institutionalized Christianity, no leader at the debate appeared particularly worried about the future of religion. Baptist Pastor Alvin Gwynn of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance posited that religion will always exist, as it is intrinsic to human nature. According to Gwynn, in order to reconcile peoples’ desire to believe in God and their skepticism of church practices, churches must adapt their sermons and services to the ideals of modern society. The religious leaders admitted that the process will be slow and bureaucratic but encouraged the audience and the generally discontented to be a part of the change they seek.
Contrary to the commonplace characterization of Christianity in media and contemporary public discourse, the conversation had no clear conservative bias. Panelists quickly noted the racial disparity present in some churches, the importance of helping the poor and the needy, and the essentiality of allowing traditionally marginalized demographics such as the LGBT community to become involved in the church and even become leaders. All of these criticisms fly in the face of the morals espoused by the stereotypical Republican Party Christian ideologue.
Liam Mcinerney ‘17 remained skeptical about how common such liberal religious leaders are and how much influence they have.
“This panel was a group of progressive Christian leaders doing good works in the community, but these people have always been around and are around in any institution be it religious, political, economic, et cetera. I’ll stand by the unfortunate truth that religious leaders like these are in the minority.”
Bishop Sutton, though, claimed that religious charitable work rarely garners any recognition in the media. Using a story describing the good Christian morality of his grandmother as an anecdote, he explained that the common people living their lives by such examples hardly ever get the attention they deserve. Regardless, Sutton believes individual attention and face-to-face conversations are what matters, not what is newsworthy.
Whether or not this group is representative of the whole of religious leadership, the panel members suggested that, in the words of Bishop Wolfgang Herz-Lane, “the church cannot be the church without being involved in the political world,” and attempted to show that organized religion in America can be both conservative and liberal. According to the religious leaders, Christians are an ethnically, politically, and economically diverse group of people, and every institution, religious or secular, can be criticized. Throughout the event, the six panel members discussed possible solutions to the religious issues they described, and worked to find solutions that they felt would be inclusive, ameliorate individual differences, and insure a successful future for Christianity.