Gallup has published a report of key findings on religion in the U.S. Among the findings is that seven in 10 people say religion is losing its influence in U.S. society.
There is also a growing shift away from official religion where almost one in five adults (21 percent) don’t have a formal religious identity, compared to 2 percent to 3 percent in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. And religion remains tangled with political affiliation.
If Gallup had been polling in Jesus’ day, I wonder if the results might have resembled this latest poll. The religious leaders of the day were jockeying for positions of influence and power in the political sphere.
What happened in the Temple was more likely to turn people away from God than call them to God.
Formal religion was more about following a perfunctory checklist of do’s and don’ts than pursuing a way of life that actually brought new life.
The people had developed a loathing for religious leaders who preached one thing but lived another.
Into this mess, a young preacher named John came from the wilderness. John preached that the people were not only held captive by the Roman Empire, but held captive by religious leaders more interested in themselves than in God or God’s flock.
John warned the leaders that though they may claim to be religious purists, they had contaminated themselves and God’s house with their hunger for influence.
He warned the people that following such leaders would lead them nowhere but away from God.
John’s own lifestyle was a repudiation of that endorsed by the religious leaders of his day. He lived in the desert, as far away as he could get from the religious and political elites.
The only power he cared about was the power of his voice to speak truth to power.
Some time later, in prison for daring to speak truth to power, John sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one?” Jesus told the messenger, “Go tell John what you hear and what you see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side (Matthew 11.2-6).”
“Prepare the way,” said John. “The kingdom of heaven is near.”
When the kingdom of heaven is near, there is no such thing as jockeying for power and influence.
When the kingdom of heaven is near, the world is not arranged in such a way that those who have get more and those who don’t have get more taken from them. When the kingdom of heaven is near, there is enough for everyone.
The Rev. Camille Josey is the pastor at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.