Failing Church Leadership?

Amelia Monroe Carlson

A recent Pew Research Study showed, for the first time, church membership has dipped below half. Although the study attributes the decrease to a variety of factors, one of the key catalysts of this change is missed by the study but does not go unnoticed to many Christians. The study, released at the end of March, shows the number of U.S. adults belonging to a church, synagogue, or mosque dropped to 47 percent.

The number has been on the slow downhill since 2000. However, it began to significantly drop (from 70 percent to 64 percent) in 2005 and took another plunge from 64 percent to 55 percent between the years 2005 to 2015. Since 2015, the number has dipped to 47 percent. Pew Research Group attributed this decline to the correlation of those who identify as having no religious preference. That, alone, is not the root of the issue. Ground Zero of the decline in church membership lies at the failure and politicizing of church leadership. This is not an issue the Catholic Church alone is facing but, just as other religions and faiths see a decrease, the commonality is church leaders joining sides of one political approach or the other while, simultaneously failing to preach the Gospel. Their failure to stand on truth is the rotten wood of the church causing members to fall through and disappear.

One key example of this is when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in March issued a responsum reiterating the Vatican’s position that Catholic priests cannot bless same-sex marriages. The responsum, which should have been a relief for Catholic leaders that the Vatican actually issued such a response that stood on Church teaching regarding a political issue, caused many leaders to publicly dissent from the Vatican. The open dissention and criticism from many leaders against the Vatican standing on truth was left with no response, no discipline, and no action from the pope.

Church leaders such as Bishop Markus Buchel, Franz Kreissl, Bishop Johan Bonny, Father James Martin, Bishop Georg Batzing, and Archbishop Mark Coleridge joined many others in criticizing the statement.

Kreisel told the National Catholic Register “it is not permissible to exclude a certain group from the outset as a ‘sinner’, without taking into account each individual concerned.” Excuse me? Sin is not fluid. It does not change depending on the individual involved in it or who commits it. Sin that was sin when Jesus walked the earth is still sin today. Actions the Bible calls sin are still sin.

By supporting, even encouraging, individuals to remain in sinful lifestyles such as gay or LGBTQ marriages, church leaders are failing to issue the call to repentance of sinners that Christ mandated. Priests may speak of the need to go to Confession during their homily but exactly what are we all to repent of in Confession if nothing is a sin anymore or if we are not to call actions sin? Do not misunderstand me. I do agree that LGBTQ individuals should be free of harassment, bullying, and hatred. That does not change the fact their choice of a lifestyle (and it IS a choice) is a sin. The call of an LGBTQ individual to repentance is not hatred or discrimination. It is love.

The LGBTQ movement has inherently surpassed the call for equal rights and has directly led to the decline of the family unit. The LGBTQ movement, and support from Church leaders of this movement, is the domino at the beginning of a falling line of dominoes. It’s the starting point which has led to the dismantling of the family unit, decline in educational success, increase in poverty, and a wide range of well-being for adolescents as well as adults.

In 2015, Pew Research conducted a study which showed the decline in a “traditional” family home (2 parent home) and the increase of children growing up in single or cohabiting families. According to that research, a total of 73 percent of all children were growing up in a two parent home. By 1980, the number had dropped to 61 percent. In 2015, the numbers had plummeted to 46 percent. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, “although most research on family disruption and its consequences comes from the United States, evidence from several nations has demonstrated that, on average, children who experience a family disruption fare poorly across a wide range of adolescent and adult outcomes, including educational attainment, economic security, and physical and psychological well-being. Although many outcomes have been linked to family structure in childhood, the negative association between family disruption and educational attainment may be especially important. Poor educational outcomes may initiate processes that lead to other kinds of disadvantages and contribute to persistent differences in physical and psychological health.”

If we want to help people in poverty, we should take a stand against the decline of the family unit. If we are to help increase the educational outcomes of our children, we need pastors and Church leaders to be bold enough to call sin a sin and urge repentance. The apostles lost their lives by urging people to repent, calling sin what it was in the eyes of God, and yet the numbers (according to the book of Acts) increased overwhelmingly. They did not play politics. They shared the words of Christ. That is the call our Church leaders still have today. Get out of the mud pit of politics and step onto the solid ground, step onto that solid foundation, who is Christ. In the end, that’s what all people need and that’s what they want.