How much is the decline in the numbers of most denominations a decline in the utility of the church as civic religion? When I graduated from college in Texas 48 years ago, almost everyone went to church in any community, at least in the South. How else could you hope to sell insurance, find teeth to fill, have patients for your allergy speciality...? Rumor had it that you might become an Episcopalian and remain in good standing if you came only twice a year, and in that way you could beat the other church crowd to the country club golf course. Is it accurate to say?: the utility of the church as civic religion declined radically in England in the late Victorian era. Shortly thereafter it declined in the Northeast, and it probably never had much utility on the West Coast. I noticed the decline of the social utility of church attendance in the black South when I returned in 1988 to a campus where I had taught 17 years earlier. In 1971 almost all of my colleagues at a UNCF United Methodist campus were in church most Sundays. By 1988, only the older generation maintained that loyalty, and there was no loss of status if a faculty member did not show up. When I moved to Rutgers in 1989, most of my colleagues viewed with suspicion the attention that I give to church. "Louie, you're bright and I don't understand it. Don't you know what they think about persons like you?" one close Jewish colleague asked. Has civic religion begun to lose its social utility in the white South as well? I personally find a great deal of advantage as a disciple to attend with other disciples, with people who are active primarily for faith reasons rather than for civic advantage I think a Gideonized church, lean and focused for ministry, serves as spiritual leaven in ways for which civic religion has no interest. Sometimes churches are tempted to sell their prophetic soul to keep the social set comfortable. L. Chair of the Newark Deputation Louie Crew, 377 S. Harrison, 12D, E. Orange, NJ 07018 973-395-1068 http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew
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