The Nones, the New Evangelization, and the Pursuit of Christians

Posted on June 30, 2013


Some quick explanations are called for before someone thinks, what kind of typo is “nones?”

“None” is a category we all have seen on questionnaires. Like you have four or five choices, and one of them, for example, is “none of the above.”

People who tabulate and interpret statistics use “nones” for defining the number of respondents who answer “none” to questions. Ergo, the “nones.”

The “New Evangelization” is largely a Roman Catholic phenomenon which will surprise Baptists and most evangelical Protestants.

“Hey, that New Evangelization is nothing new!”

It is all about the Catholic Church trying to regain ground it has lost in the past half century to secularism and Protestants, not always combined that way by Catholics in the same breath, but sometimes thought of as inexorably linked.

The nones have been increasing in numbers in the same past half century. The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, a distinguished and largely impartial organization, reported that “the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion [the nones].”

The Pew Report also noted that “while those Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers [lots more nones] as a result of changes in affiliation, Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. “

And “nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, [but] today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.”

Hence, the “New Evangelization” on the part of the Catholic church, a push to recapture lost members and reach out to potential new believers with the evangelical message.

If Billy Graham were younger, he would make a great resource or consultant on evangelizing the lost. The Catholics could hire him on a retainer.

Baptists and other Protestants evangelize almost naturally as an expression of their basic theology to reach out and convert, loosely following the model of Jesus, Paul and the missionaries of the early Church.

But, the nones are gaining power, if we rely solely on statistics.

It is basically the nones against the Christians, in a modern play of an old standard. You remember your early Church history, right?

The Romans persecuted and killed Christians, fed them to the lions, burned them alive, and, in the end, the Christians still won the war after almost three centuries of off and on persecution and martyrdom. In 324 A.D. the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, turning the world on its head.

Today the Church—Roman Catholic and the great majority of evangelical Protestants—are under the gun of the state as well.

Abortion, gay marriages, the traditional liberties and privileges of the Church, the issues are multiple, and most churches are under attack by an increasingly secular government.

Secularism is on the rise in America and Christianity is regrouping and rethinking strategies to resist.

It may not be quite as dramatic and gory as Christians herded into the Coliseum of Rome to entertain the Emperor and thousands of Romans as lions and gladiators tore into the defenseless men and women with fangs and swords, but it is a church under attack.

The Christians under Rome would not worship the Emperor. It was considered blasphemy since they believed in only one God and he certainly was not the Emperor of Rome.

Today secular government is attempting to substitute a morality and ethic drawn from reason and man’s intelligence and wisdom, usually represented by some government institution.

In a piece on “Religion and Public Life in America” today, R. R. Reno, editor of First Things, a journal of religion in public life, noted that the unifying feature of contemporary challenges to religious freedom is the desire to limit the influence of religion over public life.

“In the world envisioned by Obama administration lawyers,” he wrote, “churches will have freedom as ‘houses of worship,’ but unless they accept the secular consensus they can’t inspire their adherents to form institutions to educate and serve society in accordance with the principles of their faith.”

And, “under a legal regime influenced by the concept of public reason, religious people are free to speak—but when their voices contradict the secular consensus, they’re not allowed into our legislative chambers or courtrooms.”

That is a statement of the quintessential politically correct point of view: if your view contradicts ours, it is not correct or admissible in the discourse that settles the matter, whether in legislatures or courts.

What has happened is that today’s government–the State–has almost replaced the church in the role of moral and ethical arbiter of society.

But, where do the basic laws of this land derive from, if not from Scripture? It speaks to scores of issues, such as fidelity, obedience, honoring one’s mother and father, adultery, murder, divorce, honesty, truth, justice, and the list goes on.

These are not manmade rules for the good governance of both man and society. These are God-given rules, and they were so recognized by the Founding Fathers when they ascribed to God all wisdom and knowledge. As Reno noted, America’s Founders “agreed as a matter of principle that the law of God trumps the law of men.”

When we substitute our own morality, to serve our own interests, we subvert the natural relationship of man and God.

How will all this turn out?

“Right now,” Reno wrote, “the Nones seem to have the upper hand in America. But what seems powerful is not always so. If I had to bet on Harvard or the Catholic Church, Yale or the Mennonites in Goshen, Indiana, the New York Times or yeshivas in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t hesitate. Over the long haul, religious faith has proven itself the most powerful and enduring force in human history.”

Published as an OpEd in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday June 30, 2013 as “Government is Becoming Moral Arbiter of Society.”