|Preying On My Mind
by Paul Walker
I remember reading a few years ago some statistics about Church
attendance in Western nations. If I remember rightly, the most
"churchgoing" country is, unsurprisingly, the United States of America.
The country in which fewest people attend church is Holland.
These facts have preyed on my mind ever since. A selective comparison
between the United States and Holland makes interesting reading.
Holland has fewer people below the poverty line and a smaller gap
between rich and poor than the United States.
Healthcare is available to all in Holland, regardless of wealth.
In the USA the rich have a substantial advantage when it comes to
The Dutch have a low rate of violent crime, treat their criminals
humanely, and have got rid of the death penalty. In America many states
retain the death penalty, violent crime is rife and the prison system
tends to be harsh and authoritarian.
I am not sure when the last time was that Holland declared war on
another country. In contrast, the USA has the largest army per head of
population in the Western world and has already invaded two countries in
the first three years of this century.
These few contrasts leave me wondering whether there is any benefit at
all in churchgoing.
It can�t have escaped notice that the only leader in the world who
publicly proclaims a fully-fledged experience of conversion to
Christianity, who leads his cabinet in regular prayers, and who claims to
be a born-again Christian is the President of the United States.
History tells a similar story. Bavaria was once the most religious part
of Germany. And yet it was there that the Nazi movement was born. Fascism
developed most vigorously in the three predominantly Roman Catholic
countries of the west - Italy, Spain and Portugal.
In Britain a decline in churchgoing has coincided with the growth of
the welfare state, the abolition of the death penalty, the growth in
equality of the sexes and an end to discrimination against homosexuals.
As churchgoing declines in the West it is grows elsewhere. Church
attendance is rising in many countries of the so-called "developing world"
- mainly in those evangelised by missionaries in Asia, Africa and South
America. Yet it is often in these countries that crime, bribery, nepotism,
and State-sponsored terror most oppress their citizens. By contrast,
Western countries where people have largely ceased going to church are
relatively free, peaceful and safe.
Arguments can be made against all the above. However, perhaps
Christians need to ask if there is a genuine problem. Are we right to hope
that the leaders of the nations will turn to Christ? Or would we do better
to pray for the opposite?
Thinking about these things has made me question most of all our
current obsession with evangelism. Jesus, I believe, was interested in
healing people and in developing a sense of community among those who had
been battered by the power structures of his time. He proclaimed a kingdom
which he thought could be established in this world.
For me, if the Church has a role at all it is to first of all build
this kingdom - and not primarily to attract new members.