Over the last three decades, persons who either tell census enumerators that they have ‘no religion’ or refuse to identify with religion now represent the fastest-growing group based on faith.
As large as the Pentecostals, this group (13% of the population) draws from every other faith group. Why is this happening? Should we expect a trend reversal given some religious leaders’ behaviour in the light of the events of 2020?
The arrival of Covid-19 brought a slew of conspiracy theories, ranging from claims about 5G to the purported dastardly vaccination plans of Bill Gates. Christian leaders asserted the right to assemble and demanded the reopening of their churches. While we drowned in fears magnified by social media, they generated and expanded the reach of even the most infamous ones.
In an election year, several chose not to denounce awful political behaviour. Using the narrative of a struggle between God and Satan, many engendered unnecessary conflict and enemies. Their preaching furthered misinformation.
Delusional leaders created delusional followers. Few considered what loving our neighbours looked like in the pandemic.
Claiming to be concerned about specific ‘hot’ issues, some religious leaders accepted the position that politicians can do wrong but yet deliver good. Some embraced conmen who pretended to be on their side.
Others, enjoying the good life, did not know or did not care about the disadvantaged around them or argued for no involvement in temporal issues. Many held fast to ‘secret’ knowledge known only to a select few; the same error denounced by the writer of 1 John.
There is a long history of influential leaders trying to influence the church. Moses tangled with Pharaoh, a ‘mini-God,’ but never attempted an insurrection. Balaam tried to work for the opposition until his donkey stopped him.
Imposters are always present. At the birth of Christ, Herod tried nefariously to trick the Magi, the Gentile seekers, into disclosing the Child-King’s whereabouts. Paul chose jail, rejecting a bribe demand from Felix (Acts 24: 26).
When Jesus was born, His name was ‘…Christ the Lord…’, a direct revolutionary statement at a time when the Roman Emperor was the only one to be called lord. Yet there was no offensive against the Empire, just a determination not to conform to it. Nobody gave meaningless flowery speeches.
Why the need now to cuddle up with influential secular leaders? Or to denounce those who do not conform to your demands? Why add to political polarisation?
The answer may lie in the rejection of truth and the acceptance of ‘alternative reality’. Today’s leaders often break down faith in pursuit of earthly glory, dispensed by the power brokers.
Materialism reigns, speech is dumbed down to sound bites and cliches. Ignorance reigns. This dereliction may result in a further disheartening of would-be believers. None seem willing to speak truth to power.
Our Christian leaders must banish ignorance and restore ground lost to false teaching and conspiracies to retrieve the lost ground. Our leaders should care and advocate for the disadvantaged.
Like their predecessors, more must be willing to work with the ill and comfort those in need. The political idolatry and spiritual parody must stop.