There’s much wringing of hands over the various studies showing a continuing decline in affiliation with institutionalized religion in the U.S. Identifiable factors and suggested solutions are aplenty.

Those with more expertise than I are offering strategies to deal with this cultural shift that worries many church leaders. But one long-ignored, identifying factor needs to be confronted.

It seems that many people are tired of Americanized Christianity’s propensity for discrimination — and are no longer willing to hide their disinterest. (I can pause here while the curtain of defensiveness rises — but it doesn’t block out the perception based in reality that churches are often bastions of discrimination.)

One of the more intriguing — and accurate, I believe — observations is that there are more “nones” (those who publicly identify as having no particular religious affiliation) now because there are more nones. That is, the more that people publicly identify as nonreligious, the more comfortable others are in doing likewise.

So, there are probably not as many people leaving organized religion as studies indicate — but many coming out of the shadows to admit they’ve already done so.

There’s no guilt — despite the shame some might wish to shovel their way — for those who choose brunch over Bible study on Sunday mornings and find their support networks in places without steeples.

And the supportive networks being formed — in coffee shops, yoga studios, lake houses and elsewhere — are free of the long and abiding history of discrimination that marks white Americanized Christianity.

Institutionally and individually, white conservative Christians have formed the strongest resistance to equal rights for African Americans, women and LGBTQ persons. Hostile attitudes toward immigrants are at least as present among conservative churchgoers as the population outside those doors.

Rejecting and dismantling discrimination is harder within Americanized Christianity because it has been wrongly justified as a divine directive. So, rather than just seeing one’s error and making a correction, a deeper confession is required: that we got something wrong about God.

For many, that is a step too far. And, in most cases, there is little interest in giving up discriminatory beliefs and practices because doing so reduces one’s privileged position as being more in God’s favor and rightfully placed in positions of authority as well as at the center of the American story.

Discrimination is a power play — and power politics are especially appealing for many white Americanized Christians today.

Equality requires sharing power so that those with less have a fair share. That is of no interest to those whose primary fear is the loss of cultural dominance.

National politics of privilege over justice and falsehoods over facts are well at home within conservative Americanized Christianity — resulting in disdain for compassionate equality and inclusive human rights.

Poet Carl Sandburg is credited with saying that “exclusion” is the ugliest word in the English language. And, as many know, if you want to hear “women can’t do that” or be told that your sexual orientation puts you out of God’s favor, then conservative Christianity is the place.

When one group of persons sets itself above and against others, there is a natural reaction (often repulsion) to that arrogance and false sense of superiority. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that an institution long known for exclusion is having trouble including those they wish would join them.

Based on my observations and conversations more than hard data, congregational engagement is unappealing to many who hold more strongly to the basic values of human equality and justice than those within the church.

This is especially true of those who know such values are precisely what the biblical prophets and Jesus himself advanced at high costs. And they might wonder why so many Christians resist giving up power, privilege and resources when that is exactly what Jesus called his followers to do.

However, the prospects of confession, conversion and correction — that the church offers to individuals for specific personal sins — could work well for rejecting these corporate evils and humbly seeking to repair the damage done.

White Americanized Christianity is not a victim of the changing culture. Due to a long history of discrimination, this is self-harm that harms others even more.

If your response is, “But our church is not like that,” then say it loudly and often — and show it in meaningful, public ways. Even if some within your church are like that.

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