Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Death in America

According to Stanley Hauerwas, Protestantism in America is dying. Uniquely, America is the "exemplification of constructive Protestant social thought"; the first country where Protestantism did not need to define itself against Roman Catholicism. Bonhoeffer described this as "Protestantism without Reformation."

Which is why Hauerwas believes we are now witnessing the death of American Protestantism. Protestantism has been closely linked to the American national identity, "For Americans, faith in God is indistinguishable from loyalty to their country." This has project has been very successful - too successful according to Hauerwas, so that it is dying of it's own success.
"More Americans may go to church than their counterparts in Europe, but the churches to which they go do little to challenge the secular presumptions that form their lives or the lives of the churches to which they go. For the church is assumed to exist to reinforce the presumption that those that go to church have done so freely. The church's primary function, therefore, is to legitimate and sustain the presumption that America represents what all people would want to be if they had the benefit of American education and money...It is impossible to avoid the fact that American Christianity is far less than it should have been just to the extent that the church has failed to make clear that America's god is not the God that Christians worship. We are now facing the end of Protestantism. America's god is dying. Hopefully, that will leave the church in America in a position where it has nothing to lose. And when you have nothing to lose, all you have left is the truth. So I am hopeful that God may yet make the church faithful - even in America." - Stanley Hauerwas, The Death of America's God
Hauerwas is very pessimistic about the affect of American synthesis between evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology and commonsense moral reasoning. I'm not sure if this is what will come to pass, but there would be ramifications not only for American Christians, but for the church universal. America has been a powerhouse for Christianity for several decades now. Most missionaries around the world come from the US. Many resources (academic and popular) are produced in the US. Would a demise in American Christianity adversly affect world wide Christianity? Or would it provide the church in the Global South with the opportunity to step-up, and as Hauerwas hopes, grow the American church in faithfulness?


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