Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Losing our Religion: On “Retaining” Young People in the Orthodox Church

Arecent article on the challenge of interfaith marriage in Greek Orthodoxy has been circulating widely on Facebook.[1] One reason for the article’s popularity is its startling claim that 90% of Americans with Greek roots are no longer in communion with the Orthodox Church.
Similarly dismal statistics are likely true for most Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, but the article in question concerns only the Greek Archdiocese.
The article assumes (but does not show) that the reason for this mass apostasy is two-fold: (1) the inevitable rise of interfaith marriages in America’s multicultural, religiously pluralistic, and secular society; and (2) the Greek Orthodox Church’s failure to respond to the “critical and immediate need for a broad religious outreach; to make room for interfaith families,” and thereby follow St. Paul’s example in extending “Christianity’s outreach to all nations.”
The article is vague when it comes to solutions for the obvious crisis of mass apostasy, so I may have misunderstood its argument, but it appears to suggest that if the Church were more sensitive, accepting of religious difference, and in tune with modern sensibilities, she would have a shot at retaining interfaith families in a secular age—and thereby find a means to stem the tide of apostasy.[2]
Such a conclusion is contrary to all evidence I am aware of, both from the sociology of American religion and from the Orthodox Church’s own experience throughout the ages.
A few points to consider:
1. Jesus did not tell the apostles to extend Christianity’s outreach to all the nations, but to make disciples of all nations. The distinction is critical. The Church attracts and “retains” people only when she disciples them.
2. The article uses various statistics to describe a problem, but employs no statistically rigorous studies to find asolution. The implied solution is a guess or intuition, and does not necessarily follow from the studies invoked. In fact, as we shall see, the relevant studies that do exist suggest a very different solution.
Read the rest here

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