Tolerate? Embrace!

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote “What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.”  Those words were written several hundred years ago, but aren’t they just as appropriate today?

Don’t Wesley’s words define how society moves across the generations?  How many ideas and actions did our generation embrace that were tolerated by our parents?  Consider how many ideas that we tolerated which are now embraced by the youth of today.

When I think about it I find it scary.  If I accept Wesley’s words as truth, then I must examine what I tolerate, because tomorrow it will be embraced as fact.

Tolerance comes in many forms: keeping silent rather than disagree, only voicing opinions among those who feel the same, and agreeing with someone even though I don’t. It seems as if tolerance and love are now the same. What happened to speaking the truth in a loving manner?

In Ephesians 4:29 we read: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. God will give us the strength to speak when we follow these words.

In tolerating someone’s actions or thoughts or ideas today I need to remember Wesley’s words.  Not only do I need to remember Wesley’s words, I need God’s counsel to guide me.  When voicing my opinion I need to do it in love, not hate.  I need to remember Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Social Acceptance & Membership

In a reply to one of my posts the comment was made, ‘. . . people wonder why churches are empty. Do younger people, who are the future of any churches, come and all they hear is depression, our sinfulness, being LBGTQAI+ is sinful . . . . do you really think that they will return? No, they will not return.’

Christian denominations are seeing more and more empty pews; as a percent of population both membership and attendance is down and is continuing to go down. This trend started in the 1960’s and has not stopped. The question, based on the comment above is, ‘how are the more liberal, socially acceptable churches doing as compared to the more conservative, less socially acceptable ones?’

If we look first at the United Methodist Church in the United States, between 2004 & 2014 (2015 numbers are not available yet) the membership is down about 13.4%. Within the 5 jurisdictions:

  • in the 2 most liberal ones (Western & North Central) membership is down 18.5%
  • in the two most conservative jurisdictions (Southeastern & South Central) membership is down 9%
  • in the Northeastern jurisdiction membership is down 12%

I do not have sufficient information to determine why the UMC decline, or why the decline in the more liberal jurisdictions is twice the rate of decline in the conservative ones, but that trend is not unique to the United Methodist denomination.

The Protestant denominations that have already accepted a more liberal interpretation of the Bible have seen larger declines in membership. The only Protestant denomination that has actually seen an increase in membership is the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) which is the conservative group that separated in 1974 when several Presbyterian sects united. The PCA has grown about 1% per year between 2011 & 2015. During this same period the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) has lost an average of 4.8% per year. The denomination with the smallest decline in membership is the Southern Baptist Convention, which is also considered the most conservative of the mainline denominations; their rate of decline during this period is about 1.5%.

There is one group of Christian churches that has seen a positive growth trend and has maintained this positive grown trend for over 50 years: Evangelical Churches. Typically, these are considered very conservative and include churches such as:

  • Church of God in Christ (1,194% growth)
  • Presbyterian Church of America (790% growth)
  • Evangelical Free Church (749%)
  • Assembly of God (430%)

If the trends are plotted on a graph, it looks like this:

Social Acceptance

Again, I do not have sufficient information to interpret what the numbers mean, but across the board, churches that have moved toward a more socially acceptable view of the Bible have lost members at ever increasing rates while those maintaining a more strict view of the Bible have grown. This begs the question, ‘if a denomination gives society what it wants why doesn’t society show up in the pews on Sunday?’

A disclaimer: My information is derived from a broad set of data, or a data bell curve. It is always possible to find an individual church or small group of churches that do not conform to this information; these individual churches will be in the minority and will typically fall within one or the other bell curve tail.

Preconceived Ideas

Fall is not a good time to be asking friends to help with small construction projects. There are college football games, hunting, seasonal colds, military reserve training, plus other events on tap.

As a last resort I checked outside the Men’s Shelter at the Montana Rescue Mission to see if anyone might be interested. This was my last resort because we all know the kind of people that hang out at the Rescue Mission. Don’t we?

One man standing close by the front door immediately stepped forward, introduced himself, and said that he would really like to work for me. When I informed him that I was looking for two people, he quickly volunteered the name of another person and asked what time they should be ready.

The men were ready and waiting. They were hard workers, quick to understand what was needed, had many good suggestions, and seemed very appreciative of the chance to work. When we were finished each man wrote their name down on some paper, gave it to me, and asked me to call them again or recommend them to my friends.

Over dinner we talked. Each of them talked about how God was working in their life even though they were experiencing some of life’s ups and downs. One of them had worked with his mother as a volunteer at the shelter and other places while growing up. He commented how ironic it was that he had helped out there as a child and was now living there as an adult.

God blessed me by placing these two men in my life. God taught me how much I still have to learn about being a Christian. He taught me, again, that at times I fall short, very short. When I went to the Men’s Shelter I had a preconceived picture in my mind the type of men I would encounter; He showed me where I was wrong.

God finds many ways to humble us, doesn’t He.  On that particular work day preconceived ideas left me feeling short in my Christian growth.