Reaching Out To The ‘None’
“Now the Spirit explicitly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,” 1 Timothy 4:1
It is 9:30 on a Thursday morning in Salem and Alcoholics Anonymous is beginning its morning meeting. Ken H. arrives early so that he can claim his favorite seat. This will be Ken’s second week of meetings, but today may be his last in his hometown. “I need to be with my own people,” Ken shares with me. “I need to communicate my present difficulties with someone of my religion.” Ken tells me he is a Muslim. He is planning to travel to Portland to seek help at the Masjed As-Saber center on SW 43rd in Portland. His thoughts are about his conversion from Catholicism to the Muslim faith 15 years ago. “If I did in Indonesia what I’m doing here in Salem, it would not be pretty.” Ken is talking about the Sharia Law of the Muslim faith. Kevin is seeking help, not punishment. “Maybe I’ll bow out of religion all together until I’m clean and can make some serious decisions.” Not too long ago I caught up with him downtown Salem. Gone was the Muslim conversion and there was no mention of religion at all. “I’m living with my daughter and her husband now. It’s not the best arrangement, but the environment is clean and peaceful.” He then smiled and said “I have not completely forgotten the Bible you gave me; but now is not the time.”
Anyone who has needed assistance while traveling in a foreign country will tell you it can be an onerous affair. Language, culture and finances can all collide at once; help becomes a rumor. Eventually, help does arrive and provides the victim comfort and clarity to repair the situation. What if however, the unthinkable grasp of gambling, alcoholism or drug addiction enters someone you know and they ‘no longer’ are rooted in any religious affiliation and distant from family. Where does one go living in Salem? Over the years I have met young and old alike who were in need of recovery from their addictive lifestyle and had a desire to return to the grace of God. Yet, there is a population departing from their faith in growing numbers and taking their problems with them.
Within the growing population in Salem and the Willamette Valley, a new segment of the population can no longer be classified as “religious fringe.” A classification called the ‘Nones’ has now become part of the population. You probably have taken a survey that asks your religious belief. More and more people are checking off ‘None.’ The definition of a ‘None’ for this discussion is one who has no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic.
With Ken, there was a ‘thought’ of returning to God via the “Big Book” at AA meetings and atone himself with God. What about the ‘Nones’; who are they “atoning” themselves to? This past March, I did some research concerning the ‘Nones’ and met with clergy of different faiths who meet with people who are crippled by addictions and other ‘life’ issues and are not of strong faith in God or, no faith at all.
Some interesting facts concerning the ‘Nones’ was published in a report titled The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) published in 2008 written by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity College, located in Hartford, CT. According to this report, “the American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.” Here are some results of their investigation:
• 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.
• The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward particularly since 2001.
• The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.
• 34% of American adults considered themselves “Born Again or Evangelical Christians” in 2008.
• The “Nones” continue to grow, though at a much slower rate than in the 1990s; from 8.2% in 1990 to 15.0% in 2008.
In this report the most striking change among the racial and ethnic groups is among Hispanics. In 1990 they comprised 6% of U.S. adults and 4% of adult ‘Nones.’ In 2008 Hispanics doubled their percentage of the U.S. adult population to 13% and tripled their proportion among adult America in general, but are the fastest-growing minority group among ‘Nones.’ This too is a noteworthy finding considering the stereotype of Latinos as a deeply religious population.
According to this same report, 27% of the population of Oregon does not affiliate themselves with any religion or belief system.
It’s A Pain That Will Not Go Away
I recently had coffee with a ‘None’ in downtown Salem. Rubbing his hands as if he was washing them, Peter F. told me, “I needed to stop drinking: period. I tried everything to rid myself of this constant emptiness inside of me; it would not go away.” He shared that when he drank alcohol, he usually ended up in jail, court, or just recently, in prison serving 2 years for assault. He hit his “relative” so hard that hospitalization was required. Peter only remembers waking up in ‘county’ and a court appointed lawyer telling him prison probably was the next event in his life. While in prison, it was the first time he had “really read” the Bible; but nothing grew out of it. In Peter’s words; “talking about things with people and not being talked at resulted me doing better at AA meetings than church meetings. I’m better off not being a church member.”
No Better Calling
If, as mentioned before, organized religion is being rejected altogether by the ‘Nones’; what roads are available for those who are in need of help and counsel? Years ago I spoke with a pastor and we were discussing “lost souls.” He told me that “there are no lost souls in God’s eyes. They are in the waiting room waiting to be seen. And, there are many specialists God has placed to help all of His people; and there is no better calling than to help others.” Considering the fact that the ‘Nones’ are more populous, there is more of an opportunity for each of us to attach ourselves to those who are in the waiting room.
One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.
When I lived in New York, the pastor of the church I was attending, challenged the congregation by instructing us to bring someone to church who: (a) had never been to church or (b) had not been to church in 5 years. He gave us 3 weeks to bring a “guest.” When that Sunday service arrived, the church was full; overfull to be exact. Interestingly enough, over 65% of the “guests” who came that Sunday had not attended a church service in over 10 years. The good news is that over 50% returned the next Sunday. The eye opener to the pastoral staff was clear; outreach, outreach and outreach were to be the focus of the ministry.
Outreach from Outside the Christian Community: A Door Wide Open
Rabbi Jameson (Rabbi James) Greene, a Nebraska transplant, works in tandem with agencies here in Salem. He supports and encourages his counselees to attend AL-ANON and AA. He has seen the “small miracles of each day” by those of his congregation who knew they needed help and sought to return to “spiritual advisement.” Not all who come to Rabbi James are Jewish. His desire as other shepherds of Salem is help the person to sobriety or whatever their needs may be. “I want to instill to create a sense of mindfulness” to each person that trusts his counsel. Although the Jewish population of Oregon is a minority (1%) (2), Rabbi James does see himself as being involved with people from other faith’s and of ‘none’ religious beliefs suffering from addictions and needing counsel for other social problems.
“And if you greet your friends only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Mathew 5:47
When the Lord brought me to His saving grace, I was always amazed that the people he placed me with always had time for me. A Time to listen, a time to teach the Gospel, and most importantly, time to pray with me. I never had time for them, but they always had all the time in the world for me. Now I have the same blessing bestowed on me as was given to those who God placed in my life. I have time for the ‘None’ that our Lord may send my way, though they may not have time for me.