Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism are in the beginning throes of decline in the United States, especially among young people in the Millennial Generation. I believe one of the primary reasons for this decline is false perception—false self-perception and false perception about the public. As the advertising magnates on Madison Avenue in New York City will tell you, it is not so much the reality of a product that counts as it is the general public perception of the product. In other words, you can have a really lousy product, but if the public wrongly perceives it to be a good or even wonderful product, people will come in flocks to buy it. Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism have a double-image perception problem. They have a false perception of themselves, and they have a false perception about how the rest of humanity sees them.
False Perception Image No. 1. The people who are entrenched in Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism do not perceive that anything is wrong with them, their churches, or their belief system. This has been true from their beginnings in the late 19th century and early 20th century when this uniquely American religious belief system was first invented by men—not God—and then horribly and insanely reinvented year after year since the early 1970s. While the people in this belief system might sometimes recognize and openly confess their own failings as individual human beings, they believe (quite wrongly) their overall belief system (which must be taken or left as a whole package) is entirely of God, wise, true, and perfect in all things. Therefore, their perception must be that all is well and nothing needs to be changed in their realm—any losses on their part are just the sinful world abandoning or refusing to run to the clean, delightful, and perfect. In fact, as my web friend April Kelsey has pointed out on her blog (Revolutionary Faith), they perceive (wrongly again) that a list of their own items explains why people are abandoning the fundie belief system:
They refuse to believe the real reasons they are being abandoned or avoided when the people who are actually abandoning or avoiding them tell them their reasons straight up.
False Perception Image No. 2. Many Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have a false perception of how the rest of humanity (including the rest of Christian humanity) looks at them and their traditional church culture. They see themselves as a rural or suburban family: clean cut dad in a navy blue suit and tie with a black Bible in his right hand; a beautiful wife who stands submissive beside him in her homemade dress (pattern bought at Wal-Mart); and two adorable children (one boy and one girl) who were saved by Jesus at the ripe old age of 6 years (never mind the reality that kids this age know more about Mickey Mouse than Jesus). They see themselves as American citizens who have made it in the right and clean way—the baseline standard for what a real American should look like and be—so certainly by their very nature—both they and their churches must be normal, appealing, and even magnetic (like Jesus was) to most onlookers on the American landscape. How could they be otherwise? Jesus has blessed them all with his very own stamp of personal approval. Therefore, any normal American would be crazy to leave one of their churches or avoid coming to one of their churches. So, what’s not to like?
The reality is that much of the rest of humanity (including people in other churches) do not perceive the fundies, their fundie churches, or their fundie belief system in the way the fundies perceive them to be—and the fundies consistently fail to understand this. They would say:
“Why do people run away from us fundies? We are offering Jesus to them!!! They must just be vile sinners running away in pain and guilt from the light of Jesus that they must surely see in us as we approach them.”
Huh-uh!!!! Nope!!! That is not what many people see. If you will recall, multitudes were magnetically attracted to Jesus and his message of hope and love. Americans do not see Jesus and that message of hope and love in these people. They see THEM ALONE—not Jesus. And they see THEM—not just as themselves—but rather as individual and horrifying living symbols of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism as both a belief system and a perverse human cultural system, with its unique and rather sorry religious history wrapped like a rotting albatross around their necks, and the overall image looks, sounds, and behaves very much like the man in the black hat in the video clip below. In four words: “They Creep People Out.” Would you run away from or refuse to run to this guy? I sure would!!! Any sane person would. The real Jesus never presents himself to the world in a way that can conjure up a creepy mental image like this man in the black hat:
Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism today are bad religion products with bad public perceptions—a Madison Avenue advertiser’s worst nightmare—and both bad designations have been well-earned and well-deserved over the past 100 years. This is a big part of why they are in decline today. At the behest of Jesus, people are waking up to all of the pain and agony these people have both created and ignored in a world that was aching for the real Jesus of the New Testament and his love. Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism destroy people outside the fundie realm, and they destroy those within the realm who fully embrace it. However, Jesus is reforming the church before our very eyes today, and he is beginning the process by cutting the fundies down to their real size, which may take a microscope to see when the cutting is done.