How to Read the Bible

Cylon George, Guest Contributor

I recently read a survey that classified the Capital Region as one of America’s least “Bible-minded” areas. To be exact, we were ranked 99 out of 100 cities, ranking even lower than New York City.

The survey described “Bible-mindedness” as being a combination of how often people read the Bible and their perceptions about its accuracy. Furthermore, this survey backs up a previous poll that ranked the Capital Region as one of the least religious regions in the nation.

While it may not be surprising that our region ranks low on Bible-reading and religion in general, it may strike some by surprise that we are near the bottom of the list. It sure did strike me.

This data is consistent with the fact that the northeast has been trending away from religion for many years. Church attendance is going down while the ranks of the “nones,” people who do not identify with any religion, continue to grow. This especially true among people thirty and under, also known as the Millennial generation.

So, what are the root causes of growing secularism in our region and other regions across the nation? One compelling reason is the growing sense that our societal institutions are failing us in ways that disproportionately affect Millennials.

The most visible examples are government, financial and church institutions. Within church institutions in particular, trust has been eroding due to hypocrisy within organized religion. Many have also experienced the church as being overly judgmental rather than loving and accepting. Many have felt marginalized and many others have been hurt by the church. Maybe this describes you.

However, one of the things that struck me about the “nones” is that, while many are professed atheists or agnostics, a majority still claim to believe in a God. There is a sense that many are searching for new ways to connect with God and simply bypass religion altogether. Two years ago, a young man called Jefferson Bethke posted a video to YouTube called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” Its message resonated with millions and rocketed this twenty-three year old to fame.

How can organized religion hope to regain its credibility with Millennials and others?

One possible path may be found in a quote widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” In other words, preach the Gospel by embodying its message: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, loving thy neighbor (both friend and enemy) and meeting people where they are. While this is happening in many church communities, preaching the Gospel by living it needs to become normative.

Perhaps such actions will be a powerful invitation to those curious about the Bible and organized religion. Some may even be inspired to read it.

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