April 9, 2009

Janice and I love Vermont.  She loves it for its aesthetics.  The Green Mountains within and around the state, the old early American look, the quaint little gift stores and antique shops and the utter friendliness of the residents. She even loves the Green Mountain coffee!

I love the state because of its simplicity, the snow (it hardly ever snows on the Virginia east coast anymore), the non-hurried lifestyle of its citizens, the snow (I love to snow ski), the beautiful fall foliage working through the maple trees, the snow (did I mention snow mobeling?), the log cabins, the covered bridges and the snow.

But both Janice and I have a tremendous fondness for the little white churches that dot the landscape and the old brick and wood church buildings that seem to be on every block in the small towns in the central and southern parts of the state.  But one thing we both noticed about most of those little churches.  Many of them have been converted into libraries, senior citizens centers, antique shops, book stores, warehouses, youth activities centers, day care centers, and a few are abandoned.  In fact, on our last trip to the state we decided to count the number of dwellings in which church families once worshipped just to find out how many were still being used for worship.  Here is what we found:

Of 129 church buildings we saw from Stowe and Waterbury south to Bennington and Brattleboro, from the Northeast Territory into the south central mountainous region of Woodstock and Calvin Coolidge's homestead of Plymouth only 39 buildings were in use as places of worship only.  Another 35 or so were used for a combination of things, like church on Sunday's and business for the rest of the week.  That's 57%!

Compare that with a recent Gallop poll which showed that Vermont is the least religious state in America and you have the reason why so many places of worship in the state no longer house worshippers.  Now get this: the same Gallop Poll revealed that 58% of Vermonters don't think religion is important in their lives.  A whopping 38 percent say they either don't believe in God or that belief in a God is irrelevant in one's life.

That affects their decisions and the lifestyle choices they make. Nine years ago Vermont was the first state to allow same-sex civil unions. Though evangelical Christians opposed it loudly, they were unable to stop the liberal political machine from steam rolling over their objections. Then, on Tuesday, state legislators passed a bill legalizing "gay marriage" by overriding Governor Jim Douglas's veto that would have precluded gay marriages from becoming law.

Another poll released by the University of Connecticut which surveyed the religious beliefs of Americans throughout the country show a big increase in Atheism and Agnosticism in the years between 1992 and 2009.  Vermont's increase was most interesting.  Atheism grew from 13 to 29 percent in that seventeen year period.

It has been my experience when talking to and sharing time with Vermonters that most of these nice people are not antagonistic to religion or religious people.  They merely don't see its importance and for those who truly don't believe in the existence of God, they regard those that do as simply people who talk to an imaginary friend.  They are not militant, they are not antagonistic as the far-leftists in, say, California.  They simply just don't see the rationale for believing in something, or someone, they can't physically see or hear.

In a recent article in the Baptist Press, pastor and missionary Terry Dorsett wrote of a "quiet revival" happening in the Green Mountain State. The Green Mountain Baptist Association, an organizational arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, has seen the number of churches grow from 17 to 37 churches in the last eight years!  What my wife and I saw from our last visit to the state was just one "church building" housing a Southern Baptist Church.  In fact, many of these 37 churches meet in store front dwellings, homes, trailers or barns.

What, you may ask, is the cause of growth among conservative Southern Baptist churches in the most non-religious state in the country, and the decay and death of congregations of other faiths?  The answer is quite simple.

As trite as it may sound, people are looking for meaning in their lives.  They can't find it in their places of employment, the government or the community civic center.  Theirs is a state in which liberalism in theology and religious beliefs and apathy among "church people," creates an indifference toward life itself.  When this permeates society, there is decline, then death in a church.

The most prominent Christian belief among Vermonters is the Roman Catholic, followed closely by Methodism and the United Churches of Christ/Congregational Christian.  The average Catholic church is so small that many share a priest with at least two other parishes and the Methodist conference has but two churches in the entire state that are large enough to support a pastor without his, or her need to have a second church on the side.  These churches (parishes) are so small (in attendance) that 90 percent or more are but part-time ministries. 

The United Church of Christ/Congregational Christian Churches are by far the most liberal of the three largest denominations.  In fact, they explain controversial passages of Scripture such as God's prohibition of sodomy as a cultural matter for the times past (Jews of 3500 years ago) and are "no longer relevant as is many other issues address in the Bible." Most U.C.C. teacher and theologians even deny many of the miracles of the Bible, including those said to have been performed by Jesus. 

Sociologically, most of their pastors perform civil unions in their sanctuaries and will be among the first to perform same-sex marriages in the United States (behind the Metropolitan Churches in which gay and lesbian worshipers are most likely to affiliate).  The Second Congregational Church of Bennington, VT, among many others, goes so far as to advertise on their website that they are proud to offer civil unions and offer pre-marital counseling and special services for same-sex partners. This merely serves as a model of what will soon come throughout all of New England, even among churches of other denominations.  Logically, these churches have to believe that there are far too many passages in the Bible which are either wrong or should be discarded, chalked up as being culturally irrelevant.

But I digress.  The purpose of this article was not to blast liberal (read progressive) churches and their belief systems.  This column is intended to encourage my readers to lift the beautiful state of Vermont and its citizens up in a prayer. I don't believe that the Second Congregational Church and other churches like this just "gave in" to the demands of gays and lesbians.  I do believe and think that this is a trend in liberal theology that will permeate our country if left unchallenged.

There are many churches and denominations which will fall prey to the demands of state and federal legislation and judicial fiat to change their policies toward special or protected classes of people -- some more easily than others.  I fear that those which will not give in will see their buildings turn into what those dozens my wife and I saw in Vermont have become libraries, senior citizen centers, antique shops, specialty stores, or even municipal buildings.

The beautiful state of Vermont.  Beautiful on the outside, but as Jesus would say (Matthew 23:27), on the inside the state has become one big "white-washed tomb" - spiritually dead with spiritually dead residents.  May the "quiet revival" become a public outpouring of renewal and spiritual rebirth in the Green Mountain State.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.