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January 9, 2018, 8:04 AM

Talking and Walking with Christ

In my preparations for Christmas, I came across an article online from a few years ago, the title of which caught my
attention: “Walking Santa, Talking Christ: Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?” Expecting some sociological commentary about why people are more likely to attend church around the holidays than other times of the year, I decided to read it—only to discover that my expectations were completely wrong.

The author, Shankar Vedantam, begins by citing well-known data: 40 percent of Americans claim to attend church regularly. 90 percent of us believe in God. He continues: “There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.
Except they are not.”

A quick extrapolation of the numbers would suggest that about 118 million Americans would be in church every Sunday, and every major denomination would be growing. That’s simply not the case. Instead of asking about Church attendance as a measure of “religiosity,” social scientists have started to measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are not much more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. In actuality, the number of people in worship on Sunday mornings are about half of what Americans report. Yet Americans consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are. Vedantam writes:

Religion in America seems tied up with questions of identity in ways that are not the case in other industrialized countries. When you ask Americans about their religious beliefs, it's like asking them whether they are good people, or asking whether they are patriots. They'll say yes, even if they cheated on their taxes, bilked Medicare for unnecessary services, and evaded the draft. Asking people how often they attend church elicits answers about their identity—who people think they are or feel they ought to be, rather than what they actually believe and do.

I share this not to chastise those who don’t come regularly to worship, or to say “good job” to those who do, but to pose the questions, “what is your religious identity?” and “what do you do to live out your faith?”

As we move into a new year, many of us set expectations and goals for what we want to do in the year ahead. We resolve to lose the weight, eat healthier foods, pay down debts, spend more time with family, reconnect or mend broken relationships, etc. but what do you expect from religious practices like worship, Bible Study and prayer? What do you hope to do that will help you grow in

If one of those items on your list is “be more involved at church” or “read the Bible more” what specifically will you do? And if you don’t have a list, (or anything related to your faith on it,) what will you do to hold yourself accountable to growing as a disciple of Christ in 2018?

As the Christmas season ends and the season of Epiphany begins, the church moves into a time of “doing.” In the gospel lessons we will encounter magi from the east who take significant risks to worship an infant king. We will see how that infant king made baptism not only a sign of his identity, but a marker for the beginning of his earthly ministry. We then will have a chance to live out our own baptismal callings as we hear Jesus call his own disciples and heals those who are suffering before the beginning of Lent (on Valentine's Day this year!)

It’s a time that is meant to help us “talk the talk and walk the walk” with Christ. And that’s my prayer for us all in the year ahead—that we talk and walk with Christ throughout this new year. 

-Pastor Nathan

The full article “Walking Santa, Talking Christ: Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?” is available
online at:


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