Is Christianity in America in trouble, even jeopardy, because of Christians?

We know the church has been in trouble for decades, what with some 75% of its members having dropped out.

But what about Christianity itself? Have the troubles of the church begun to weaken respect for Christianity itself?

I ask the question because of the three most recent scandals that have shaken the foundations of American denominations and congregations.

The first is the ongoing scandal of pedophile priests and the Catholic Church’s cover up. This is the story of the Catholic Church choosing to protect itself over protecting its own children.

Just like Trump’s abuse of babies and children is a moral stain that will never be removed from his character, I suspect the same holds true for the Catholic Church.

The second scandal that has a similar ring to it is children being sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy and youth leaders.

PBS News reported this past Monday: “After a six-month investigation, [the Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express] have documented about 700 victims being sexually abused, assaulted or raped by Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers. Many of the victims were children, some as young as 3 years old.

“In addition to these violations, some teenage and adult victims were then shunned by their church. Others were told to have abortions. The papers also detail church officials brushing aside repeated warnings of trouble. Some leaders who were convicted of sex crimes and officially listed as sex offenders were later able to return to the pulpit. One still works with teens in Houston today.”

This is a stunning revelation about Southern Baptist Christians who constitute the heart of the evangelical population in America.

The third scandal is also about evangelicals, specifically, their support of Donald Trump.

They can spin that support anyway they want to, but only evangelicals themselves believe it, and I wonder if more of them than we might think know how unjustifiable that support is.

Even if they don’t, everyone else does.

But these scandals, along with a history of them through centuries of church life, go beyond diminishing the witness of the church.

There is good reason to think they are undermining the Christian message itself.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that more than 25% of Americans now self-identify as religiously unaffiliated, and that among Millennials it has risen to 39%.

This is a dramatic rise in the religiously unaffiliated when not that long ago 85% of all Americans identified themselves as Christians.

What is more, beyond the fact that they don’t identify with a particular church, they are also refusing to identify themselves with Christianity.

I don’t find that at all surprising. In fact, given the scandals we are talking about it would be more surprising if the Christian faith itself went unscathed by the bad publicity Christians are bringing on themselves.

Scandals are more than examples of hypocrisy. They provide a reason to question the Christian claim that faith in Jesus changes people’s lives, some even describing themselves as having been “born again.”

Only they’re not, nor are they dramatically changed.

Does Christianity help people begin the work involved in personal change? Yes, but so do other religions as well as organizations like AA and Al-Anon.

In other words, Christianity has no corner on personal transformation, and as many times as not produces no character change in people once they become a Christian.

This is why scandals cast a shadow over the Christian message. They expose what non-Christians already know. Christians are no better than anyone else because they are Christians.

But what makes them seem worse is their self-righteousness and audacity to insist that their way is the only way to God.

The core problem is that the church turned the teachings of Jesus into a religion about Jesus and then began insisting that its religion about Jesus offered the only true path to God.

You just can’t say something like in the face of the kind of scandals we are talking about.

It is tragic and sad beyond words that these children were abused. That it came at the hands of Christians should serve as a wake up call to the Christian community as a whole that we need to do some serious soul searching and self-reflection.

A first step would be for Christians and especially Christian leaders to admit the truth – the Christian message works no different for Christians than the message of other religions works for their members.

The test of all religions is whether they teach the ways of peace, justice, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Christians do no better at any of this than anyone else.

If Christians got this, they would be able to stop trying to be the only true religion or insisting that their faith is the only one God cares about.

I used to tell my students that the validity of Christianity does not depend on the invalidity of all other religions traditions.

I believe learning that simple, yet profound truth would be a first and critical step in moving the Christian community toward greater humility, authenticity, and ultimately more credibility.

The truth is this – we can be the people of God without having to be the only people of God.