THOMAS: The 'God gap' grows wider

Tribune Media ServicesFebruary 29, 2012 

There have been many "gaps" in modern politics. There is the gender gap, the generation gap and now the God gap, which is the gulf between people who take God's instructions seriously and those who don't. Which side of the gap you're on could influence your vote.

The God gap is growing wider.

I asked Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum about this. In a telephone interview with me, Santorum, whose rhetoric is loaded with religious and cultural language, said, "While (such language) may be upsetting to some, there's a hunger out there for talking about what's true."

How, then, would he explain a recent New York Times story that reported for the first time in our history, that "more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage"?

Santorum acknowledged, "I'm probably talking to Republican audiences, so it's a little different. I'm not talking to the general audience at this point. Marriage is on the decline. The culture is changing."

The problem for presidential candidates — and for President Barack Obama, who occasionally appeals to Scripture to justify his policies — is that fewer people are listening to the voice of God, or to voices claiming to speak for him.

Not too long ago, a report about growing numbers of out-of- wedlock births would have produced sermons calling for repentance and set revival fires burning across the land. Today, there's only silence.

The Times story, citing government data compiled by Child Trends, a Washington research group, noted that the shift in the makeup of American families was likely to produce children who face "elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems." Yawn.

The failure to communicate across the God gap brings to mind something former President George H.W. Bush said about broccoli. Bush said his mother made him eat it, but he never liked it. When he became president, he said it meant he no longer had to eat it.

So people who might have been taken to religious services as children are now grown up and many feel they no longer have to "stomach" faith, or conform to a standard outside themselves. Some who grew up in a secular household are spiritually deaf, if not biblically illiterate. A general cultural morality is fast disappearing.

The God gap will not be shrunk by politicians, though to rally "the base" they often talk as if it can. The goal of cultural transformation has historically been the work of clergy, whose "hellfire" messages scared people. But this was before having a baby without a husband became acceptable.

Too many of today's clergy seem preoccupied with building personal empires and monstrous buildings. They go on costly TV instead of investing in the less visible "work of the church," which is people, not brick and mortar. The first Christians met in homes, not megachurches. They took care of each other and did not rely on government. Many pastors today dislike sermons about sin and repentance because they make people uncomfortable. And so we get instead the discomfort of social decay and an ever-widening God gap.

Materialism and pleasure contribute to social rot. Social rot precedes national decline. These have become our contemporary "golden calves," as unable to produce satisfaction as the idols of biblical times. Most politicians won't urge restraint or personal sacrifice and too many ministers allow the secular world to set their agenda. And so the God gap widens and the wisdom and understanding of the older generation goes unheard and unheeded.

E-mail: tmseditors@tribune.com.

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