Pastor David W. Schweppe -
David Schweppe
June 17, 2019

Have you ever had ideas in your head that are there, but you can’t quite get them out into the open, written on paper or spoken to others clearly? That’s kind of where I am at with what I’m about to write down. Last year at this time, I started a two-year term call here at Immanuel. Already, one of those years has quickly passed by. With that anniversary having come and gone, I’d like to share something that has been on my mind and on my heart for a very long time. It may come off as a bit of a rambling, but, hopefully, you’ll bear with me and read through what I’ve got to say. And maybe, just maybe, at the end of it all, you’ll know me a little better and know my hopes and aspirations for the future. 

This year, on August 20, I will celebrate my 30 year of ordination. During those thirty years, I have served four congregations/parishes: Sherman Lutheran Parish in South Dakota; St. John Lutheran Church in Elizabeth, Illinois; Messiah Lutheran Church in Aledo, Illinois; Zion Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois; and now Immanuel. I have also spent about two years as a pulpit supply pastor and one+ years as your interim pastor.  When I went into the ministry, I went because I loved God and loved God’s people. And, truthfully, I thought it’d be fun. Having grown up in the regularly attending church family, I brought with me all the impressions of church that come with that upbringing… only I’d get to be the pastor and preach and teach and share the good news. My idealism at the time just knew that the Church would soon experience a reformation, a renewal of sorts, that would bring in all the so-called unchurched… and the “inactives” too. And the world would be a better place.  

The renewal never came. In fact, over the past 30 years (and really since the 1960s) church attendance and Church relevancy in our society declined. When I became a pastor in 1989, the ELCA included over 11,000 congregations, and the congregation I currently serve had an average weekly worship attendance of 353. Thirty years later, the ELCA now has slightly more than 8,000 congregations, and the congregation's average hovers between 120 and 130. Back in the 1990s, the congregation's Sunday School included over 90 students; now, a handful attend.

My Congregation is not alone, and the ELCA is not alone in the decline of attendance and membership. Congregations of all denominations are facing the same situation – declines in attendance, small to no Sunday Schools, a depleted volunteer base, and financial struggles. Even the so-called mega-churches of the 1990s and early 2000s have diminished to far less than their former selves.   

And all of us – Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Fundamentalist – are facing a society far different from the society of 1989. In our post-modern post-Christian post 9-11 world, we now face a society that is far less inclined to view the Church as a positive force… despite the Church’s willingness to accommodate society’s ever-changing values. Indeed, the word “Christian” often takes on a negative overtone for many because it has become synonymous with words such as bigot, homophobe, sexist, racist, etcetera. Sex scandals, the seeming allergic reaction by many churches to the LGBTQ community, and the politization of the church, among other things, have all contributed to the negative overtone.   

We also face a society that is far more multicultural than back in 1989. People from all parts of the world - Mexico, South America, Asia and the Middle East - have changed the very make up of the US population. They all have brought their own ideas, their own customs, their own beliefs to America. And with all that variety, anyone born after 1980 knows there’s more than one game in town.   

And speaking of games, sports has become the one activity that everyone can get behind; it has become the glue that brings communities together. Within the past decade, youth sports has entered Sunday mornings as a optional activity to going to church. And in so doing, sports activities, many of which have compulsory activities on Sundays, have taken even die-hard Christians from their worship on Sundays.  

One more thing. Given all the changes, people have discovered that nothing happens to them if they don’t go to church. No lightning strike. No burning in hell. No cataclysm. No real-life consequences… or so it seems. The resulting attitude is: Why participate when I can believe in God and not participate?  

This all leads to one simple truth – what’s left of the Church finds itself in a precarious situation. How do we best respond (not react) to the current situation? Maybe, just maybe, we can get some answers from the Church’s past. We’ll talk about that in next month’s post.

By David Schweppe
February 15, 2019

I remember when The Weather Machine (1975) was on PBS back when I was in junior high school. I even requested a received a booklet that contained a summary of the show. I'm still looking through my stuff to find that booklet. In the late seventies we had the evidence and the leading scientists were certain that we were entering another period of global cooling. The winters of 1978 and 1979 as well as the winters of the early and mid eighties just added to the evidence.

And then it... stopped. The extremely hot drought of the summer of 1987 may have marked the change. Mt. Pinatubo blew in 1991 (I think I remember hearing something about that eruption would stalled the climb in temperatures, not sure on that). 

The big issue in the 1970s was sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. So we worked on that and our air got cleaner (we sent the polluting factories to east Asia.)

In the 1980s it was the ozone hole. We were all going to fry if something wasn't done about fluorocarbons. So we got rid of aerosols. (The ozone hole is supposed to be "healed" in a few years - was that because of our decrease in use of fluorocarbons or was that due to "climate change"? Could make the argument either way.) 

By the 1990s I remember experiencing warmer winters. Al Gore wrote his first book, published in time for the 1992 primaries, called Earth in the Balance (1991). Global Warming became more of "a thing," especially by the mid-2000s when we experienced the 2005 hurricane season with Hurricane Katrina. Aerosols and SO2 were no longer the highlighted pollutants; CO2 made its way to the top of the danger list. By that time also Hollywood got into the game with movies in which the climate disasters were human caused. And, of course, Al Gore remade himself as the Climate Prophet with his book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth (2006?). He even made several predictions of what would happen climate-wise over the course of then next decade.

But something happened. The increase in temps "paused." (Others, including NASA say there has not been a pause.) And Al Gore's predictions of Arctic ice being gone by now, along with other dire predictions, did not occur. Add to that, in 2009 "Climategate" came public - word got out that collected data was being manipulated to show more warming than there really was.

A few years later (to my recollection), the phrase "global warming" was replaced with "climate change." And proponents made sure "human-caused" was added to the phrase "climate change." And during this time something else also began to occur - those who were skeptical about "human-caused" climate change were deemed "climate deniers." Even President Obama on August 31, 2015 used the label against anyone skeptical about humans being the cause of climate change. Climate Change / Global Warming was no longer was a debate concerning science; it began to take on the attributes of a religion. You don't accept and adhere to the truths of Climate Change? You are a heretic, a "denier." At the very least, you will be ostracized. Some even went so far as to say "climate denial" should be a punishable crime. There's a play entitled, "Kill Climate Deniers." And the New York Times in November 2018 stated that climate denialism is a depravity (google "climate deniers should be killed"). A crime? Be killed? Depravity? Science is about seeking the truth not forcing individuals into a set of beliefs. By truth I mean things like 1+1=2 and 2H2 + O2 = 2H2O.

I encourage you to watch The Weather Machine (1975). At the time, the scientists involved were absolutely certain of their findings. Just as Al Gore was absolutely certain of the argument he made back in 2006. 

Then watch the latest PBS show, "The Incredible Weather Machine." Just be aware that forty or so years from now the scientists in IWM may well be proven wrong to a degree or three... just like those scientists from the 1970s who were involved in the making of the first Weather Machine documentary.

And one more thing. Just as there is a call for separation of church and state, there should be a call for separation of science and state. Science has become politicized through funding and lobbyists. That funding and lobbying taints and biases the results... even if the results hold true.

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