Diminished Attendance for Reason RallyLast weekend in Washington, D.C., there was a gathering to celebrate the secular life called the Reason Rally. Event organizers anticipated 30,000, but reported to Religion News Service that the turnout was more along the lines of 15 to 20 thousand. Hemant Mehta, the writer behind the Friendly Atheist, who attended the event, says the numbers were in reality far less. He puts the crowd at half of the reported size, which would be around 7 to 10 thousand.
To put this in context, I remember Promise Keepers holding an event in D.C. with one million Christian men meeting to pray for the nation. Another Christian event is planned for later this summer with the hopes of the same turnout. While Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist, among other secularists, have been quick to offer nuanced reasoning for why their numbers were far lower than expected, Christians need not tout this as some sort of national victory for followers of Jesus.
First, we need to remember that the number of those disaffiliating with organized religion is on the rise not the decline. While many of those leaving the church still believe in God, the decline in church attendance shouldn’t be less alarming. Cathy Grossman, reporting for the Religion News Service, says this makes “religious nones,” those not affiliating with organized religions, unpredictable. Perhaps the turnout last Saturday simply illustrates her point.
Second, Christians should recognize the cultural stigma some, if not many, face when identifying publicly as atheists. A low turnout may illustrate the challenge of being identified as an unbeliever. I’ve had friends whose journey away from belief in God has greatly affected their relationships with friends, colleagues, and family members. I’ve known some who will wage war on religion on social media but are sensitive to being referred to as atheists. This shouldn’t evoke pride for the Christian. If anything, hopefully it engenders a bit of empathy.
Finally, we shouldn’t cite this as a sign of national revival. Reading the New Testament should inform our expectations. If by God’s grace we providentially experience another massive revival in the American church its primary features will not be a decline in rallies like the one held in Washington last Saturday. It will accompanied by a powerful gospel proclamation, authentic conversions, and national repentance. It’s happened before. We should pray that the Lord might allow it, for his glory, to happen again.