Is an armistice needed for divided nations and churches?

This weekend churches up and down the country will mark the centenary of the Armistice that brought peace after the Great War. However, that peace was to be sadly short-lived as the 20th century proved to be one of the bloodiest in history.

Two decades later war was to break out again, leading to the demise of fascism in 1945. This was then followed four decades later by the fall of the Berlin Wall, with which we arguably saw the demise of Communism. What followed was perhaps an uneasy peace but a rise in the liberal consensus. Was this a 'via media' in world politics?

If this was a Golden Era, it has faded somewhat in recent years. In its place we have witnessed the rise in populism and nationalism, not least across Europe but wider afield too.

ReutersSupporters of Donald Trump cheer at a rally during an election that has exposed deep divisions in US society.

This in turn has led to a rise in division, and resulted in Nancy Pelosi declaring after the recent US midterm elections that her party was 'seeking solutions that will bring us together' because 'we have all had enough of divisions'.

But perhaps the first of those divisions that have to be dealt with is the religious divide.

Indeed, the first anaylsis of those US midterm election results highlighted the stark divisions, both between religious believers and those who do not follow a faith.

The figures show that white evangelical or born-again Christians backed Republican candidates for the US House of Representatives at about the same rate they did in 2014. In contrast, religiously unaffiliated voters (also known as religious 'nones') and Jewish voters once again backed Democratic candidates by large margins. The figures, from the National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll data, are on par with the figures from the midterm elections in 2014.

So we not only have divided nations, but also divisions within nations themselves. And in particular, divisions between religious believers.

'Seeking solutions' seems to be an obvious route to take, but there are immense problems in trying to do that as we well know.

If we turn to the churches, a new survey on religious views in New Zealand gives fresh insights into the scale of divisions. Although it concerns churches from the other side of the world, one suspects that similar findings would be reported across Europe. And the divisions reported in the 'Faith and Belief in New Zealand' survey occur across the age ranges.

Respondents were classified in five groups:

Generation Z (18-23 year-olds);
Generation Y (24-38-year-olds);
Generation X (39-53-year-olds);
Baby Boomers (54-72-year-olds);
Builders (those aged over 73).

Those in Generations Z and Y both said that spirituality is extremely or very important to mental health (52 per cent), and that it is important to overall well-being (51 per cent and 50 per cent respectively). In contrast, for Builders the figures for mental health and well-being were only 41 per cent and 38 per cent. But the majority of Generations X Y and Z questioned said they did not identify with any religion or spiritual belief (39 per cent, 39 per cent and 43 per cent respectively). Only 26 per cent of Builders took that stance, with most (59 per cent) identifying as Christian.

So there is an openness to spirituality among the younger generations, but also some significant blockers.

For Generations X, Y and Z the number one issue is the church's stance and teaching on homosexuality, followed by gender inequality in the church and how a good God could allow so much evil and pain. Only that last one figured as an issue for Builders, who were more concerned about how a loving God could allow people to go to hell and questions about miracles, angels, demons and resurrection.

This is a stark division, and a problematic one for church leaders. The majority of stakeholders in churches are of course the Builder generation (aged over 73), but the key issues for the younger generations hardly concern them at all. If they wish to reach a younger generation they will require building some major bridges, and quickly.

For non-Christians the survey reveals a need for the church to rebuild trust, particularly in the wake of abuse scandals.

Showing love rather than fear is perhaps the biggest challenge facing our world, both secular and religious as we look to our future.

Colin Blakely is the editor of the Church of England Newspaper and co-editor of ViaMedia.News, on which this article first appeared.

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