Lost Coercion: The Center of Christianity's Current Decline

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That’s a very interesting analysis.

The article is firmly situated in the American experience.

I agree, many American Christians have been coercive, and have had power to be coercive.

Jesus was not coercive. The Church is growing quite a bit where Christians are not in power. Christians in China and India, for example, do not have power. The Church does better there than the United States.


I am very sympathetic to Captain Cassidy, given the travails she has experienced. She identifies an insistence on authority in those who misled her, and yes, I have seen this at work in some churches. She has been badly bruised by those who should have been instruments of healing, and dominated by those who should have served.

However, she is now interpreting the entire history of Christianity through the grid of her personal experience. Thus she goes far astray in a couple of important ways:

  1. She equates zeal with the hot pursuit of earthly power. The counterpoint to this is the vast number of humble, charitable, zealous Catholic orders such as the Little Sisters of Charity and the Franciscans who intentionally forswear the pursuit of earthly power–and largely succeed. This is deeply embedded in my own family’s history: my great uncle Clement Falter and my uncle John joined a Catholic order, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, and became priests. These men were never coercive, and deeply loved by the communities they served.

When the young men Father Clement was teaching left St Joe’s (Indiana) to enlist for WW2, he could have stayed behind. He did not; he felt he must not abandon his flock. If they were going off to mortal danger, he was going with them. On the night before the amphibious invasion of Fedala, the men of his battalion begged him to stay aboard the ship until they could secure a beachhead, but he refused. How could he abandon his flock at the moment of their greatest danger? He had barely made shore when he left this earthly orb at the prompting of a German mortar shell.

“Padre Juan” spent most of his adult life serving churches in Chile. I also knew him to be very zealous, just like the other members of his order. When he passed away a few years ago, hundreds of Chileans flooded a message board with lengthy tributes in Spanish to his love, his gentleness, and his wisdom in teaching them.

  1. She misunderstands the controversies in the early church. There were certainly doctrinal controversies. However, the writings that point to serious dissenting opinion typically originate in the third century at the earliest. Meanwhile, there are two prior centuries worth of documents such as the Didache that reflect a general consensus on the “rule of faith” within the frequently persecuted, yet growing Christian movement.

Recommended reading, written by a sociologist:

The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries

Hint: it wasn’t coercion.

This “fresh, blunt, and highly persuasive account of how the West was won—for Jesus” (Newsweek) is now available in paperback. Stark’s provocative report challenges conventional wisdom and finds that Christianity’s astounding dominance of the Western world arose from its offer of a better, more secure way of life.


Yes, it is easy to understand why she is so passionate—but her essay is oblivious to the best scholarship on the subject of the emergence of early Christianity. It is an amateur’s diatribe, not a well-informed exposition. No doubt it will be well received by the particular choir to whom she is preaching. (I’ve long said that there is much that is similar at both ends of impassioned spectrums. We see many of the same characteristics and shortcomings in the writings of uninformed Christians determined to discredit atheists.)


Well said :slight_smile:


I think this is a good point. We can validate and sympathize with people’s real, painful experience, but also give them hope that it doesn’t have to be this way. Frankly, every religion, institution, tribe, or human relationship can be painful, but if we give up on it too early we don’t have a chance to see the other side – the joys and healing and hope and human connection. I guess people just have to decide.


Let’s be clear though that we don’t know if this applies to Captain Cassidy. I don’t know her story. Maybe she didn’t give up to early. Maybe it was thoroughly evil institution in which she experienced so-called “Christianity”, and one could not give up on it “too early.”

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Right, I was thinking of giving up too early on the whole, but you’re right. There can often be hurtful and unhealthy local “instances” (churches, organizations, relationships) that people shouldn’t be forced to endure.


Sometimes I think Americans are too coddled and don’t know what a thoroughly “evil” institution really looks like… :slight_smile:

No offence meant.

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You may not be aware of how wrong things have been here at times.


Maybe not . But I doubt it’s more than social pressure to conform and fear of rejection in most cases.

I wouldn’t call this evil. By that count pretty much every close knit family has a streak of evil…And pretty much every Indian mother would be a medusa trying to gobble her children.

This was linked to, looks like a good read

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I keep wanting to add to this thread, but maybe it’s better to point you to something I already wrote.


Or, you know, systematic sexual abuse of children, over decades, without accountability or apology. How does that fit in to the “social pressure to conform and fear of rejection” category?

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That’s evil. However that’s not the grouse being discussed here.

It was what i was discussing. We have no idea what other’s experience has been, and should be cautious about saying they “gave up to quickly” without knowing. Somethings are very much worth giving up quickly.