Certainly, gloom is in the air for Christians this week as they are about to observe Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross and died.
But the cross is just half the story.
On the third day, he rose again.
In that sense, Newsweek's April 13 cover story, with the title "The Decline and Fall of Christian America" in the shape of a cross, may have presented more gloom than Christians would have liked, especially during the holiest of weeks.
"Most regular church-goers have heard their less scrupulously observant fellows called 'Christmas and Easter Christians.' Well, they also have their counterparts in the mainstream media: "Christmas and Easter Anti-Christians," said Colleen Raezler, a research assistant at the conservative Culture and Media Institute, in a commentary on NewsBusters.
"How else to explain the spate of skeptical, negative stories that inevitably accompany the two most important Christian holy days?"
When readers pick up the latest Newsweek issue, they begin with a cover with a red-lettered title on a black background. It looks gloomy and almost like a horror film, says Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Inside, the subtitle reads: "The End of Christian America."
Written by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, the story is based on last month's highly reported American Religious Identification Survey which revealed that the percentage of Americans claiming no religion rose to 15 percent while that of Christians declined to 76 percent. It also found that the non-religious population, or "Nones," has shifted away from the Pacific Northwest to Northern New England.
Meacham, a liberal Episcopalian, writes that the declining influence of Christianity is "a good thing," both for America's political culture and for Christianity, arguing that Christians are "rediscovering the virtues of a separation of church and state."
Much of the story also quotes preeminent evangelical Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and what the magazine described as Mohler's gloomy outlook on the future of Christianity in America.
"'A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us,' Mohler wrote. 'The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture,'" Meacham writes.
"When Mohler and I spoke in the days after he wrote this, he had grown even gloomier. 'Clearly, there is a new narrative, a post-Christian narrative, that is animating large portions of this society.'"
In response, Mohler, who expressed appreciation for the article, said it was not his intent to reflect much gloom in his analysis of the survey.
"Our proper Christian response to this new challenge is not gloom, but concern," Mohler stated in his online commentary. "And our first concern must be to see that the Gospel is preached as Good News to the perishing."
And in the eyes of many Christians, the Gospel is being preached and many are being saved.
To them, what they read on the Newsweek cover does not reflect what they are seeing in churches today.
Pastor Kimball of Vintage Faith Church believes that while there may be a decline of "a certain shape and subculture(s) of 'Christian America,'" there is "a rising and surging of missional church leaders, church planters, and Christians who have already recognized that we are in a 'post-Christian' America."
And that recognition has only "fueled creativity, prayer and passion for mission," Kimball, whose church draws many twenty-somethings, stated in his blog, while noting that many are "rethinking" what it means to be the church.
"Churches may die out in geographic places, but the Spirit is alive and powerful and changing lives, even though certain local churches may close their doors or types of churches lose their effectiveness," he added. "So it is ironically quite an exciting time period in the midst of this gloomy title and cover."
Meacham notes in one paragraph that rumors of the death of Christianity are "greatly exaggerated" and mentions that the ARIS authors note a movement toward more conservative beliefs (the percentage of those who identify themselves as "Christian," "Evangelical/Born Again," or "non-denominational Christian," rose to 11.8 percent).
But the small mention is overpowered within a four-page story with bold titles.
"I'm trying to think where he's coming from," Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston – the largest church in the country – told CNN's Larry King on Tuesday, regarding the story.
"I see faith in America at an all time high," he added. "[W]e're having church every Sunday in a former basketball arena, with 40,000 or 50,000 people coming out."
"Now, sometimes I think people don't call themselves religious anymore, but they do have a relationship with Christ," Osteen noted. "I think part of that headline is America is more diverse than it was 50 years ago. Just with more different faiths ... And I don't know that that means we as Christians are any less."
The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, released on March 9, is part of a series of surveys by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. The recent findings were based on interviews with over 54,000 adults in the 48 contiguous states.