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Temples in, churches out?

Metro Atlanta: City of Churches, Mosques, Temples, and Wards

 

Joe Westbury/Index

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple, was dedicated on Aug. 27 in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn. The ornate structure is estimated to last for at least a thousand years due to the lack of any reinforcing steel or other metals in its construction. The massive building will avoid traditional elements of decay because it is carved from Turkish limestone, Italian Carrara marble, and Indian sandstone. The building includes 34,000 carved pieces including 391 pillars, 116 archways, and 86 decorative ceilings. About 900 volunteers donated 1.3 million hours of construction to erect the edifice. Seventeen months were required of 1,500 craftsmen at 26 sites in India to complete the stonework.

 

An analysis

Metropolitan Atlanta has been hailed as the home of nearly five million people and more than 137,000 businesses. The chamber of commerce proclaims that Georgia’s capital city has drawn more in-migration than any area in the nation over the last two decades. Expansion Management Magazine ranks Atlanta second in the nation for business expansion and relocation.

Atlanta is not only known for its business and industry, but for its leadership in telecommunications, high technology, transportation research and development, and major attractions. The city with the golden capital dome is the crown jewel of the southeastern part of the United States.

J. Gerald Harris/Index

Mosques, such as this one near the Georgia Tech campus in downtown Atlanta, continue to spring up inside and outside the Perimeter. Once a cultural phenomenon, Atlanta now has 79 such Muslim places of worship in addition to 29 cultural and learning centers.

People are coming to Atlanta from all over the world and many are coming with their own agendas that have over time transformed the city from a gentile, down-home, Protestant-saturated big town with a southern drawl to a sprawling megalopolis known for its cultural diversity and religious pluralism.

 

The importance of cities in God’s economy

Cities have always been critically important in God’s economy. When the Apostle Paul was called to go to Macedonia, he automatically chose to go to the largest city of the region (Acts 16:12). In fact, the apostle consistently targeted the largest city of a region and did extensive urban church planting. He would then leave to find another large city in which to minister.

Why did Paul focus on the major metropolitan areas of the world in his day? Because he knew that once he reached the city he would be able to reach the society and the culture.

That principle still holds true and while Christianity may embrace that concept, it would appear that there are some other religions that may be practicing it more fervently.

The Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religions – along with a variety of cults – are undoubtedly strategizing to proselytize in the major urban centers of America, including the city of Atlanta.

There are some interesting things that are typically true about the metropolitan centers of our land.

 

Why cities are targeted by the world’s religions

First, city dwellers are generally more open to new ideas than more conservative rural people. Secondly, city dwellers are more connected, influential, and mobile so that when one of them is converted, the chance of spreading their religion or ideology is much greater.

Joe Westbury/Index

A section of the Hindu temple in Lilburn exhibits the ornate stone which was hand-carved and imported from India.

James Boice, the great Presbyterian minister, in his book Two Cities: Two Loves suggests that if even ten percent of the evangelicals of the nation moved into the largest cities and lived out lives of love, truth, and servanthood, the culture would be fundamentally changed. It appears that some of the world’s non-Christian religions have taken that page out of Boice’s playbook and are using his idea to capture the cities of the land.

However, many evangelical Christian churches are finding it extremely difficult to maintain a viable ministry in the major cites of the nation and are moving to the suburbs or disbanding altogether.

Southern Baptists have followed the same trend as other evangelicals in regards to Georgia’s major metropolis. While many churches are doing quite well outside the I-285 perimeter, most churches inside the perimeter are struggling for survival.

 

Baptists losing ground inside the Perimeter

In 1980 the Atlanta population inside the perimeter was 725,094 and there were 88 functioning Georgia Baptist churches reaching 12 percent of the population. One out of every eleven residents was a member of one of the Atlanta GBC churches. In 1980 these churches were baptizing individuals at the rate of 43:1.

Comparatively, there are now 80 Georgia Baptist churches inside the perimeter although the population has steadily grown to over 836,000, a population increase of more than 13 percent, in just 27 years. Only 40 of the original 88 GBC churches are presently located inside the perimeter.

Baptist church membership inside the perimeter has not kept pace with the population growth. In fact, the 80 churches inside I-285 now reach only 4 percent of the population with a baptism ratio of 85:1.

In 1980 GBC churches inside the perimeter had a resident membership of 86,713 compared to 33,612 in 2006. The churches inside the perimeter baptized 1,522 in 1980 (averaging more than 17 baptisms per church) to 265 in 2006 (averaging less than 4 baptisms per church).

During that same time period worship attendance declined from 22,494 to 9,986.

Some of the churches have moved outside the perimeter and continue to have a strong and effective ministry, others valiantly fought to maintain an effectual presence inside the perimeter, but ultimately and regrettably chose to disband. A handful of brave new church planters have started fledgling works in the inner city, but in most cases their work is difficult and progress is slow.

One interesting demographic released by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce shows that Atlanta leads the nation in attracting highly educated 25-to-34 year-olds, the age group known as the “Young and Restless.”

Kelly Durham/Index

A white picket fence with a worn American flag on its post welcomes Buddha followers to a small ornate temple which stands in the backyard of a home in Snellville. Buddhists come to worship the idol and to take part in ceremonies, as evidenced by burned candles and dried flowers laying on the ground in the backyard.

Last year Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, stated, “Atlanta is winning the war for talent. The ‘Young and Restless’ are the most sought-after talent in the country. Cities want them for their economic future. Companies want their knowledge and talent. And Atlanta is leading the nation in attracting them.”

While this age group represents the best of America’s intelligent and energetic work force, statistics show that more than 90 percent of the people in the 25-to-34-age group are unchurched. Consequently, the number of lost people in Atlanta is growing at an unprecedented pace.

 

Interviews near the heart of Atlanta

The Christian Index went to downtown Atlanta to interview some of the young adults. People were selected at random, but the information gathered was both fascinating and heartbreaking.

Julien Fere, a graduate student at Emory University from Paris, France, indicated that he had a Catholic background, but no longer practiced his faith. He explained, “I think Jesus was a good teacher; and I suppose there is a heaven, but you must earn your way to heaven through good works,”

Miles Neely, working in a store in Atlantic Station, remarked, “I remember going to a Methodist church when I was a child, then to the Catholic church for awhile, but I don’t go anywhere now. I am more spiritual than religious. To me religion is an organized system, but being spiritual is what you feel on the inside.”

Aya Suzuki, a Georgia State student from Japan, said, “I have been to Buddhist temples and to Catholic churches for funerals or weddings, but I don’t practice any religion. When I die I guess I will be reincarnated, but I’m not really sure.”

Ekapop Pairim is from Thailand and working on a Ph.D in physics at Georgia Tech. He proclaimed, “I guess I am a Buddhist, but I don’t practice any religion. I just believe in being a good person. I don’t know what happens after death. I am not interested in that. I am just interested in this life.”

Attempts were made at interviewing several people who professed to be Muslims, but each one declined to be interviewed. One young adult Muslim, who indicated that he was a native of Atlanta, stated, “I can’t talk to you about my religion, because of what has happened in this country over the past few years (presumably talking about the events of 9/11/01). You will have to talk to the Imam at the mosque.”

Out of more than 20 people interviewed no one admitted to being a Christian. No one indicated any significant church affiliation. No one seemed to know why Jesus died on the cross. In short, there is a spiritual vacuum in Atlanta.

 

Joe Westbury/Index

Mormon temples, such as this one in Sandy Springs near Perimeter Mall in Atlanta, are not open to the public and no worship services are held in the facilities. Rather, they are the site of highly-guarded church ordinances that are reserved only for members in the highest standing. In and around Atlanta, worship and most weddings are held in the 51 local Wards, which are more common in neighborhoods and communities. The largest temple, at the denomination’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, is a maze of numerous small rooms where very small and private weddings and other ordinances are held throughout the day.

World religions are not coming. They are already here.

Alarmingly, while many Baptist and other evangelical churches are disbanding or deserting the inner city, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and other religious groups are gearing up to convert the people of metro Atlanta.

A GBC staffer has completed a project involving careful and meticulous research concluding that there are 79 Muslim mosques, six Bahai’i (Bahai’i has its roots in the Islam religion.) worship centers, and 29 Muslim cultural and learning centers in the Atlanta metro area. There are also multiple mosque plants across the metro area.

The same research reveals that there are 52 Hindu temples presently operational or under construction in the greater Atlanta area.

On Aug. 26 a massive and ornate Hindu temple, or mandir, was dedicated in Lilburn on 29 acres of land at a cost of $19 million. The temple rises to a height of 72 feet and has 12 small ghumats (domes) and one large ghumat.

The temple is an engineering marvel, because no steel or metals were used in the construction. It is made of Turkish limestone, Italian marble, and Indian pink sandstone. Each piece, hand-carved and imported from India, was numbered, divided into sections, and eventually set in place, fitting together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It is reported to be the second largest Hindu temple outside of India.

The carefully researched statistical information assimilated by the GBC staffer enumerates 82 Buddhist temples already in existence or under construction in the Atlanta area. Additionally, Fox News announced on Oct. 22 that the Dalai Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist, was installed as a professor at Emory University.

The statistical data made available to The Christian Index also reported 51 wards (administrative divisions presided over by a bishop) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) now located in the Atlanta area.

The above demographic study fails to include the prevalence of such religious persuasions as Scientology, Kabbalah, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarian Universalists.

 

A Christian nation no more?

Once, many Americans liked to call ours a Christian nation. Then beginning in the 1950s, the phrase became our “Judeo-Christian heritage.” When the Immigration Act of 1965 was passed we began to welcome many more people from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. They all brought their religions with them and we started referring to our country as a “multifaith” nation. Within recent years it has become a nation characterized by a smorgasbord of faiths and a universalist religious pluralism

The religion that seems to be the most aggressive and concerning, however, is the Muslim religion.

Kelly Durham/Index

Burned candles and dried flowers picked for idol worship lay on the ground among the signs of fall in the backyard of a home in Snellville. The ever-changing makeup of metropolitan Atlanta is indication that this is an issue that has come to Georgia backyards – literally.

Why is there an apparent influx of religions coming to Georgia’s largest city? Have we concluded that winning Atlanta to Christ is too great a challenge to undertake and chosen to abandon the city? Do we prefer the wealth of the suburbs to the poverty of the inner city? Has anyone ever relocated his or her church from the circumference to the center of the city? Have we given over the cities of our land to the secularists, the rationalists, the false religions, and the cults of our day?

Years ago Kenneth Cragg wrote a book entitled, Call of the Minaret, in which he stated that the Muslim religion “developed in an environment of imperfect Christianity.

“Christian failure,” said the author, “made Islam possible.”

 

The Islamization of America

Abdullah Al Araby has written a book entitled The Islamization of America: The Islamic Strategies and The Christian Response. He proclaims, “After the collapse of Communism, almost everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Many thought that all threats to the American way of life had finally vanished. Then came the sad events of 9/11/01 which proved our hopes were just wishful thinking.”

Araby continues, “Currently, there is another force that is subtly working inside of America to abolish our Judeo-Christian culture. This movement is far more malignant than Communism could have ever been. The movement is Islam, which is determined to Islamize our nation.

“It (Islam) poses a much more realistic threat, because we naively believe the politically correct hype about Islam being a peaceful religion that is fed to us on the evening news. The fact is, it is a religious as well as a political, economical, and social system that demands rule over every aspect of life. Nothing goes untainted.

“Its ultimate goal is a Religious-State government wherein Muslim clerics wield the authority to dictate our nation’s economic, political, social, and foreign policies. Equipped with our military might, it will attempt to conquer the world.”

 

The beheading of nations

There is much information available to indicate that Muslims are intent on beheading the nations of Europe through the Islamization of Europe’s cities. One writer insists, “We have seen videos on TV of Muslim Jihadis beheading infidel hostages. Less attention has been paid to the fact that Muslims are beheading entire nation states.

“Although this is happening in slow motion it is no less dramatic. Historically, the major cities have constituted a country’s ‘head,’ the seat of most of its political institutions and the largest concentration of its cultural brainpower. What happens when this ‘head’ is cut off from the rest of the body?” Soon you will find the city and eventually the whole nation dominated by burkas and Sharia Law.

Joe Westbury/Index

A statue of the angel Moroni, which is said to have guarded the golden plates given to Mormon founder Joseph Smith, stands atop the pinnacle of the Mormon temple in affluent Sandy Springs, just north of downtown Atlanta. The image of the angel blowing a trumpet is commonly used as the unofficial symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The registered trademark angel, usually facing eastward, appears high on many temples.

Georgia in general (and Atlanta in particular) is becoming the desirable destination of people from all over the world. Consequently, many of them are bringing with them their polytheism, their secularism, and their dark and death-dealing religions. Never before in our history have we had such an opportunity to demonstrate the reality and authenticity of the Christian faith and the power of God.

 

Is there an answer?

In view of the encroachment of these false religions, and the Muslim religion in particular, what are we to do? What can we do to preserve or restore our Christian heritage for future generations?

First, we must humble ourselves. For far too long we have depended upon our own ingenuity, abilities, resources, talents, education, organization, and wealth to build our churches and save our land.

Edwin W. Lutzer, senior minister of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, admits, “I am convinced as all of us must be that every human resource is now inadequate and only the direct intervention of God can reverse our country’s spiritual decay. Therefore, we must humble ourselves in the sight of God and unreservedly cast ourselves upon the Lord.

Second, since prayer is the most powerful force in the world, we must pray. God has promised to heal our land if we meet the conditions of II Chronicles 7:14. That Old Testament passage urges us to “pray and seek God’s face.”

We must do more than talk about prayer, read about prayer, study about the facets of prayer, and schedule prayer meetings. We must pray – fast and pray.

Prayer can do anything that God can do, and since God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent. Pray for our leaders in government, our military, and the safety of our citizens here at home and around the world. Pray that God will bring revival to our land, beginning with His church.

Pray for our churches to get a vision and a passion for reaching the lost beginning in our “Jerusalem.” Pray that we will be able to bridge the gaps that divide us from our lost neighbors, schoolmates, colleagues at work, and acquaintances. Pray for the boldness to witness to people regardless of their religious persuasion or nation background.

Third, we must repent. It has been said that the temptation of the age is to look good without being good. There is too much superficial Christianity in the church today.

 

Divine mandate

Southern Baptists have emerged from the conservative resurgence with an uncompromising commitment to the Word of God, but are we a more powerful denomination? Oswald Chambers said, “It is perilously easy to have amazing sympathy with God’s truth and remain in sin.” What we need in the churches of America today is some old fashioned godly sorrow for sin and heart-felt repentance before a holy God whom we have so grievously offended.

Fourth, We must refuse to cower in fear and become isolationists. It is our divine mandate to engage the culture and share our faith. We must “not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” regardless of the degree of their darkness or the depth of their depravity.

Joe Westbury/Index

This Buddhist Temple in Lilburn is one of 82 already in existence or under construction in the Atlanta area. The most recent evidence of Buddhism's influence in Atlanta came on Oct. 22 when the Dalai Lama was installed as a professor at Emory University.

Why? Because love is stronger than hate. Truth conquers deceit. Light dispels darkness. And Christ triumphs over all. There are a few Acts 1:8 churches in metro Atlanta that have caught the vision, embraced the commission of our Lord, and begun to make a difference for the cause of the Kingdom.

It will be a good day when all churches are building bridges of grace to the multiple cultures around us and winning the lost from all the false religions so that our worship services are the counterpart of heaven where the redeemed “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation will be singing worthy is the lamb.”

Lutzer dreamed, “Catch the vision of crowded churches from coast to coast, shops closing during the noon hours for special prayer, and our legislators turning to God for wisdom in making decisions. Think of the nightly news telling the story of tens of thousands of believers making restitution for past wrongs, and reports of thousands of conversions to Christ.

“Imagine a country (or a city) where abortion would become rare, not just through legislation, but because mothers valued their children and immorality was on the decline. Imagine a country in which homosexuals repented and sought God for help in overcoming their lifestyles rather than imposing their values on society. Imagine a country where the courts would reflect America’s Christian roots.

“We must believe God for something more than our generation has ever seen. May our sights be raised and our faith increased, to fervently seek God for a national revival. What God has done in the past, He can do again.”

Revival is possible as long as God is God. Georgia Baptists could become the kindling wood for igniting revival fires – starting in Atlanta and reaching across the state and throughout the nation.