(CBS News) Newsweek columnist and longtime Catholic Andrew Sullivan has provoked controversy with his latest article which states that Christianity has been "destroyed by politics, priests and get-rich evangelists."
Christianity in Crisis (Newsweek/The Daily Beast)
Appearing on "CBS This Morning: Saturday," Sullivan said the crisis facing Christianity was especially bad today for one reason: "When I go and see young people, their image of Christianity these days is one of judgment, intolerance and to some extent bigotry and politics," Sullivan said. "They associate it with one political party in this country, because of the fusion of evangelical and ultra-orthodox Catholics with the Republican Party. They don't see it as the message of Jesus, they don't see it any more as a message of love and forgiveness. They see it as a bunch of people trying to control their lives through political mechanisms.
"Or, if they're in an evangelical church they're also susceptible to things like the 'prosperity gospel,' which is saying that Jesus told you to get rich.
"There's so much bad religion right now in this country that I felt it was important as a Christian to say, 'This is not what I believe. This is not what many of my fellow Catholics believe. We want to return to the message of Jesus and the gospels, not these obsessive battles over contraception or gay marriage or these other, I think, political issues, where Jesus really, really avoided politics at all costs," Sullivan said.
When asked to comment on Sullivan's premise, CBS News faith and religion contributor Father Edward Beck said he was less pessimistic. "I think if you look at our country, we remain a country of believers and a country who has faith that religion has meaning and can do a lot of good."
However, Father Beck said that during the current political season religion has been used as a wedge: "We've had the religion of political candidates denigrated; we've had our president's religion questioned. And so people have been using religion in divisive ways," he said.
A recent Pew Research Center poll showed a stunning increase in the percentage of people - across party lines - who believe there is too much expression of faith and prayer by political leaders. In 2001 15 percent of Democrats, 14 percent of Republicans and 8 percent of Independents answered Yes. In 2012, 46 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of Independents answered Yes.
Sullivan said he was not pessimistic about faith, but about the Church: "I think there are a lot of conversations going around outside the hierarchy of these churches about how to reclaim Jesus from the distortion of politics and the way Jesus has become part of partisan politics in this country," he said.
Sullivan added, "The current obsession with contraception by the bishops in this country does not resonate with people trying to find Jesus in their lives. It feels like the church is trying to make a power play instead of being [a force for the powerless.]" He also blamed the abuse scandals as creating a rift between the hierarchy of the Catholic church and its followers.
To watch the complete discussion with Sullivan, Father Beck, and Rabbi Mark Golub, click on the video player above.