One of the well-known religious trend stories of the last 50 or 60 years is the decline in membership of Christian churches in the United States.
New surveys by the Pew Research Center not only verifies this trend but reveals that Christianity is slipping fairly dramatically.
The report to which I've just linked you says: "In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade."
Before I retired from The Kansas City Star I asked editors for permission to do a series of articles about this decline, including a shift away from a nation that historically has been majority Protestant. I didn't get the go-ahead on this series for various reasons, but the trend was obvious to me 15 or so years ago.
Now the Pew results show an almost-shocking decline in members of Protestant churches overall.
"Currently," the report says, "43% of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009." Just a few decades earlier Protestants made up two-thirds to three-quarters of the U.S. population.
What about American Catholics? They're dropping numbers, too, despite immigration. As the report notes, "one-in-five adults (20%) are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009."
By contrast, the report says, "the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular,' now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009."
Are we becoming Sweden?
Well, a little. But mostly we're becoming a much more religiously pluralistic country. While in the mid-20th Century it was quite rare for most Christian or Jewish Americans to run across Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs or Jains, for instance, today it is much more common. I recently wrote this Flatland column, in fact, about a Sikh temple being built in suburban Kansas City.
So what will our response to this changing religious landscape be? I don't know, but I do know that religious literacy is more important than ever. I've said this again and again, but it bears repeating: Religious illiteracy leads to fear, which can lead to bigotry, which can lead to violence.
Our goal, instead, should be finding ways to live in religious harmony with people of many different faiths and of none. Because, quite literally, the landscape under our feet is changing almost daily.
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ANOTHER REASON THEY LEAVE
John MacArthur, a prominent radio preacher, says that if Southern Baptists allow females to be preachers it means they no longer believe in biblical authority. Is it any wonder that younger people walk away from the church when some leaders think like that?