It seems like we hear about polls every day. The television networks broadcast results from the latest poll taken. As we get closer to November 6 and the presidential race appears to be getting tighter, the latest poll is reported with great seriousness and importance. But probably the most significant poll that deals with the future of this country was published this week. And it had nothing to do with politics.
A Pew Research Center study released this past Tuesday stated that Americans are becoming less and less religious. Their polling found that one in five Americans are now, in what they categorized as, “religiously unaffiliated.” This figure translates to around 33 million American adults. This is a five percent increase in just the past five years, from just over 15 percent in 2007 to slightly under 20 percent this year. The main cause in this shift, according to Pew, is generational, with now 32 percent of adults under 30 saying they are religiously unaffiliated. This compared to 9 percent for adults 65 and older.
Most of us here in the Bible Belt think that being “religiously unaffiliated” means not going to church. Pew Research defines it much more broadly. They define it as not being affiliated with any organized religion, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, etc. As a matter of fact, the decline in those identifying themselves as Protestants has been most dramatic. The figure has dropped from 53 percent in 2007 to 48 percent today. This is the first time, according to Pew, that the number of Protestants has fallen significantly under 50 percent.
There were a couple of interesting other facts from the poll. According to the poll, 88 percent of religiously unaffiliated people are not looking for religion. Also, more people are now willing to say they are not religious, where as in the past they would say, “I’m a Baptist, I’m a Catholic,” but they never went to services.
Political junkies are always looking at presidential polls, trying to determine trends, and what it could possibly mean for their candidate. Well, what can be determined from Pew Research Center poll on religion in America? I suppose, just like political polls, it is open to personal interpretation. So here’s mine.
The long held idea that the United States is a “Christian nation” is now pretty much history. Christian writer and theologian, Charles Colson, stated back in the 1990’s that the U.S. is now a “post-Christian society.” With less than 50 percent of Americans claiming to be Protestants, much less living it, he has been proven correct. If the trends continue, what will a post-Christian America look like? Religion, Christianity in particular, has been a guiding and controlling standard for good in the development and growth of this country. While not always following those ideals, the United States has strived to attain them, and has benefited from doing so. What will be the standards, the ideals, of this country in the future?
I heard preachers say that it only takes one generation not passing along the faith for the faith to be lost forever. Could this be the generation inwhich America ends up like most of Europe, with empty churches and cathedrals and less than 20 percent of the population claiming any religious affiliation? But maybe as the younger generation gets older, they will “come back to church.” But remember, according to the poll, 88 percent of the religiously unaffiliated are not looking for religion. So can you count on them coming back?
But, as the poll stated, at least they are being more honest about their faith, or their lack of it. So maybe, they will be more honest about the rest of their lives. This is the opportunity for the church, to reach out and be there with the message of hope. And hope for the future is what they need, what we all need. You don’t need to take a poll to realize that.