It is a commonplace in many of the most influential public policy precincts in the nation’s capitol these days — including among congressional aides working for senators, representatives and committees — that Christianity is in steep decline in America, that the country is fast becoming more secularized with every passing day.
That certainly appears to be the case, judging by many aspects of the elite culture and the intellectual, social media and political rhetoric it sanctions, but a totally opposite picture is easily seen once you get outside of Amtrak’s Acela Corridor and the LA-San Francisco-Seattle axis to examine the data that reveals the real America.
There we find a nation whose people are becoming more, not less, involved in their churches, small groups, Bible studies and caring ministries reaching out in their communities. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the same thing is true in their own ways of most of the rest of the people with whom we share this Earth.
This reality is made crystal clear by the data and analyses found in the two remarkable recently published books seen in the photo above.
Both men have written numerous books, monographs and articles, and are accomplished statistical analysts. Between them, Stark and Stanton marshal a colossal gathering of data to make their closely related cases.
Among the data sources are Gallup’s World Poll for every year since 2005, multiple waves from the World Values Surveys, various Pew Research Center compilations, Baylor University’s National Religion Surveys, and the General Social Survey of the University of Chicago. Also, the joint work of sociologists Sean Bock of Harvard and Landon Schnabel of Indiana University.
Stark’s focus is a comprehensive assessment of religious trends around the world, with emphasis on what he describes as the “churched faiths” of long-established organizations and movements, and the “un-churched faiths” made up by folk religions, spiritual movements and cults outside the mainstream and the competitive splintering within Christian denominations and para-church ministries. He summarizes his findings thusly:
“Contrary to the constant predictions that religion is doomed, there is abundant evidence of an ongoing world-wide religious awakening. Never before have four out of five people on Earth claimed to belong to one of the great world faiths,” Stark writes.
“Today, there are millions of devout Protestants in Latin America; not so long ago, there were none. Even so, Latin American Catholics are far more religious than ever before.
“Contrary to the constant predictions that religion is doomed, there is abundant evidence of an ongoing world-wide religious awakening.”
“Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to more church-going Christians than anywhere else on Earth, and North Africa and the Middle East are ablaze with Muslim fervor.
“Hinduism has never been stronger and India’s transport system are straining to meet the demands of pilgrims. The Chinese have rebuilt tens of thousands of temples destroyed by the Red Guards, and million have converted to Christianity.
“Only in parts of Europe are the churches still rather empty, but this is not the reliable sign of secularization it has long been said to be; it is, rather, a sign of lazy clergy and unsuitable religions. As has been said, ‘Europe is a continent of believing non-belongers.'”
Among the most amazing data points Stark cites in reporting these facts is this, from the Gallup World Poll: Ninety percent of Nigerians said they attended a religious service in the past week, 88 percent in Burundi and 82 percent in Liberia. The sub-Saharan average is 71 percent.
Something quite similar is found in America via Stanton, a Focus on the Family leader who decisively upends the conventional wisdom about the state of Christianity in this country:
“Liberal churches are hemorrhaging members. Churches that are bailing on Christian orthodoxy — those denying the deity of Christ; rejected the reality of sin; doubting the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection; and embracing abortion, gay and gender politics — are all in drastic free fall. People are leaving those churches as though the buildings were on fire. They can’t get out fast enough,” Stanton writes.
“Biblical churches are holding strong. Churches that are faithfully preaching, teaching and practicing biblical truths and conservative theology are holding stable overall. Some are seeing steady growth and others are exploding …
“Church attendance is at an all-time high. More Americans in raw numbers and as a percentage of the population, attend church today than at any other time in our nation’s history, including the colonial days. That’s hardly scary news.
“More young adults attend biblically faithful churches today than attended nearly 50 year ago. According to some of the best sociological data, the percentage of young adults regularly attending evangelical and non-denominational churches has roughly doubled between 1972 and today.
“The percentage of young adults regularly attending evangelical and non-denominational churches has roughly doubled between 1972 and today.”
“Atheism and agnosticism are not growing wildly. Both have grown in the last few years, but they are an extreme minority, accounting for just about seven percent of all U.S. adults.
“The ‘Nones’ are not new unbelievers. The infamous ‘Nones’ — those reporting to have no particular institutional — are indeed a growing category. This has been widely reported. But there is something very important to note here: They are not a new category. They are not folks who have left a once-living faith, but rather those who merely had a cold or lukewarm family history of church identity and now feel more comfortable saying ‘I don’t really identify with anything.’ It’s not a change in belief. Instead, it’s an honest explanation for where they’ve always been.”
Stanton cited Wheaton College’s Professor Ed Stetzer, who specializes in the study of young adults. Among much else, Stetzer, based on the General Social Survey, said “the percentage of young adults … who self-identify as evangelicals doubled from 1972 to 2016.”
As stunning as they are, why should anybody working on Capitol Hill — regardless whether they are a convinced agnostic or Bible-thumping fundamentalist — be aware of these facts? Three reasons, to begin with:
First, at the most basic level, it is because we are a representative republic and no public good — but a great many social, political and moral ills — can come from having most Americans going in one direction on the most important questions about life and human community while the elite ranks of opinion, regulation and law-making head in the opposite direction.
“Every time elected, appointed or career officials take or mandate actions that appear to or substantively do limit or suppress religious expression and practice, it widens the already serious divisions between the government and the governed.”
Second, nobody in America wants any level of government to establish any Christian denomination as the official church and compel its support by every citizen.
But every time elected, appointed or career officials take or mandate actions that appear to or substantively do limit or suppress religious expression and practice, it widens the already serious divisions between the government and the governed.
Third, historically, strong churches teaching and practicing genuine Christian values of love and compassion for all individuals are keys to building strong communities and families, as well as prosperous economies and widening opportunities.
And in the final analysis, aren’t these things the essential reasons why we all, regardless of party or position, come to work on Capitol Hill in the first place?
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