(By Frank Newport, Gallup.com). Religion remains an integral part of most Americans’ lives, but Gallup’s ongoing research shows how this has changed over time. The following are five important findings about religion in the U.S.:
1. America remains a largely Christian nation, although less so than in the past. Seventy-four percent of Americans identify with a Christian religion, and 5% identify with a non-Christian religion. The rest of the U.S. adult population, about 21%, either say they don’t have a formal religious identity or don’t give a response.
The dominance of Christianity in the U.S. is not new, but it has changed over time. The U.S. has seen an increase in those with no formal religious identity (sometimes called “nones”) and a related decrease in those identifying with a Christian religion. Since 2008, when Gallup began tracking religion on its daily survey, the “nones” have increased by six percentage points, while those identifying as Christian have decreased by six points. The 5% who identify with a non-Christian religion has stayed constant.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, when Gallup began regularly measuring religious identity, over nine in 10 American adults identified as Christian — either Protestant or Catholic — with most of the rest saying they were Jewish.
2. The trend away from formal religion continues. The most significant trend in Americans’ religiosity in recent decades has been the growing shift away from formal or official religion. About one in five U.S. adults (21%) don’t have a formal religious identity. This represents a major change from the late 1940s and 1950s when only 2% to 3% of Americans did not report a formal religious identity when asked about it in Gallup surveys. The increase in those claiming no religious identity began in the 1970s, with the percentage crossing the 10% threshold in 1990 and climbing into the teens in the 2000s.
Recently, The Layman’s Kathy Larson spoke with Masey McLain, the actress who played Rachel in the movie I Am Not Ashamed. The interview follows:
KL: How did you get involved with the film?
Really just an audition. I started acting when I was a freshman in high school. Then I got an agent for TV and film. I had an audition for this film about 2 years ago. You know sometimes, when God calls you to something, it doesn’t happen right away. It takes time and He uses that time to prepare you for it. The audition process went on for about a year and it was just a roller coaster. Everything said to me that I didn’t get the role, for about a year. And I really had to just surrender it to God. Then, I was having my quiet time one day and I distinctly heard God say, “I’m going to fight for you.” I remember it vividly.
I was really drawn to this film and to Rachel as a character. I had learned about Columbine in school growing up, but it wasn’t really anything I ever really thought about. But learning about Rachel, hearing her story… I was amazed by the impact this one girl made. She died 17 years ago and her life is still impacting people. It’s incredible that one person can have that kind of ripple effect.
KL: So, through playing Rachel and learning her story, did she have any kind of impact on you?
Oh, in so many things. Before I really learned about Rachel and her story, I thought she was just this perfect Christian girl. She was a martyr for Christ, so I thought she was this squeaky clean, sweet little girl. But the more I got to dig through her journals, and see who she really was… She was a real person. She struggled and she really was just trying to figure it out. It was so relatable and encouraging. She didn’t have it all together and God used her in such an incredible way. That’s what it’s about. We’re all trying to figure out, what does it look like to follow Jesus, no matter how much it costs? And to be His hands and feet to people in the world around us?
KL: How do you hope this film impacts people?
This film hits people in different ways. It impacts different people in different ways. There are countless stories we constantly have flooding in from people who have seen the movie and found a new hope in Jesus. People who are cutting, people who were thinking about suicide, people who accepted Jesus.
My hope is that they realize that they have so much purpose. That they’ve been given a purpose and to live in that purpose. That they were created so specifically and loved so much by God, in a way that no other love can compare, and there is hope in Jesus. Bad things are always going to happen, we’re all going to die one day, the hope we do have is in Jesus. And we don’t just have hope in our future after death, we have a purpose here in our lives now. Rachel was at the point of knowing that. She wouldn’t deny Jesus because she knew that He was her hope and her everything, and she didn’t have anything in this life to fear.
KL: Can you tell us a little about your faith journey? Are there are any ways that your story and Rachel’s story are similar?
I was saved when I was 7 years old and really started walking with God in high school. Just like Rachel, I started journaling. I had a prayer journal, where I poured out my heart to God. I found that to be so intimate with Him and I still love to do it all the time. So, I found so much connection with Rachel in reading her prayer journals.
My senior year was a really lonely year and in a way, I lost all my friends too, just like Rachel did. I ended up homeschooling that year. For some reason, I guess, the Lord really wanted me alone with Him for that time. God became my best friend that year. Rachel wrote the same thing in her journal about the time when she lost all of her friends – that God became her best friend. She said, “It needed to be just us.” It was extremely painful not having anyone to walk with, but that loneliness led to a sweet place with Him. Where it was just me and God. For me, that’s where Jesus becomes your true love. I think that’s what happened to Rachel. He was all she had. He satisfied the deepest parts of her soul. Even if she lost everything and everyone, she knew He was worth it.
KL: What do you think about the Christian film industry and its impact on our culture?
This is the first Christian film I’ve done. Part of me has always been wary about it because it’s so… I do think God uses anything He wants to and He has used many of these films in an incredible way. But, if a film isn’t done with the same level of artistic excellence as Hollywood films, then I don’t think it represents God well. I don’t think it attracts unbelievers to Him. So, I’ve always been kind of wary of even auditioning for Christian films.
But when I got this audition, it was golden. I felt like it was real. It talks about Jesus and has that hope in it. But it does it in a good way, in a real way. And a lot of that is credited to the director, Brian Baugh. He’s really talented. Brian found that incredibly special and needed balance of presenting truth and hope and who God was in Rachel’s life and being real. Not being afraid to go to those places of wrongness and even sin. Because that shows the need for Jesus that we have. So I was proud to be a part of this film. I am Not Ashamed was done at the level I wanted it to be, I hoped it would be. And I think Christian films are headed in a good direction. More and more people are producing better quality films. There is starting to be a bar set for Christian film, at a higher level.
If you haven’t seen I Am Not Ashamed, give it a try. It’s not a “cheesy Christian movie.” It’s really real, it’s really raw. Everyone who sees it walks away inspired in some way. And even though it’s about a shooting, it won’t make you depressed. The banner of this movie is hope.
One of the largest evangelical organizations on college campuses nationwide has told its 1,300 staff members that will be fired if they personally support gay marriage or otherwise disagree with its newly detailed positions on sexuality starting on Nov. 11. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA says that it will start a process for “involuntary terminations” for any staffer who comes forward to disagree with its positions on human sexuality, which holds that any sexual activity outside of a husband and wife is immoral.
In other words, InterVarsity now has the same policy of most evangelical churches.
Furthermore, InferVarsity provided a statement explaining:
The Time article buries the most relevant info, which is that this was a four-year process that was telegraphed and communicated to staff. No one was caught flat-footed or surprised. Recognizing that some staff felt this was theologically contested ground, we opened up a time of 18 months for them to research and discern their convictions on this issue, as well as learn about our convictions. The goal was to clarify our position while also providing ample time for those whose convictions differed to seek out better-fitting ministry opportunities. Parts of this process were hard and painful, but it was not abrupt, or a shock.
So, why is this news? Well, the Internet is abuzz with outrage and now stories are hitting the mainstream media.
But why is it news that Evangelicals think their ministry staff should hold mainstream evangelical beliefs?
It’s becuase there is a new orthodoxy, and the old one just won’t do for many.
The New Orthdoxy
The new orthodoxy says that you have to bend your beliefs to fit it.
But InterVarsity has a different view—the mainsteam evangelical view. And, such views do cost you today.
And, ultimately, every organization with the beliefs of old orthodoxy will face a moment like this.
The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American life for centuries, but much has changed in the last 30 years. Americans are attending church less, and more people are experiencing and practicing their faith outside of its four walls. Millennials in particular are coming of age at a time of great skepticism and cynicism toward institutions—particularly the church. Add to this the broader secularizing trend in American culture, and a growing antagonism toward faith claims, and these are uncertain times for the U.S. church. Based on a large pool of data collected over the course of this year, Barna conducted an analysis on the state of the church, looking closely at affiliation, attendance and practice to determine the overall health of Christ’s Body in America.
Most Americans Identify as Christian
Debates continue to rage over whether the United States is a “Christian” nation. Some believe the Constitution gives special treatment or preference to Christianity, but others make their claims based on sheer numbers—and they have a point: Most people in this country identify as Christian. Almost three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they are a Christian, while only one-fifth (20%) claim no faith at all (that includes atheists and agnostics). A fraction (6%) identify with faiths like Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism, and 1 percent are unsure. Not only do most Americans identify as Christian, but a similar percentage (73%) also agree that religious faith is very important in their life (52% strongly agree + 21% somewhat agree).
Attending Church Is a Good Indicator of Faith Practice
Even though a majority of Americans identify as Christian and say religious faith is very important in their life, these huge proportions belie the much smaller number of Americans who regularly practice their faith. When a variable like church attendance is added to the mix, a majority becomes the minority. When a self-identified Christian attends a religious service at least once a month and says their faith is very important in their life, Barna considers that person a “practicing Christian.” After applying this triangulation of affiliation, self-identification and practice, the numbers drop to around one in three U.S. adults (31%) who fall under this classification. Barna researchers argue this represents a more accurate picture of Christian faith in America, one that reflects the reality of a secularizing nation.
Judges who lack judgement, clergy who lack faith and doctors who kill. The term oxymoron seems generous.
To say we live in an age of confusion seems so patently obvious and yet the confusion is so thorough we need to point it out. Case in point: openly atheist clergy who are ordained and paid by historically Christian denominations.
The latest heretic seeking to retain her credentials is Gretta Vosper. She says she’s not alone but in fact, “This story is about that group of people, because clergy who don’t believe are all over the place, they just don’t have a community that allows them to speak honestly about their beliefs.” How is it possible this statement was not deemed too nonsensical for The Toronto Star to print?
If our churches have to be a little more uncomfortable to us insiders in order to reach even one lost soul for Christ, that’s a sacrifice we should all be willing to make.
By Ed Stetzer, The Exchange.
As we all know, it’s election season. This isn’t ever a rosy time for America, filled with rainbows and warm hugs. But if the political season of 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the United States is culturally confused. Competing narratives vie for attention, as we’re trying to figure out just who we are as a country. There was a time in our history when it seemed like everyone was a Christian. Now, depending on where in America you live, it can seem like no one is a Christian.
Are we losing our Christian heritage? Were we ever a Christian nation to begin with? And how should churches respond to all of this?
However you read our country’s history, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we have reached a cultural tipping point. Our society no longer assumes the gospel, which means the Church often stands at odds with the rest of society. That may make us uncomfortable and frightened. We like being in the majority.
But the gospel is always clearer in an age when it is not culturally assumed. The Early Church thrived in the midst of a hostile non-Christian world—not because they were more numerous or more powerful, but because they were both .
Unless Christianity updates its doctrine and adapts to a changing world, it’s destined for irrelevancy!
A century ago, many church leaders made this sort of claim about God’s supernatural intervention in human affairs. The Bible’s miracle stories were simply unbelievable for modern people in a world steeped in the discoveries of science.
As a result, some churches jettisoned Christian teaching about miracles, while others downplayed the importance of these events in favor of more palatable interpretations. (One of my favorites: the feeding of the five thousand is the “miracle” of people sharing their food, not Jesus providing bread from heaven.)
Strangely, the churches that chose to deny or downplay the miraculous are now more irrelevant than the “fundamentalists” they opposed. And the fastest-growing wing of Christianity in the last century–the Pentecostals and charismatics–has insisted on supernatural signs and wonders as a mark of Christian experience in the present.
Naturalistic philosophy hasn’t won over the world. In fact, some would say that the secular worldview has created a hunger for mystery and spirituality. Whatever the case, a century later, biblical miracles can no longer be labeled as the most controversial aspects of our faith.
The next President of the United States will likely be a self-identified mainline Christian.
Hillary Clinton is a member of the United Methodist Church and Donald Trump continues to assert that he is a Presbyterian. However, Clinton does not align with the UMC on the exclusivity of Christianity, LGBTQ issues or abortion. Trump’s self-avowed denomination openly disavows him. The fact that Clinton and Trump claim affiliation with mainline denominations with whose theology and corporate witness they do not align, illustrates the big tent, diluted, nondescript relativistic Christianity of today’s mainlines.
Culturally, we have arrived at a time and place that should surprise no one and yet seems to surprise many Christians every day. Many Americans wake up every day and wonder how, as a “Christian nation,” we got to a place where college students cannot think, political leaders cannot talk to one another, and the God-created male-female complementarian design bows to fluid self-declared gender identity.
Those who have been students of mainline Christianity for the past 50 years have already watched a moral and theological revolution. The foundation of the faith has been eroded from the inside the mainline which in turn, has had profound influences on our culture at large. This is a call to heed the lessons of history and pray for a future of revival.
As the “robes” of mainline churches have given up on basic Christian beliefs like the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the evangelical mission migrated toward social justice devoid of redemptive power. The trajectory away from a shared faith expressed in and through Jesus Christ as the way of salvation, the truth of God’s Word and the life of discipleship gave way to moralistic therapeutic deism.
Americans who don’t go to church are happy to talk about religion and often think about the meaning of life.
They’re open to taking part in community service events hosted at a church or going to a church concert.
But only about a third say they’d go to a worship service, if invited by a friend. Few think about what happens after they die.
Those are among the findings of a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The survey, conducted in partnership with the Wheaton, Illinois-based Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, found more than half of Americans who don’t go to church identify as Christians.
But they are mostly indifferent to organized religion, says Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“Unchurched Americans aren’t hostile to faith,” he says. “They just don’t think church is for them.”
Talking about faith isn’t taboo
For this survey, “unchurched” means those who have not attended a worship service in the last six months, outside of a holiday or special occasion like a wedding.
Among their characteristics:
Two-thirds (67 percent) are white
Just over half (53 percent) are male
About half (47 percent) have a high school diploma or less
Almost two-thirds (62 percent) went to church regularly as a child
About a third (32 percent) consider themselves nonreligious
One in 5 identifies as Protestant, 1 in 4 as Catholic
Few are turned off by conversations about faith, says McConnell.
A photo released on Thursday by Diocese of Minya and Abu Qirqas showing the woman who was a victim of the mob attack on Friday meeting with the Priests of the Diocese (Photo: Diocese of Minay and Abu Qirqas)
Soad Thabet’s house no longer has a door. Inside, its walls are blackened with soot and a television lies shattered on the floor. The remains of a red nightgown stand out among the ashes.
Thabet, 70, describes being dragged outside by Muslim villagers and stripped naked in the dirt roads of Alkarm, the Egyptian village where she spent her most of her adult life.
Her crime? Her son, a married Christian, was rumored to have had an affair with a married Muslim woman. The woman has since denied the affair took place on national television.
“They burned the house and went in and dragged me out, threw me in front of the house and ripped my clothes. I was just as my mother gave birth to me, screaming and crying,” Thabet told Reuters a week after the attack.
Orthodox Copts like Thabet, who make up about a tenth of Egypt’s 90 million population, are the Middle East’s largest Christian community. They have long complained of discrimination in the majority-Muslim country.
Sectarian attacks occur so frequently in Egypt that they rarely attract wide publicity. But Thabet’s ordeal, the public humiliation of an elderly woman, prompted an outcry among Copts and led to the case becoming national news.
“If it were just a burning we could handle it, but what can we do about what happened to the woman? How can you compensate for this insult?” Ishak William, Thabet’s neighbor and relative, told Reuters at his house in Alkarm.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has denounced the Alkarm attack, which underlines that Copts remain vulnerable three years after he took power and pledged to unite the country following years of political turmoil.
Sectarian violence often erupts on the back of rumors about inter-faith romances or suspicions that Christians are building churches without the required official permission.
Homes are burned, crops are razed, churches are attacked and, occasionally, Copts are forced to leave their villages, say human rights groups and residents of the southern province of Minya, home to Egypt’s largest Christian community.