New data from Pew Research Center points to a growing ideological polarization in the U.S., and an opportunity for us to be like Jesus.
By Ed Stetzer
Pew Research Center published a new set of data from a recent study on Americans and religion. You may remember a similar study in May of this year called the “American Religious Landscape” survey. (For my take on those, see articles at CNN,USAToday, the Washington Post, and here on my blog.)
The newest data confirms much of what the General Social Survey (the data I used in many of the above articles) shows. America is becoming more secular, but the faithful are remaining devout.
There is more than one thing going on, but a big part is that “nominal” Christians, the data shows us, are abandoning the “Christian” label more in the last seven years than they have before. As every single reliable researcher believes: the church isn’t dying.
In other words, there’s not a collapse of practicing Christianity, and that’s the headline of almost every story, though some people still won’t believe it.
But, take a look at the stories and their headlines such as:
Chrisitianity Today: Massive Survey Shows How US Christians Changed from 2007 to 2014
While America’s “nones” keep losing their faith, a significant study finds that religious Americans are staying stable—and by some measures, even growing—in theirs.
Religion News Service: Pew study: More Americans reject religion, but believers firm in faith
Associated Press: Survey: Religious Americans Keep Faith Amid Secularization
There is a lot of shift in the data, but there is a continual drop in nominal Christianity, a relative stability in devout practice, and an increasing polarization of society. I’ve written an edtiorial in the Washington Post about how we might deal with that reality. As I said in the Washington Post:
America is undergoing a religious polarization.
With more adults shedding their religious affiliations, as evidenced in the latest from the Pew Research Center, the country is becoming more secular. In the past seven years, using the new Pew data, Americans who identify with a religion declined six percentage points. Overall, belief in God, praying daily and religious service attendance have all dropped since 2007.
Today’s America is losing much of the general religious ethos that dominated the U.S. for hundreds of years.
However, the religious, in some ways, are becoming more religious. While fewer people said religion was somewhat important to their lives, there was a jump in those who said religion was very important. Of those who identify with a religion, Pew found an increase in reading Scripture at least weekly, participating in a small group and sharing their faith at least weekly. Church attendance numbers were relatively steady.
There are big and important shifts here. In navigating the new religious environment, Christians must recognize three trends that may change the way they see the culture.
Be sure to look at the WaPo piece here.
I want to ask the question: “How do we, as Christians, live in this new polarized reality?” I addressed some of that culturally in the Washington Post, but let me address it a bit differently here.
Ed Stetzer is the Executive Director of LifeWay Research Division.
Originally posted at christianitytoday.com/edstetzer.