One fifth of Americans have no religion

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has published an important new study of Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion.

One-fifth of U.S. adults say they are not part of a traditional religious denomination, new data from the Pew Research Center show, evidence of an unprecedented reshuffling of Americans’ spiritual identities that is shaking up fields from charity to politics.

But despite their nickname, the “nones” are far from godless. Many pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines.

Their numbers have increased dramatically over the past two decades, according to the study released Tuesday. About 19.6 percent of Americans say they are “nothing in particular,” agnostic or atheist, up from about 8 percent in 1990. One-third of adults under 30 say the same.  . . .

But the United States is still very traditional when it comes to religion, with 79 percent of Americans identifying with an established faith group. . . .

Members can be found in all educational and income groups, but they skew heavily in one direction politically: 68 percent lean toward the Democratic Party. That makes the “nones,” at 24 percent, the largest Democratic faith constituency, with black Protestants at 16 percent and white mainline Protestants at 14 percent.

By comparison, white evangelicals make up 34 percent of the Republican base.

The study presents a stark map of how political and religious polarization have merged in recent decades. Congregations used to be a blend of political affiliations, but that’s generally not the case anymore. Sociologists have shown that Americans are more likely to pick their place of worship by their politics, not vice versa.

Some said the study and its data on younger generations forecast more polarization.

“We think it’s mostly a reaction to the religious right,” said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who has written at length about the decline in religious affiliation. “The best predictor of which people have moved into this category over the last 20 years is how they feel about religion and politics” aligning, particularly conservative politics and opposition to gay civil rights.

via One in five Americans reports no religious affiliation, study says – The Washington Post.

I’m struck by the comment that a typical congregations would include people of different political beliefs and how that isn’t the case so much anymore.  (My impression is that churches that don’t mingle politics with the gospel, such as Lutheran congregations, still generally contain both Democrats and Republicans.  That’s evident in the commentary on this blog, which has people who are very conservative theologically representing different political positions.)

I am also struck by the contention that churches getting involved in politics seems to be a major factor in the rise of the “nones.”   I wonder how many pastors who want their churches to be ‘missional” and who make a point of adopting all of the church growth methodologies designed to make their congregation more attractive to the “unchurched” endorsed a candidate on Political Freedom Day, not realizing that this kind of political activism is exactly what is driving people away from churches.

 

Plot to bomb my old church

I used to live in Miami, Oklahoma.   The local college, Northeast Oklahoma A&M, was my first teaching job out of grad school.  That was where I became a Lutheran, being catechized and received into membership at the wonderful congregation of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church.

Imagine my surprise to hear about Gregory Arthur Weiler II, 23, of Elk Grove Village, Ill., who had a list of 48 churches, with maps and diagrams, that he planned to bomb in and around Miami.  An alert motel worker noticed that this particular guest was collecting materials for what appeared to be Molotov cocktails.

Miami police arrested Weiler and found in his room, in addition to the bomb-making equipment and the list of churches, a journal and other writings, including this statement of his plans:

“Self-Promote for the next 4 years while beginning list of goals written out in Oklahoma having to do with destroying and removing church buildings from U.S., a tiny bit at a time — setting foundation for the years to follow.”

Mt. Olive would have had to have been one of the churches on his list. The churches were all in Ottawa County, and 48 would have had to include them all.

I grew up in the next county over from Miami (pronounced “my-am-uh”). And in yet another case of the news striking close to home, I  see that Weiler’s court-appointed attorneys are from a law firm run by a guy I used to go to school with!

 

via Motel workers discuss church bomb plot arrest – KansasCity.com.

HT:  Anthony Sacramone

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Yesterday had been declared “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” by a group of activist pastors and a conservative legal organization.  Over a thousand pastors purposefully violated the law by endorsing, by name, a political candidate, something non-profit organizations are not allowed to do.  They recorded their endorsement sermons and are all going to send a copy to the IRS.

The idea is to force the IRS to take action against them, setting up a court challenge on the grounds that the law violates the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  See Pastors to take on IRS in plan to preach politics from the pulpit | Fox News.

Did any of you pastors take part in this act of civil disobedience?  Did any of you attend a church where this happened?  Do you know of any Lutheran churches that participated (which would seem to be a clear violation not only of the secular law but of Lutheran doctrine with its Two Kingdoms theology)?

Doesn’t this violate Romans 13?  Shouldn’t the churches that did this lose their tax exempt status?  After all, civil disobedience includes taking the punishment for violating the law.  If churches want to exercise a political authority–something that the Reformation utterly opposed when the Pope did this sort of thing–shouldn’t they just abandon their tax exempt status so they can function like other political organizations?  Is it really unconstitutional?  Or is there a case to be made for Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  If so, what is it?

Iranian pastor under death sentence freed

That Iranian pastor who had been sentenced to death in Iran (we blogged about him here and here) has been freed after three years in prison:

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been released from prison in Iran, where he has been held for almost three years on charges of apostasy from Islam, as well as evangelizing. On its website, “Present Truth Ministries” quotes a Luther-like Nardakhani in court:

“During one hearing he was told to recant and he responded, ‘You ask me to recant. Recant means to return. What do you wish me to return to? The blasphemy that I was in before Christ?’ The judges responded, ‘To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.’ Youcef replied, ‘I cannot.’”

The effort to get Nadarkhani released seems to have been spearheaded by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ, obviously not to be confused with the ACLU). This American organization offers legal services when rights, especially religious ones, have been inhibited. The ACLJ was in contact with the U.S. State Department and was instrumental in making people aware of Nadarkhani’s imprisonment (especially through Twitter, with over 3 million people re-tweeting the ACLJ’s “Tweets for Youcef.”)

via Steadfast Lutherans » Steadfast Guest — After Three Years, Freedom by Pr. Timothy Winterstein.

HT:  Anthony Sacramone, who comments, “Most of us will never have to endure anything more onerous than a snarky remark or a sneer as the price of our faith, so take a moment to consider a man who clearly counted the cost of following Christ and persevered under terrible duress for three years—and who also had a wife and two young sons who no doubt suffered terribly as well.  Of course, Pastor Nadarkhani was already free long before his captors opened the gates of his cell.”

For more details, see this.

Vocation Day reading

Happy Vocation Day!  It was formerly known as Labor Day, but this blog has crusaded to take over this national holiday–day off work, last day of summer vacation, cook-out customs and all–and add it to the church year as a commemoration of the doctrine of vocation.

That topic is a major theme of this blog.  Vocation is more than just the notion that you can do your work to the glory of God.  It has to do not only with how we make our living–though it includes that–but also with our life in our families, our churches, and our cultures.  The doctrine of vocation is filled with specific details and practical guidance.  It is, in short, the theology of the Christian life.

A good activity for Labor Day would be to read up on the doctrine of vocation.  You could read from my two books on the subject– God at Work and Family Vocation–or, if you are in a hurry to get the car loaded, I’ll post a brief article with a sidebar that I wrote on the subject for  Modern Reformation.  Click “continue” to read it.

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The Church of England is opposing gay marriage

We often give up on the vitality of Europe’s state churches, but the Church of England–unlike its affiliate Episcopalians in the U.S.–is standing up against the plans of the Conservative (!)  government to legalize gay marriage.  From Mark Tooley:

The U.S. based Episcopal Church’s recognition of same sex unions last month mostly excited a big yawn. More interesting is the resistance of its mother body, the Church of England, to Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to install same sex marriage in Britain. The latter’s opposition is more significant because it remains its nation’s established church and still wields political and constitutional powers. . . .

In a secularizing country, the Church of England (unlike U.S. Episcopalians, who mostly just resent more numerous evangelicals) appreciates the threat to religious liberty under a regime of imposed same sex marriage. How would the established church disallow what the civil law requires? The church may have to disestablish, especially if it desires any continued leadership over global Anglicans.

British media quoted church officials dismissing government plans as “‘half-baked,’ ‘very shallow,’ ‘superficial’ and ‘completely irrational.’” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu only slightly more diplomatically lamented that government proposals “have not been thought through and are not legally sound.” The church’s official response rejected the government’s push with vigorous, point-by-point rebuttals.

One organizer of that response was Bishop of Leicester Tim Steve, who declared on his own: “Marriage is not the property of the Church any more than it is the property of the Government. It is about a mutually faithful physical relationship between a man and a woman.” He warned, despite government claims of protection for churches, “If you do what the Government say they are going to do, you can no longer define marriage in that way. It becomes hollowed out, and about a relationship between two people, to be defined on a case-by-case basis.” Imposed same sex marriage would precipitate the “gradual unravelling of the Church of England which is a very high cost for the stability of society.”

via The American Spectator : This Could Be Its Finest Hour.


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