Think US Evangelicals Are Dying Out? Well, Define Evangelicalism …

Yves here. While the plural of anecdote is not data, my brief experience in the South gives considerable support to the notion that identifying as a Christian, whether it rises to the level of evangelicalism or not, is a much stronger force than people in coastal cities want to believe. And remember, not only is Birmingham a post-Civil War city built on coal and steel and now has the medical industry as its biggest employer, but the suburb I am in has one of the highest levels of BAs per capita in the US and is heavy on university and hospital employees (profs, MDs and managers), lawyers, accountants, and business owners.

Even when I call businesses out of state (like in Missouri), I often hear “have a blessed day” on the voicemail message, and that is sometimes the sign-off in stores. In Dallas, despite having lots of transplants due to big companies moving regional operations there, churches (and often big ones) are a big deal. I hear young people (mid-late 20s) in my gym discuss their Bible study group and the details of the week’s lesson. Our former New York City taxi driver turned aide, who moved to the South only 4 years ago, had been told by her doctor after a car accident that her spine was severed in a car accident and she’d never walk again. She spent three years in a wheelchair. She attributes her recovery having had enough of that, plus prayer and divine intervention. She loves recounting how her doctor, who forgotten her, reacted when she strode into his office, said she’d been a patient, had him pull her file and have him unable to explain how she could be standing, let alone walking.

Consistent with the thesis of this post, the formerly paralyzed aide prays regularly and leads a prayer group but does not attend church.

By Ryan Burge, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Eastern Illinois University. Originally published at The Conversation

The death spiral of evangelicalism has long been written about in both the religious and mainstream press.

The assumption is that evangelicalism has weathered the storms of secularization and politicization poorly. Journalist Eliza Griswold, writing for The New Yorker, chalks this up to the theological rigidity of evangelicals: that they have been structurally incapable of changing course quickly enough to stem the tide.

Others have suggested that the alliance between white evangelicalism and Republicanism is largely to blame for the decline of evangelicals. They believe that becoming so intertwined with the polarizing figure of former President Donald Trump has marginalized evangelicals in the public arena, making it even less likely for them to win over new converts.

While the share of Americans who identify as evangelical by religious tradition does seem to be falling– from 19% to 16% for white evangelicals, according to a recent Pew survey – that does, I believe, obscure a bigger and possibly more important story.

Looking at the data from a slightly different angle suggests that the share of Americans who self-identify as evangelicals has not changed in any meaningful way over the past decade. In fact, larger shares of Americans have said that they have had a born-again experience in 2018 than at any point since 1972, according to the General Social Survey. Moreover, as someone who analyzes religious data, I believe the link with politics may in fact be a central reason evangelicals are not declining significantly as a share of the U.S. population.

Evangelicalism Is Not Toxic

In both the General Social Survey, which has been asking questions about religion since 1972, and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which interviews tens of thousands of Americans every year, respondents are asked if they consider themselves “born-again” or “evangelical.” In 2008, 1 in 3 people who responded to the CCES said that they do see themselves as evangelical. In 2019, that number was 34.6%. In the GSS, the share who said that they had experienced a “born-again experience” has risen four percentage points during the same period.

These self-identification measures are so important because they allow researchers a window into the mind of the average person. If the term “evangelical” has become as radioactive as many people suggest, then it would seem reasonable that smaller percentages of the public would willingly take on the label – but they are not. Just the opposite, in fact.

But just because the share of Americans who identify as an evangelical has not changed in a statistically meaningful way doesn’t mean that the composition of that group has not. A crucial part of this story is that the term “evangelical” has, I believe, become somewhat detached from its theological roots and morphed into a term that seems to capture political sensibilities as well.

As political scientist John Green notes, “[evangelicals have] become very strongly associated with Republican and conservative politics, because since the days of Ronald Reagan up until today, that group of believers have moved in that direction politically.”

There’s evidence of this move from the theological to the political. In 2008, 59% of evangelicals said that they attended church at least once a week. Just 16% said that they attended services “seldom” or “never.”

By 2019, those percentages had shifted significantly. The share who were weekly attenders declined a full seven percentage points, to 52%. On the bottom end of the spectrum, nearly a quarter of self-identified evangelicals said that they attended church “seldom” or “never” (24.2%). The share who never attended nearly tripled from 2.7% in 2008 to 7.3% in 2019.

The implication is that for many of those who self-identified as “evangelical,” it is not just about devotion to a local church, but to a general orientation to the world. As Republicanism and the religious right have become more enmeshed, it seems logical to assume that these less religiously devout people may consider their evangelicalism to be a question of political identity, rather than religious beliefs and customs.

And this is apparent from another angle, as well. Respondents were asked to describe how important religion is in their daily lives. In 2008, over 80% of evangelicals said that religion was “very important” to them. But, as each year passed, that share began to decline. By 2019, 73.7% of evangelicals said that religion is “very important” – a decline of over seven percentage points in just 11 years.

Religious evangelicals may look at these numbers and think, “This is not what the term evangelical means.” The assumption is that the term describes those who place high value on the teachings of the Bible and strive to evangelize other people into their faith. However, that understanding of the term seems to be fading, replaced with a more amorphous concept that melds together religious doctrine and an affinity for conservative politics that experts are only beginning to understand now. For instance, in her book “From Politics to Pews,” scholar Michele Margolis argues that people are choosing their religious affiliation based on their political partisanship with greater frequency now than in prior decades.

No one gets to claim ownership over a word – especially one that is so fraught as the term “evangelical.” The data offer some insight into how the definition might be evolving, not how it is defined in theological texts and social science manuscripts.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think there are a number of things to unpack here as religious belief/identity is notoriously difficult to define, just ask any atheist jew or catholic.

    My amateur sociological assessment of much US society is that church membership has always functioned as the glue that held relatively ‘new’ communities together. Sunday church is where everyone meets up and gets to know each other. A Chicago born friend of mine talked about having moved to the Deep South for work and having neighbours turn up on his door in the first week asking about his church affiliation. He first thought they were trying to proselytise and was pretty offended, then he realised they were simply asking if he wanted to make the effort to be part of the community, so despite being non-religious he went with the flow and found that they were wonderful neighbours.

    I think this is familiar behaviour in most societies. A Chinese friend of mine moved to a small village in Ireland and kept asking me about what catholics do. I knew she had zero interest in religion so I was curious why – turns out that pretty much all the social activities in the village revolved around either the catholic church or the local football team, so as she hated sport more than she hated religion, she chose the former in order to fit in.

    I think most of the political negativity surrounding evangelicalism is around the church leaders. Evangelical movements have had a very nefarious impact on countries from South Korea to Brazil – in much of South America they’ve taken over from the catholic church as the key driver of reactionary politics (at least catholicism had its liberation theologians to balance things up a bit). But as we’ve seen in South Korea, when the power of the church leaders is broken, their political power fades away, independently of the beliefs of the individual church members.

    1. vlade

      IMO, the problem is that there’s a minority of rapture evangelicals, who see the whole world through the lens of that, but are very vocal and visible. There was a good link on it about a week ago.

    2. GramSci

      Yes, as becomes evident from reading Michael Hudson (or Greider or Graeber), the temple is in the center of the marketplace. One does not merely go there to “know their neighbors”. It’s where one goes to find a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, a plumber, or a real estate agent. The last is particularly important in the U.S. where the average person moves something like once every seven years and has done so since the Interstate Highway System. The church is where the contracts are blessed. It is the spiritual center of the petite bourgeoisie.

    3. Ctesias

      An additional problem with pentecostal evangelism is Brazil, and no doubt other places as well, is that the flock is apparently so very easily influenced by those religious leaders, especially when it comes to voting for political candidates. The appeal to join these churches is very much present in the most disadvantaged parcel of the population, that could truly do with meaningful social reform and land/wealth redistribution. The evangelical vote went overwhelmingly to Bolsonaro, however, which however way you analyze this is a vote against its own interest, and only in the interest of their (corrupt) leaders, who “sell” the votes of their flocks and have now themselves become very powerful politically. The new coalition of power is based on the what is often called the 3 B’s. (Boi, Biblia and Bala), which translates to Cattle (agro), Bible(evangelicals) and Bullets(The arms lobby, military and militia)

      It’s a game changer. It was once presumed that right-wing economical and social policies could not be sustained in a true democracy where only ˜10% of the population would benefit from such policies, and that change would be inevitable, starting with the Labour party gaining the presidency at the beginning of the century and getting millions of people out of poverty, even though not nearly radical enough. However, the growth of evangelism changed all that. If you can get people to vote against their own economical interest in exchange for snake oil, all math is off. No doubt that’s been the very reason why pentecostal evangelism has been embraced by the elite.

    4. JTMcPhee

      Special case in Utah? My anecdote is hearsay, but it came from a married couple of Episcopalian ministers posted to the outback in Utah. They were circuit-riders — did their priestly functions at five “parishes” of a tiny number of Episcopalians and people of other church affiliations that worshiped with the E’s. Distances between parishes were on the order of 75 miles, a “short trip” by Open Range standards. This couple had two children of grade school age. They were told in the Mormon-operated “public schools” that they should run away and move in with a non-evil Mormon family. And they were proscribed from taking part in activities like Little League, also Mormon-run.

      Got to give the Mormons credit for running a tight ship, albeit with certain schismatic issues like multiple spouses. And while Utah may have about the highest rate of on-line porn consumption in the US,, they seem to have done pretty well in the pandemic.

      Hypocrisy, from my experience with organized religion, is the rotten taste left behind from Holy Communion…

      1. Richard Hershberger

        I grew up on the edge of Mormon country. My observation about them is that if there is one Mormon family living on your street, they are the best neighbors you could possibly ask for. If your family is the one non-Mormon family living on the street, they will make your life hell.

        1. jefemt

          LDS- In addition to the best and most vile mentioned above- encourage folks to look up the South Park episode on Joseph Smith, the Mormon church.
          The LDS I know have perfected the closed loop business affiliate model— sharp business amongst LDS- only.

          If you ever in St George, Utah, take a day or two to learn about the church, its very communal roots. Fascinating. Lots to admire, lots to recoil from.

          Montana had a very hard turn to the right in the 2020 election… closest margin between victor and challenger/ contestant was 12%. As one wag put it, we are now Idaho east.

          The state house and senate have three bills proscribing LBGT community, two very limiting (dare I say making abortion illegal), and an open carry bill for college campuses.

          Than GOD they only meet for 90 days every two years.

          I’d say ‘evangelicals’, Christians— whatever the heck it is, are thriving, beyond alive and well in rural America. Broadcast radio is either Christian or El Rushbo. NPR, much as I revile it, is sorely absent— TINA.

        2. Lex

          … if hell is defined as your neighbors pretending you don’t exist. We were that non-Mormon, child-free couple living in Boise for two years. It is a deeply tribal culture.

        3. howseth

          1973: I and 3 other sophomore college students – from the East drove out to Southern Utah to dig up Anasazi Ruins – extremely rural- sparse population – Mormon (Boulder, Utah). We were 3 Jews and a Christian . Spent 4 months there – lived in tents then rented a trailer.
          The 50 + people living there were extremely welcoming – and we never felt a bad vibe from anybody. They invited us to their church. (We only went once.) We were invited to dig by the State park ranger of the tiny museum – so we had his blessing.
          Despite the tiny population there was a woman from Minnesota, a small rancher from Texas, and assorted others been in the military. The guy they called the Mayer – owned the one package store and gas pump – he was not Mormon.
          If this had been more a regular populated town would we have had more problems? Salt Lake City was far, far away.

  2. a different chris

    The odd thing about church is there is nothing really on the opposite end of the spectrum. I can like sports or classical music, but I have to spend my free time *some* way. And people who’d rather listen to Bach generally really, really hate sports nutz, whereas sports nutz don’t even recognize Bach people as existing which is even worse.

    And more to the point, classical music *and* basketball has to be played.

    But if I reject “Church” — what alternative is there? What can I contrast it with? Do I have to be a atheist Satanist? And nobody even can prove the participants exist, let alone point to a final score and say “hey A is better than B, I told you so!”. There are no sides as we normally see them, is what I am trying to say.

    So it’s just easier to nod and smile when somebody says “Praise Jesus”. It doesn’t really hurt you to do that, or at least it seems not to. What point is getting into And that leads to America, a country so incredibly religious where nobody manages to show up on Sunday.

    Well not nobody, and the lack of adult supervision plus the “oh hey Christians are good people” thing is leading to cultish behavior and actual cults.

    Which is way dangerous.

    1. Synoia

      It would be interesting to ask such people to recite the Beatitudes.

      However, Assembling to pray is less harmful than all, or nearly all other assemblies of people.

    2. Richard Hershberger

      Anecdatum, but I think the classical music/sports dichotomy is more stereotype than reality. I was once at a Philadelphia Orchestra concert when one of the local teams was in the playoffs. When the team won its game, the score was announced at the concert and the audience cheered. FWIW, my hobby interest is researching and writing about early baseball. I currently have Faure’s Requiem playing.

      1. Wukchumni

        Hear, here.

        I love classical music & pro (only NFL now-a lapsed MLB, NBA & NHL fan) sports and although never the twain shall meet on the playing field, I enjoy both.

        I think something Russian should be played for rushing plays that grind out a crummy yard or 2, a dirge would be nice.

        Mozart would utilized primarily for the aerial assault, but don’t leave out Bach on bombs.

    3. lyman alpha blob

      But if I reject “Church” — what alternative is there?

      As an agnostic, I stopped going to church a long time ago and in my younger days I wished that people would wise up and stop going with me. Now even though I still don’t attend, I do recognize the important function the church serves as a societal glue.

      There used to be lots of alternatives, at least for men – Odd Fellows, KofC, American Legion, VFW, Elks, Masons, etc. Those are mostly dying out too. I’m not sure if there are any practicing Odd fellows any more – all the halls I do see are used by other groups. The KofC building in my neighborhood has been up for rent for a couple years now.

      But there is one organization that I can think of that while not what it used to be, is still around, is open to both sexes, and could be a real boon if it could be revitalized – the Grange.

      A lot of the infrastructure is still there or could be recreated without too much effort. And there is even already a catchy theme song ;)

      I’d love to see this organization get a shot in the arm. No idea how to go about organizing such an effort so for now I’m just planting seeds…

      1. IowanX

        I saw this post this morning, and wanted to circle back tonight, as it’s important, and eventually may be a NC Subject Header. “Christian Dominionism”. Yves is right: “While the plural of anecdote is not data, my brief experience in the South gives considerable support to the notion that identifying as a Christian, whether it rises to the level of evangelicalism or not, is a much stronger force than people in coastal cities want to believe.”

        I have been following @C_Stroop on Twitter; she’s published in Religion Dispatches, etc. and is the originator and co-author of “Empty the Pews” which explains the Evangelical system (others have as well). I think Yves is right in her assessment.

        I think, like race, religion is a difficult topic to discuss. I’ve read many stories about relatives being lost to FOX News/Q-anon theories… I submit for discussion that there is an important discussion to have in the religious realm as well. See also Jeff Shartlett: “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power”.

  3. Wukchumni

    About half the cabin owners in our community are evangs, and i’m careful not to let them know my feelings about dogma, that won’t hunt.

    I watched them forcefully do things that were, well crazy. One family of 5 including the 83 year old matriarch decided to travel to a wedding in Dallas this summer with 180 self-reinforcing non mask wearers in attendance, and guess what-NOTHING HAPPENED.

    All it did was allow them to be more strident in their opinion that Covid was just like the flu, any old death in the hospital was marked down as Covid, as they received more money if they did so, and other mark-to-malarkey.

    Said matriarch has stated that no way is she going to take a vaccine for something she doesn’t believe in, an invisible threat that kind of resembles her religion.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Yeah, probably not a good idea to talk about magical carpenters with such people. No sense of humour there. Just nod politely and walk away. But every time there is a Census here and they ask about religion, I always put down ‘Pagan.’

      1. Wukchumni

        We’re all friends, and none of them has really inquired into my beliefs regarding invisible means of support, although they’re quick to assert theirs. A learning lesson to be had is the way i’ve gone about it.

        One of them is my age and we can both hike a ton and like each other, told me all of the usual Covid-denial prattle i’d mentioned above, and then put a cherry on the top by telling me she was going to heaven, with a pert smile flashing my way.

        1. Michael Fiorillo

          I remember once seeing a bumper sticker that said, “Christian’s Aren’t Better, They’re Just Forgiven,” and that seemed to explain a lot: many of them are quite proud of their humility, similar to the way woke members of the coastal PMC use slogans and signals to establish their moral superiority…

          1. Wukchumni

            My Grocery Outlet plays nothing but contemporary Christian music loud enough to make out the lyrics and the hymn, and it feels weird-as i’ve never heard any of them ever prior, but now that I have, you’d damn well be sure to have the word ‘Praise’ in your ditty as much as possible, what if the big guy was listening in online and caught you holding out, then you’d be in a pickle.

    2. Antagonist Muscles

      I am an atheist, and I know next to nothing about non-Christian religions. What I do know about the sociopolitical views of some of my devoutly Christian family members is frightening. I have never heard them self-identify as evangelical, but I surmise the label applies. Burge states that “Evangelicalism Is Not Toxic” as a self-identifying label, but evangelicalism is toxic to the rest of us. It would be unsurprising that evangelicals, so immersed in proselytizing, would overlook the danger of gathering together maskless.

      Occasionally, I glance at the prayer meeting agenda or the emails from these family members. The content is overtly political, racist and filled with hateful criticism for outsiders. In this case, outsiders are non-Christian and non-[my ethnicity]. God is ostensibly discussed, but “God” is really just a nebulous concept for justifying discrimination and all sorts of crazy views about current events.

      I haven’t had time to investigate what one particular family member believes in terms of Covid-19, but I honestly don’t want to know considering the mask theater she engages in and her bizarre views on the infectiousness and transmission of HIV. This family member truly believes that HIV is a punishment God created for gays and that HIV infects only gays. The hundreds of thousands of non-homosexual HIV positive patients is insufficient evidence for changing her views. I do not know how this cognitive dissonance is resolved, but this erroneous view is similar to people who deny that universal mask usage lowers the transmission of Covid-19.

      Faith, in this case, extends beyond the bible to the church leaders and insiders. Whatever the leaders say and whatever the insiders gossip about is unequivocally true. The ideology is so profound that no amount of evidence will change her mind.

      And that is kind of the hallmark of religious beliefs, cult beliefs, and conspiracy theories. The believers elevate what the leaders say to the point of infallibility and never engage in self-examination of these beliefs, even if this beliefs will cause injury or death.

  4. Curt

    Thank you for the straightforward and fair treatment of a subject that can easily subjected to harsh language and attitudes.

    As a Southern Baptist, I can attest that a great deal of outside money has been poured into our associations and seminaries to weaken the denomination and renderer it “Christianity Light.” Frankly, non-evangelicals have little to fear from the modern Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

    The SBC is firmly under the authority of the “woke” and there is no turning back. They use critical race theory as a matter of practice and the seminaries are considered “lost” by most knowledgable pew sitters. It is simply the last iteration on a traditional American institution losing its way and becoming impotent.

    While there was some minor political influence by evangelicals in the 2020 elections, that influence is dropping so quickly that, absent some great sociological upheaval, the 2022 elections will not be effected by the evangelicals.
    (Note: I realize that not all evangelicals are in the SBC…but most other structures have been similarly effected.)

    1. Bob Jones

      Considering that the Southern Baptist Church split from the Nothern Baptist Church explicitly to support slavery and was on the wrong side of history on the subject of race and civil rights for 100+ years, maybe change isn’t so bad.

      1. Curt

        Your comment is a gross misstatement of the facts and lacks any nuance at all.
        It also rejects any notion that the SBC has changed in the last 150 years.

    2. Baldanders

      As someone who grew up going to SB churches when I visited my grandparents as a kid, this has been a weird development to see.

      I think the LDS and the pentecostal denominations have taken over the place where the SBC used to dwell, politics-wise.

      I nodded along with this article. My impression is that political Christianity has moved out of the churches because the new model of right-Christianity has much in common with “lone-wolf” terrorism. Left-Christianity and the right-center are still more in the pews.

  5. John

    The big box churches provide a social function similar to what country clubs provide for the oligarch overlords and their PMC minions. No large club fees, only voluntary contributions. Socializing for parents and kids. Religiosity can vary. Bible studies are kinda like declasse book clubs which are more PMC territory.
    People yearn for social connection beyond the shallow marketplace interactions allowed by neoliberalism.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Depends on the big box church.

      Back in the 1990s, I went to a Tucson Episcopal church that was trying to go the big box route. To the point where there were five services on Sunday. They needed that many to accommodate all of the people.

      Back then, Slim was trying to eke out a living as a freelancer, and things weren’t going well. During 1995, I was having trouble meeting my pledge, and I wrote a letter to the parish office. I asked if I could make an alternative arrangement for meeting that pledge.

      I never received a reply.

      In 1997, I was in even deeper financial tapioca. My salvation came from an unlikely source. I was in a bike shop, and the owner said that he was tired of working on weekends. Would I like a part-time job?

      He didn’t have to ask twice.

      When Bob the Boss, my coworkers, and I were not interacting with customers, our conversations were, shall we say, a bit salty. Not suitable for repeating on this family blog.

      I started drifting away from the wannabe megachurch, and eventually stopped going there altogether.

      As for my little freelancing business, well, I was in the right place. I learned a ton about business from Bob. I also noticed that our little shop was a place were everyone genuinely cared about each other. It wasn’t just that superficial “I’ll pray for you” kind of caring I experienced at that church. This was the real deal.

      I left shortly before the shop closed in 2000. Nowadays, it’s a boarded up building along one of Tucson’s busiest thoroughfares. Fortunately, Bob the Boss sold the building before it got into this condition. He’s now retired and living out of state.

      I’ve heard through the grapevine that my former church is no longer mega. In recent years, it has been struggling.

  6. Richard Hershberger

    “Evangelical”: It is certainly true that this word has kicked around all over the place over the centuries. Five hundred years ago it meant what we today call “Lutheran.” The word still sticks to various flavors of Lutheranism in this older sense. It is confusing to outsiders. Evangelicalism as we understand it today arose a couple centuries later in Britain and Germany (where it was called “pietism”). What it means to be “Evangelical” has drifted a lot since then, and isn’t the same in different parts of the world.

    One of the most interesting developments was what I call the Great Reclassification of the mid-20th century. Prior to that point the Methodists were firmly classified as Evangelical, and indeed were the ur-Evangelicals. Then one day they found themselves classified as “mainline.” What changed was the rise of Fundamentalism. This was the know-nothing wing of Northern Evangelicalism, and by default nearly all of Southern Evangelicalism. This was a delayed consequence of the lowest common denominator victory of the marketplace of ideas following American independence. The frontier suddenly expanded westward. The more established eastern churches responded slowly, as is the nature of established institutions. The groups reacting quickly were primarily the Baptists and the Methodists, and in some places the Presbyterians. The Baptists had an advantage. The Methodists and Presbyterians demanded expensive and time-consuming educations for their clergy. The Baptists had barely any standards whatsoever, so they could flood the market. What is the best way to attract a congregation? Tell them what they want to hear. What this is varies widely and is culture-specific, and any given location can have several niches, but the principle is universal. This is how you end up with a Baptist church on every block. They are independent of one another, and can be very different. Anyone looking for a church can find one telling them what they want to hear. This also explains the classic pattern of rural Baptist churches, with the Methodists in the towns. The Methodists lagged behind the Baptists on the frontier, but carried more social cachet for families on the rise.

    Then came the 19th century rise of textual criticism and the discoveries of ancient Near Eastern texts and the like. This is even before we get to Darwinism. The essence of Fundamentalism was that they rejected all that stuff. The Great Reclassification was the Fundamentalists successfully co-opting “Evangelical,” with “Fundamentalist” redefined as “Those crazies over there, not nice people like us.”

    The next step to arriving at modern Evangelicalism was the rise of Billy Graham. While he was a Fundamentalist to the core, he lacked the usual Fundamentalist urge to circle the wagons. He was a big tent guy. He was so big-tent that he let in the Pentecostalists, who by any theological or history-of-ideas standard were an entirely different group, the two having little in common.

    The dirty little secret today is that the Pentecostals are the growth side of Evangelicalism. The Fundamentalist side is still around and makes a lot of noise, but the Pentecostals are where the action is. This is important politically because Pentecostalism by its nature has even fewer standards than Fundamentalism. It is all about God whispering in your ear with today’s doctrine. This is absolutely ripe for telling people what they want to hear. The Prosperity Gospel is the obvious example: “God wants you to be rich!” Jesus had some pointed things to say about the rich. None of it suggests any great desire to increase the class. But hoary old doctrines like that mean nothing when God is whispering in your ear right now.

    This is infinitely flexible. God has anointed Donald Trump? Why not? If that rocks your boat, go for it. Or, to borrow an expression from the 1960s, if it feels good, do it.

    And no, we should not confuse this with any sort of traditional Christianity. It is a post-Christian ideology.

  7. Dick Swenson

    I recommend a very good book as an alternative to the discussions above. It is You Don’t Have to be Wrong for Me to be Right by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield. He discusses the problem of faith vs fanatacism in an intelligent and ecumenical way. His background is important to his story.

    If you Wiki him you can learn more. He is an Orthodox Jew whom I would be honoured to meet.

  8. TimH

    …totals suggest that fewer than 22 percent of Americans attend worship services each week. This lower level of attendance provides further evidence that Americans tend to overreport worship participation and are less religiously active than the polls show.

    So people self-report as devout, and so either regard themselves as such or want to be regarded as such. I suspect more the latter…

  9. marym

    People’s religious beliefs and customs, their personal ethics as family or neighbors, and the social functions of being part of a religious community, may be well be positive components of people’s lives and of the social fabric, as described in several comments here.

    In the public sphere I would define reactionary political christianism – aligning with more secular and more openly power-seeking forms of Republicanism or Trumpism – as the pursuit of an authoritarian, patriarchal, exclusionist agenda, leveraging among its political tactics the social deference, constitutional protections, and tax exemptions that our society affords to religion.

  10. kareninca

    From what I can see, church membership is down because people can’t afford it. It is one more thing that increasing precarity has put out of economic reach. It is very costly to support a minister and a building, even if it is an old mainline church and the minister is hardly paid anything at all. The young people I know mostly cannot spare any money, and so even if they would like to join they stay away. It is not venal of such churches to need financial input; it is financial reality, but their financial reality no longer matches the financial reality of the population. Of course, not all denominations have paid clergy; mine doesn’t. And you don’t have to have a building; “house churches” are very popular.

    I am going to guess that as people take another social and economic step down, religiosity is going to increase. It is not uncommon for people who find that they have nothing worldly left, to sincerely seek God and the company of others who seek Him.

  11. Ook

    Looking at the chart of church-goers, I mentally split it into two categories: not especially participatory (attending monthly or less), versus actively participatory.
    Both categories have not changed much.
    Within the categories, people who attended “seldom” are now ready to say “never”, and people who attended “more than weekly” now more often attend weekly. I don’t see this as a fundamental shift.

    Regarding the community aspect, when I bought a home in New Jersey, in an area once heavily German, I received a very nice invitation to join the local historic Lutheran church in the mail, which made it clear that this was a place of community. So it isn’t just the deep south.

  12. chris wardell

    “The operation of the Church is entirely set up for the sinner; which creates much misunderstanding among the smug”
    Flannery O’Connor

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