A Different Kind Of ‘Great Awakening’?

Religion News recently headlined the closing of every one of Lifeway Christian Resources brick and mortar stores.There are 170 of them. They will go entirely online.

The digital shift comes amid declining customer traffic and sales, according to LifeWay.

And it follows the closure of other major Christian retailers, such as the United Methodist Church’s Cokesbury stores, which closed in 2012, and Family Christian Stores, which closed its stores in 2017. At the time, Family Christian was considered the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise.

LifeWay had acquired another chain, Berean Christian Stores, in 2013.

LifeWay adhered to a fundamentalist Christian approach, and dropped several popular authors’ books  over ideological differences. It banned author Jen Hatmaker’s books after she expressed support for LGBTQ Christians, and it threatened pastor author Eugene Peterson when it appeared that he was going to officiate a same-sex marriage. It also dropped Rachel Held Evans’ book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” in 2012 after a similar dispute over the book’s content.

In other words, its approach to Christianity had a lot in common with Mike Pence’s.

Fortunately, it’s an approach–and a religiosity– that is rapidly diminishing.

A number of recent polls have documented a significant reduction in the number of Americans who are religiously affiliated; so-called “nones” are now 35% of the population. Among younger Americans, the percentage is greater.

For Millennials and even GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all. The Nones claim 44% of the 18–29 age group, and nearly that (43%) among those who are 30–44.

This is more than twice their market share among Americans older than 65, just 21% of whom say they are atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. However, even that 21% is a five-point rise from where the over-65 group was in 2015, when just 16% identified themselves this way.

Other findings: Barely a third of Americans believe it’s important for married couples to share the same religious affiliation (36%), but majorities do believe that couples should share the same social values (76%) or feelings about children (81%). And it will come as no surprise to learn that Republicans are much more religious than Democrats.

In school, most of us learned about the Great Awakenings of early U.S. history. (Great Awakenings were a series of religious revivals in the then-British colonies and the early days of the country during the 17th and 18th Centuries.) These were episodes of religious fervor that swept through the country before eventually abating. A number of religion scholars have also dubbed the late 20th Century rise of Christian fundamentalism from which we seem finally to  be emerging as a latter-day “Great Awakening.”

America has been fertile ground for these periods of excessive and ostentatious piety, and a number of sociologists have attributed the outlier religiosity of the U.S–we are far more religious than other Western democratic countries– to the personal insecurities that characterize societies with an inadequate social safety net. (Scholars have documented a significant correlation between personal insecurity and religiosity.)

Since our social safety net hasn’t improved, I don’t know how they might explain the current declines in religious affiliation. I personally attribute it to  the excesses of judgmentalism and appalling lack of humanity displayed by the Christian Taliban. The religious right makes religion look pretty repellent.

Whatever the cause, if I were choosing nomenclature, I’d save the label “Great Awakening.” for the current rise of the “nones.”


  1. You should read Tim Carney’s book “Alienated America”. Churches are the social safety net and primary means of engagement and charity. In the Republican primaries, it was those that don’t attend church regularly that gave us Trump.

  2. Almost any store that is not online will face certain closure. The real problem is that half of all sales online are related to Amazon. But keeping things in perspective online is still very small of overall sales.
    Churches are more likely to preach salvation and “family values” and less likely to preach without tolerance or love. It becomes a problem as society is not just tolerating but embracing LGBTQ values throughout. The film industry even though LGBTQ is one percent of society has introduced segments of movies or themes interwoven with these values. Note two movies “What Women Want” vs What Men Want”. The Great Awakening may be more densitizing or acceptance of certain values in religious circles as noted.
    It’s become important to the majority of Christians to lead people to a one on one relationship with Christ than exercise public policy.

  3. Harper Collins Christian Publishing is alive and well and the Christian Living section of Barnes and Noble occupies significant space in literature sales. The Bible in it’s various editions is available along with binded editions of other world religion scriptures. American readers want choices in the market place, not just one way of thought or a particular faith under one roof unless it is a choice of place of worship. Our church has a bookstore very well managed and attractively presented open on Sundays and always busy. Positive relations among loving, caring, serving people happens sans polity and corrupt power of political and religious jealousy.

  4. Church is the cause of so much pain and fear and hate. These Church folks throw their gay kids away because they believe in dogma more than they believe in their family. Sad & stupid. A LARGE % of the homeless children are gay kids that made the mistake of thinking their churchy family would care for them. Sadly, they were wrong. Theaw kids are on the streets – trying to survive – on their own.
    It is good news that the young people are turning away from such nonsense. That gives me hope.

  5. I note that “Christians” on the blog this morning are trying to distance themselves from the “Christians” who helped put Trump in the White House and at the same time preach that they have the answer, namely for “Christians” to lead the rest of us to their religion.


  6. Your blog contains an error. You state, “And it will come as no surprise to learn that Republicans are much more religious than Democrats.” … but I think it is more accurate to say: “And it will come as no surprise to learn that Republicans CLAIM TO BE much more religious than Democrats.”

  7. This, in a nutshell, is what has driven so many of us away from church…….”the excesses of judgmentalism and appalling lack of humanity displayed by the Christian Taliban”.

    At the age of 56 my Mothers Day gift to myself was to stop going to church. I had been considering it for quite some time, but finally became so fed up with the judgmentalism and appalling lack of humanity that I decided I could no longer be around those people on Sunday mornings.

    I haven’t regretted leaving organized religion one bit. It actually gave me a sense of freedom.

  8. Here in rural Indiana the churches have not been a source of a social safety net for my entire life – over 60 years. All they do is collect money to send missionaries to far away foreign countries to gather more souls for Christianity. Or, they ask for donations for those who want to go on mission trips so that those people can feel like they are doing something good. They don’t care about those who are suffering right under their noses. I cannot speak for churches in larger metropolitan areas, but this is how it is in rural Indiana churches.

  9. Theresa, Tim Carney writes about non-Christian “church” communities being a source of social strength.

  10. It is not only religious stores that are disappearing, often forcing on-line shopping, where are the book store chains and “stationery” stores which provided office supplies and many legal forms for convenience? Religious outlets appear to be a one-of-a-kind business; we don’t have historical book stores, romance, biographical, horror, children’s book stores….well, you get my message. The book store chains had religious sections yet religions separated themselves from the general supply of books with their own outlets as well as from other religous denominations.

    Reminds me of what I was told by a friend, a former Catholic, that the reason Catholic children were not allowed to be friendly with other neighborhood children was to prevent our evil from rubbing off on their children. Religions are more separatist in nature today, but so far less violent, than in history. They are becoming more aligned with political beliefs, which they believe are Biblical beliefs, as they reap benefits from our tax dollars but have all but ceased in neighborhood outreach to help the needy surrounding their tax exempt structures. Were those religious book stores considered religious property and thus tax exempt? Will their on-line access be tax exempt?

    Theresa; I fully agree with your comments about the separation on the blog. We have talked before about the sad fact that those who helped elect Trump separated themselves from us; we were willing to accept them, and agree to disagree, but haven’t been given that opportunity.

    Sheila sums it up well with this statement:
    “Since our social safety net hasn’t improved, I don’t know how they might explain the current declines in religious affiliation. I personally attribute it to the excesses of judgmentalism and appalling lack of humanity displayed by the Christian Taliban. The religious right makes religion look pretty repellent.”

  11. Norris Lineweaver,

    It sounds like you have found one of the rare churches that truly tries to exemplify Jesus’ teachings.

  12. Most practitioners of religion leave no room for doubt. Worshipers are expected to believe everything they are told to believe in a Bible full of contradictions. During one of his homilies, our priest told the congregation that he sometimes feels the need to cross his fingers behind his back as he recites the Nicene Creed. That made me feel pretty good about my church. I’m not sure how much of the myth I believe, but I am able to follow someone who preached love and forgiveness. It’s not the Commandments that I follow, so much as the Beatitudes. They are the heart of what Christianity should be about.

  13. We are in the midst of a cultural revolution, one of shifting values and beliefs in which the young are no longer fearful of terms such as socialism nor of the old taboos such as those medieval monks have laid on us in re homosexuality, abortion, going to hell etc., and we can thank the Falwells, Robertsons and Trumps of this world for speeding up the process. The Falwells and Robertsons have shown us what the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne looks like, and we are rightly rejecting such top down rigidity by religious dictators. The Great Awakening is being supplanted by another (but not made in Florence) Great Enlightenment which is occurring before our very eyes as cultural values are shifting rapidly of late, whether we recognize it or not.

    I understand, for instance, that the first black woman elected mayor of Chicago yesterday is a lesbian, and of course Mayor Pete is a gay man with a real shot at the big enchilada. This suggests that (primarily) the young are more interested in whether candidates can do the job and have a vision of how the job is to be done irrespective of such candidates’ being who they are, whether black, gay, gender specific erc., a view I share.

    Charlemagne (Charles the Great) required papal consent before he could become emperor of the so-called Holy Roman Empire. Some historians say he was illiterate, and if so, it appears that the Falwells and Robertsons as a modern day personification of the pope have not only consented but have been actively engaged in installing another illiterate in the Oval Office.

    Jesus Christ was a great philosopher who gave us eternal truths. We should follow such basic ideas as guides for living free of the interpretations of medieval monks and their modern day counterparts such as the Falwells, Robertsons and others.

  14. In the book of Daniel a 70 week time period was laid out for Jewish scholars to see a clear timeline of their anticipated Messiah to come. It wasn’t the message of hope they wanted, one religious organization rejected a man who historically was noted to heal and give a message of personal redemption. Many may hear it, some may even study it, even Stalin, but whether one practices it and exemplifies the fruit of the Spirit (he also promised) is dependent on whether they want to put their belief into action.
    Organizations of all types have their pitfalls, rules and intolerances that may drive us away. Many house churches throughout the world which are independent are a better fit and allow more voice for those seeking to be independent from an overarching organization.
    It’s about hope for so many with personal trials.
    There are many religious organizations with varying political views and “believers” that have varying views on society.
    The last thing my brother in law did, a strong Democrat, was to play keyboard for an outreach church.

  15. “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
    ― Marcus Aurelius – Marcus Aurelius, called the Philosopher, was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180.
    My working career was spent mainly in Property-Liability Insurance. Thus, I had to have some knowledge of the actual policy. It seems simple enough you have a fire, you expect the policy to pay you for the damage. The policy itself has an insuring agreement, conditions, definitions and exclusions, that will determine if we will pay for the claim as determined by the claim adjuster.

    The bible promises a pay off also, such as heaven, paradise, etc. The problem is the bible is full of rules (exclusions). What not to eat, a death penalty for certain sins, etc. , and of course Hell in the afterlife.

    Depending upon the church itself, the pope, minister, etc., set themselves as the “spiritual claims adjuster”. These people determine which part of the bible they will obey and which parts they will ignore. Those that defy the authoritarian leadership can be excommunicated, and even shunned by their own family and friends.

  16. Perhaps churches and mega wealthy preachers left us. Just like international mega corporations and extreme politics.

    Plants overgrow and at some point need to be started over.

  17. If we are stuck with terminology for our era that must begin with the letter A, I submit “THE GREAT ADUMBRATIONING”.

    I saw The Great Adumbrationing coming long before I had encountered the word “adumbrate”. I’m talking back in the 1940s, while I was first exposed to social studies in elementary school. I am not saying I found portents of Adumbrationing in school; I found its foreshadowing in the mechanics garages and grain elevators and the barbershops. There, working men and farmers, so many descendants of the Irish/Scotch fight-first culture, spoke in angry tones of how intellectuals like Neville Chamberlain, Dean Acheson, David K. Bruce, William Clayton, James Forrestal, W. Averell Harriman, Robert Lovett, John J. McCloy, Paul Nitze, Robert Patterson, Adlai Stevenson and others were some sort of terrible threat to family and country.

    Those discussions, overheard while I got a Coke and a bag of peanuts or helped tie bags of grain for my father, always left me feeling pressure to dismiss the lessons being taught at school. And in the rare instances in which the men directed comments my way, I knew precisely what they wanted me to think — that worldly knowledge outside of what is needed for assembly line or corn row was a great evil, dangerous even to merely sample.

    So it is that I find something false and troubling in present day critiques of politics and social system weaknesses. Not that thinking people are finding animosity for intellectuals but that we are so often assigning blame and beginnings to 21st century causes.

    To realize the full strength of opposition to education, we must understand its historical depth. It is not a fad or a movement. It is much more of a permanent obstacle with its foundation more set in our glands and guts than in our brains.

    Good luck on finding a solution to the problem.

  18. Larry Kaiser: well put. Humanity is way, way ahead of almost all individual humans in what each knows and that lead is growing exponentially. With such diversity in knowledge the few can quite easily lead the many for good or evil.

    What future does that portend?

  19. I have been an avid reader of local obits for years. Two things related to this discussion jump out at me: (1) A huge majority of those dying now (mostly 70-90) were very active in their churches for most of their lives, and (2) Perhaps, most importantly, a huge majority say that in lieu of flowers, send money to their church.

    In the years to come, the current trends are likely to cause a crisis in many smaller congregations.

  20. “A number of religion scholars have also dubbed the late 20th Century rise of Christian fundamentalism from which we seem finally to be emerging as a latter-day ‘Great Awakening.’”

    I’d call it the “Great Distorting,” though that actually began centuries earlier. Constantine and his pals knew that fearful and shameful people were easier to control, so they swapped out Jesus’ message of love, acceptance and forgiveness freely given for bs like Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement. Art swung away from lambs frolicking in sunkissed meadows to dark, jagged crosses with a bleeding and lacerated guy nailed to it. The new theology was, “This perfect and wonderful white man was tortured for you! It’s your fault!” Boom. Guilt and shame lived happily ever after in the now easily malleable Christian psyche.

    Today’s pseudo Christian leaders like Falwell, Dobson, Graham, Jeffress and their ilk have perfected what Constantine and the boys began at the Council of Nicea.

    (I’m recovering, retired clergy.)

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