Tag Archives: religiosity

Why They’re Leaving The Church

Christianity in America has been losing adherents, and the loss has become too pronounced to ignore. Reaction to that loss has been one of the more obvious motivators of White Christian Nationalists’ prolonged tantrum.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the media was filled with reports that–while “mainstream” Christian churches were losing ground–that loss was offset by the growth of Evangelical “mega churches.” Today, the reports are that those Evangelical churches are also in decline.

The question, of course, is why.

A Guardian  article a while back addressed the phenomenon, and the purported reasons for it

Churches are closing at rapid numbers in the US, researchers say, as congregations dwindle across the country and a younger generation of Americans abandon Christianity altogether – even as faith continues to dominate American politics.

As the US adjusts to an increasingly non-religious population, thousands of churches are closing each year in the country – a figure that experts believe may have accelerated since the Covid-19 pandemic.

About 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, the last year data is available, with about 3,000 new churches opening, according to Lifeway Research. It was the first time the number of churches in the US hadn’t grown since the evangelical firm started studying the topic. With the pandemic speeding up a broader trend of Americans turning away from Christianity, researchers say the closures will only have accelerated.

The report noted that a large number of churches are being “repurposed” into cafes, museums and shops, reminding me of my last trip to visit my son in Amsterdam, where  repurposed Churches seemed to be on every corner.

Here in the U.S. the pandemic has come in for a good deal of blame: researchers note that when people break the habit of Sunday church attendance, it requires  some significant effort to get them back.

But a more likely diagnosis is the decreasing religiosity of the American population.

But while Covid-19 may have accelerated the decline, there is a broader, long-running trend of people moving away from religion. In 2017 Lifeway surveyed young adults aged between 18 and 22 who had attended church regularly, for at least a year during high school. The firm found that seven out of 10 had stopped attending church regularly.

As the article noted, some of the reasons were logistical–prompted by people moving away for college or starting jobs which made it difficult to attend church. But–as the research also found–other reasons were more philosophical. When researchers asked why they had broken with their churches, one  of the top answers was that the respondent saw church members as judgmental and hypocritical.

About a quarter of the young adults who dropped out of church said they disagreed with their church’s stance on political and social issues.

A study by Pew Research found that the number of Americans who identified as Christian was 64% in 2020, with 30% of the US population being classed as “religiously unaffiliated”. About 6% of Americans identified with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

“Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of US adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’,” Pew wrote.

“This accelerating trend is reshaping the US religious landscape.”

In 1972 92% of Americans said they were Christian, Pew reported, but by 2070 that number will drop to below 50% – and the number of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans – or ‘nones’ will probably outnumber those adhering to Christianity.

Scholars of religion quoted in the article noted that the move away from religion occurred much earlier in other countries.

“Canada, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, the nones rise much earlier, the wake of the 1960s the baby boom generation, this kind of big, growing separation of kind of traditional Christian moral morality,” Bullivant said.

“What happens in America that I think dampens down the rise of the nones is the cold war. Because in America, unlike in Britain, there’s a very explicit kind of ‘Christian America’ versus godless communism framing, and to be non-religious is to be un-American.

That belief–that one must be religious–or actually, White and  Christian–in order to be a “true” American permeates the current White Christian Nationalist movement. Rage at the decline of that (ahistorical) insistence is fueling what I’ve characterized as a “tantrum,” leading to periodic eruptions of violence like that of the January 6th insurrection, which was striking for its numerous displays of Christian imagery.

A few days ago, a commenter to this blog noted that animals are most vicious when cornered, and that much of the rage we are seeing is triggered by similar perceptions of growing irrelevance. I think it’s a valid analogy.

The question is, how long does it take to tame that rabid animal?



Theocrats At HHS

Readers from Indiana will understand why I found this recent Politico headline chilling: “How Mike Pence’s Mafia Took Over Health Care Policy.”

Pence, of course, could care less about health care, or policy of any sort that doesn’t advance his Christianist agenda. And he “serves” (or is that word “serviles”?) a President who has no discernible interest in any policy–or anything other than his own self-aggrandizement. So the fact that Pence has installed his preferred people at Health and Human Services tells us that health policy will be made on the basis of ideology, not science or evidence.

Behind the scenes, Pence has developed his own sphere of influence in an agency lower on Trump’s radar: Health and Human Services. It’s also the agency with the ability to fulfill the policy goal most closely associated with Pence over his nearly 20 year career in electoral politics: de-funding Planned Parenthood.

Numerous top leaders of the department — including Secretary Alex Azar, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Medicaid/Medicare chief Seema Verma — have ties to Pence and Indiana. Other senior officials include Pence’s former legislative director from his days as governor and former domestic policy adviser at the White House.

“He has clearly recruited people connected to him who share his very extreme views on sexual and reproductive health care,” said Emily Stewart, the vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood. “This has been one of the most active administrations ever on rolling back reproductive rights and there’s no way that happens unless you have people in the White House driving the effort to put out policies at such a rapid clip.”

Before the courts intervened, HHS was getting ready to implement rewritten federal policies to curb abortion and–Pence’s wet dream– cut funding to Planned Parenthood. The new regulations would also have tightened the conditions under which Title X federal family planning grants are awarded, ensuring that clinics wouldn’t even be able to refer women to entirely separate abortion providers.

And in a nod to Pence’s longterm efforts to privilege religious bigotry, the agency this month boosted “religious conscience protections” for providers who refuse to perform certain medical services, including abortion, citing religious or moral objections.

The changes to Title X are the culmination of a battle Pence waged first as a member of Congress, then as governor and now in the White House. The Title X rules, which force providers of federally funded family-planning programs to separate themselves from abortion providers, are aimed squarely at Planned Parenthood, which relies heavily on such funding. The Title X changes don’t cut off Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood — although cutting off that big pot of money is on the GOP wish list as well.

Pence has installed a number of people at HHS who were part of his Indiana administration. As White House staff members have confirmed, from the very outset of the Trump administration, Pence had carte blanche to identify nominees he preferred  “particularly in roles Trump didn’t really care about,” as one GOP operative put it.

Even somewhat smaller projects appear to bear the vice president’s ideological imprint — for example, a recent HHS decision to grant South Carolina a waiver that allows foster care providers to reject potential families who have different religious beliefs.

These conservative and religious views have played into the administration’s foreign as well as domestic policy. Internationally, Trump and Pence have gone beyond even other Republican administrations in curbing access to abortion and contraception by expanding the so-called Mexico City policy barring U.S. foreign aid to groups that promote or provide abortion.

Trump is fixated on himself. Pence is fixated on imposing his peculiar version of Christianity  on America.

Neither they nor any of the criminals and incompetents they’ve installed as cabinet members and White House staffers care anything at all about We the People, the Constitution, or the Rule of Law.

If we don’t evict the whole crew in 2020, there may not be any going back.