Amanda Marcotte at Salon explains why America’s losing its religion. “Church membership is in a freefall, and the Christian right has only themselves to blame.” And “fewer than half of Americans now belong to a church, and the trend of pew abandonment isn’t slowing down.”
What’s fascinating to me is the acceleration in the unchurched. “In 1937, 73% of Americans belong to a church. And in 1975, it was 71%. In 1999, it was 70%. But since then, the church membership rate has fallen by a whopping 23 percentage points.” Why is that?
Marcotte notes, “The drop in religious affiliation starts right around the time George W. Bush was elected president, publicly and dramatically associating himself with the white evangelical movement. The early Aughts saw the rise of megachurches with flashily dressed ministers who appeared more interested in money and sermonizing about people’s sex lives than modeling values of charity and humility.”
“Not only were these religious figures and the institutions they led hyper-political, but the outward mission also seemed to be almost exclusively in service of oppressing others. The religious right isn’t nearly as interested in feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless as much as using religion as an all-purpose excuse to abuse women and LGBTQ people.” And that was before 45.
The conclusion: “Christian leaders, driven by their hunger for power and cultural dominance, become so grasping and hypocritical that it backfires and they lose their cultural relevance.”
The Atlantic had noted an increase in the religious non-affiliated earlier. “By the early 2000s, the share of Americans who said they didn’t associate with any established religion (also known as ‘nones’) had doubled. By the 2010s, this grab bag of atheists, agnostics, and spiritual dabblers had tripled in size.”
But the atheists are only about 5% of the total population by most measures, suggesting many people consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.”
The Black Church
The recent PBS series The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, the four-hour series from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., touches on this. Henry Louis Gates Jr. notes “The [black] church is the oldest, the most continuous and most important institution ever created by the African American people. In the final hour, in particular, the push-and-pull between social justice and the Gospels was examined.
Jeffrey Brown, interviewing Gates, notes that “as many young people move away from organized religion and protesters again demand justice, the church faces a new challenge of relevance and vitality.
“There was a very moving moment in there to me when Reverend Traci Blackmon is telling [Gates] about going into the streets in Ferguson during the protests, and she talks about holding a prayer vigil. And she says that, halfway through, some of the young people said, ‘That’s enough praying.'”
Of course, Black People in America are not a demographic monolith. The Pew Forum has scads of information about the intersection of race, religion, and justice. Some of a higher economic class may gravitate towards a megachurch, such as the one T.D. Jakes runs in Houston. Others may cheer on William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign. I relate more to the latter.
Per this link, Black Americans “tend to think [black] churches have declined in influence over the years,” but feel they “should have a greater role today than they do.”
As they say, “God” – or how you experience a higher power if at all – “is in the details.”