Pop culture would have us believe that faith in God among Americans is all but exhausted. Recently, the press, politicians, and pundits pounced on a quote at The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life under the title “The Decline of Institutional Religion.” It said the fastest-growing “religious” group in America is those who say they have “no religion.” They went on to suggest that those who say they have no religion have grown from 8% in 1990 to 20% in 2012.
Such nonsense information can easily confirm any bias. Not unlike the secularization of Western Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many are rooting for America to loose its “naivety” about God, creation, and absolute truth. There is, they say, no creator God who provides guidance to His creation. Using liberal reasoning, all laws, morals or mores are brought about by popular vote—think same sex marriage, banned public prayer, and abortion. If you can get enough people to vote for it, anything is fair game. There is no absolute truth; truth is what we want it to be.
In my view, not only is faith in America not dead, it’s on the verge of an enormous renewal. Christians have been naïve about surrendering the debate over faith as the founding genius of America. Even so, world events of the last year are awakening faith in the heart of America.
What Pew misses about faith in America is this: National surveys will tell you that over the past few years church membership has been stable at about 70%. Those who interpret surveys as saying more Americans have “no religion” miss the point. The truth is that the American church scene has become dramatically less sectarian–millions of Americans move freely from one denomination to another. They are far less likely to label themselves as a Methodist, Presbyterian, or Baptist. Many evangelicals have come to see the word “religion” as an almost pagan word and hate the idea of being labeled as religious. They are far more likely to say they are “unaffiliated,” simply “Christian,” or “a person of faith.” Pew neglected to clarify this vital point. As a result, when you ask an evangelical Christian if he or she is religious or tied to a specific denomination, they are likely to say no.
Ironically, Gallup first asked about belief in God in 1944, and 4% said they did not believe in God. In 2012, the number of self-labeled atheists was still about 4%.
As a publisher, it occurs to me that 70% of American consumers—most of those who walk through Walmart, Target, Barnes & Noble, or Kroger and Walgreens, are church-going Americans of great faith. They’re everywhere—and have a vibrant voice!