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Ethics & Religion
July 12, 2017
Column #1,872
The Church in a Post-Christian Era
By Mike McManus

What is the percentage of people in your area who are not active Christians?

The Barna polling group has a list of cities that are "Post-Christian," where most people don't believe in God, or have not attended a Christian church in the last six months, or read the Bible in the last week, or donated money to a church in the last year, or feel that faith is important in their lives.

Some of these cities may come as a surprise. New England and the Northeast - which were the home of religion in America - are the most "Post-Christian" areas of the country - worse than San Francisco.

According to Barna, in Portland-Auburn, Maine 57% of the population are non-believers, and in Boston, Albany-Schenectady, Providence, Hartford-New Haven and New York 51% to 56% of the public are "Post-Christian." San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle and Buffalo tie at 50%.

Southern cities are still predominantly Christian. For example, only 12% of Shreveport, LA are non-believers. In Jackson, MS, Memphis, Chattanooga, Asheville, Lexington, KY, Birmingham and Charlotte - fully 80% to 82% are active Christians.

Three-quarters are believers in 15 cities such as Louisville, Baton Rouge, Charleston, WV, Tulsa, Knoxville, Roanoke, Columbia, SC, New Orleans, Springfield, MO, Savannah, and Greensboro.

However, there are 44 cities where 40% to 49% are non-believers. Some are unsurprising - Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego. But non-Christians are nearly half of such cities as Rochester, Fort Meyers, Chicago, Metro Washington, Cedar Rapids, Flint, Pittsburgh, Denver, Detroit, Baltimore, Austin and Tampa.

Galen Carey, Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals, is not alarmed by these numbers: "There are only seven cities out of 100 where the majority of the population is post-Christian. Much of the change in religious demographics is a decline of nominal Christianity. People no longer feel they have to pretend to be Christian. We don't see a hollowing out of the Christian population."

For decades, Gallup reported that nearly two-thirds of Americans were members of a church or synagogue - 68% in 2000 and 63% in 2009. But they fell to only 59% in 2013. Gallup reported that 40% of the public attended church in a recent week in 2009, but that slipped to only 37% in 2013.

However, that's vastly better than Great Britain where only 1% attend church in a week!

Pew, another polling group, reported that the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as Christians dropped eight points from 78% to 70% between 2007 and 2014.

Allen Cooperman, Pew director, observed, "It's remarkably widespread. The country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it is happening across the board."

Not quite. True, the percentage identifying themselves as Catholics dropped 3% and Mainline Protestants fell by 3.4%. But Evangelical Protestants grew by more than 2 million, rising from 59.8 million in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014, while Mainline Protestants - Episcopalians, United Methodists, Presbyterians - lost 5 million.

However, in just one year, 2015, a third of the Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of New York - 112 parishes - closed or merged with a nearby church. Since 1996, a third of all Catholic churches in America shuttered their doors.

A major reason for the closing of so many Catholic churches is the extreme shortage of priests. The number has fallen from 57,300 in 1985 to only 39,000 in 2014. Only 800 resigned due to the sex scandals involving priests. Some 20,000 quit to marry! The biggest problem is that only 500 men are ordained as priests a year - far fewer than those resigning, retiring or dying.

However, what has grown most rapidly are the religiously unaffiliated, who skyrocketed by 19 million people in only seven years, jumping from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population. There are now 56 million atheists, agnostics and those with no religious affiliation.

What are the solutions? Clearly, the Catholic Church needs to make celibacy optional for its priests. There are 17,800 Catholic permanent deacons, who perform many priestly tasks, such as baptizing, distributing Communion, presiding at funerals and even preaching. Most are married and would happily become full-fledged priests - if married priests were allowed.

Another solution is that evangelical denominations are being formed out of Mainline Protestants who embraced same-sex marriage. For example the Episcopal Church has fallen from 3.4 million members to 1.7 million. However, 112,000 Episcopalians who left have created the conservative Anglican Church of North America.

Similarly, two conservative denominations have been formed from the liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - such as the Presbyterian Church in America with 341,000 members.

Some churches should die. Vibrant ones will grow.

___________________________________
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous columns go to  www.ethicsandreligion.org. Hit Search for any topic.

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