- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2012

Culture Challenge of the Week: Reaching the Nonreligious

A recent Gallup poll highlights what many political insiders know intuitively: The cultural divide between religious and nonreligious Americans plays out at the ballot box.

Two-thirds of Americans describe themselves as “somewhat” or “very” religious, while one-third say they are “nonreligious.” According to Gallup, each of the presidential candidates, Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama, benefits from a core group of supporters defined by their religious perspectives.

Mr. Obama commands strong support among white Americans who describe themselves as nonreligious — 54 percent to 38 percent for Mr. Romney — while Mr. Romney’s followers are decidedly religious. Sixty-two percent of moderately or strongly religious voters support Mr. Romney, while just 29 percent are fans of Mr. Obama.

Religious Americans understand the stakes in this election because we have felt the consequences of the most anti-religion presidency of our time. Mr. Obama has gutted the work begun by President George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (renamed under Mr. Obama as the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships).

His administration argued in the Supreme Court against the right of religious organizations to set religious hiring criteria for ministerial employees — and thankfully got slapped down, 9-0, by the Supreme Court. His administration also has refused to allow continuation grants for successful Catholic programs to aid the victims of human trafficking — because those programs will not promote abortion.

And his Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, claims to be “respecting religious beliefs” even while compelling faith-based employers, with few exceptions, to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization and emergency contraception.

The list of attacks against religious freedom by this administration is long.

How to Save Your Family: Live and Share Your Beliefs

Amid this cultural divide comes the news that membership in Islam and Mormonism grew dramatically in the past 10 years — 66.7 percent growth for Muslims and 45.5 percent growth for Mormons — and evangelical Christianity grew moderately, with 12.3 percent growth in metropolitan areas.

These religions, according to one expert, appeal to seekers because “[t]here’s something about strictness, a call to commitment, to people ready-made for conversions.” The coherence of Christianity, lived with conviction, is compelling.

Mainline Protestant religions and Catholicism showed a decline in membership, however. I’m not surprised. Catholics supported Mr. Obama in the last election and, in spite of their hierarchy’s strong stands on moral issues, generally hew to the liberal Democratic line. As mainline Protestant congregations have jettisoned traditional morality in favor of Hollywood morality, one can’t help but wonder why anyone would join. A person might as well be secular or unattached.

In fact, an increasing number of people are. The numbers show that roughly half of all Americans are unaffiliated with any religious denomination. That doesn’t mean they are all secularists — far from it. But they are disconnected and, in many respects, disaffected.

While Christianity is still the largest religion in the country — and Christian values still guide much of what is good in our institutions — the challenge is set before us: Who will win the hearts of the growing numbers of unaffiliated Americans, particularly young people? Will they be won over to the forces of secularism and anti-religion? Or will believers reach out and communicate to our fellow Americans the values that undergird the freedom our country has so long enjoyed?

The question is not just a religious one. Its implications carry over into the political and civic spheres as well. James Dobson, founder and host of “FamilyTalk,” reminded Americans recently that faith is a necessary underpinning for our country’s freedom. He quotes former President Reagan as saying, “‘If we ever forget that we are ‘one nation under God,’ then we will be a nation gone under.’”

Let’s not only live our convictions, let’s share them convincingly. This election — and our nation’s future — may depend on our willingness to do so.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.

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