- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2019

The number of Americans who identify as Christian has fallen by 13 million over the last 10 years while those who are not affiliated with any religion grew by 30 million, according to polling data from the Pew Research Center.

The survey’s results, released Thursday, show that 65% of American adults (about 167 million) describe themselves as Christian, down from 77% a decade ago. Meanwhile, 26% (about 67 million) describe themselves as religious “nones” (atheists, agnostics and nonaffiliated), up from 17% in 2009.

While the pollsters didn’t suggest a cause for the decline, the data confirms that self-identified Protestants and Catholics, as a share of the U.S. population, are on a downward trend: 43% of U.S. adults (about 110 million) identified themselves as Protestant, down from 51% in 2009. And 20% (about 51 million) identified as Catholic, down from 23% a decade ago.

At the same time, the percentage of atheists has doubled to 4% since 2007.

“The data shows that just like rates of religious affiliation, rates of religious attendance are declining,” wrote the pollsters, led by Gregory A. Smith, Pew’s associate director of research.

The religious trends also impact the political landscape: “Religious ‘nones’ are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions,” the Pew report states.

In 2007, 72% of Democrats described themselves as Christian; that portion has fallen to 55%. Today, roughly a third of Democrats most closely align with religious “nones.” Today, nearly 80% of Republicans identify as Christian, down from 87%.

The biggest movement, however, might be among white Democrats, as the data suggests church attendance still high among minority Democrats. While fewer than 30% of white Democrats say they attend religious services monthly, that number is more than double for black Democrats (61%).

For the first time, fewer than half of Hispanics described themselves as Catholic (47%), down from 57% 10 years ago. And millennials (1 in 10) are much likely than baby boomers (6 in 100) or older Americans (4 in 100) to describe themselves as belonging to a non-Christian faith.

The data was collected from a telephone survey conducted by Pew in 2018 and 2019.

The survey also suggests non-Christian faiths are gaining a foothold among more Americans, if still marginally as a percentage of the population. The proportion of Jewish Americans has held steady (2%), while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each account for 1% of the population. Three percent of Americans identify with other faiths or describe themselves as “spiritual.”

A spokeswoman for Pew said the data doesn’t shed light on causes in the rise of “nones,” but clerical abuse scandals that have shaken mainline Christian faiths, such as the Catholic church or the Southern Baptist Conference, are often pointed to by observers of such data. But the data doesn’t directly point this out.

The share of American Protestants calling themselves “born again” or “evangelical” rose by 3%, perhaps reflecting the loss of Protestants not claiming either one of those identifiers.

While the impact of growing disaffiliation with religion in America is not known, a new study from the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy released Thursday suggests that while attendance in pews declines, giving is up.

Nearly half of the 1,200 congregations surveyed — including churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship — say revenue from participants has increased.

A report from GivingUSA earlier this year said that Americans involved in some worship practice were more likely to give to charity than those who weren’t involved in any practice.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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