In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14 percent).
This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.
These findings represent a continuation of long-term trends.
The religiously unaffiliated population is less convinced that religious institutions help protect morality; just half say this, considerably lower than the share of the general public that views churches and other religious organizations as defenders of morality. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.
CMA VP for Government Relations Jonathan Imbody: “I've prepared an analysis of and strategies to respond to this poll's findings, which represent a wake-up call to Christians nationwide. We must not, however, conclude on the basis of this poll that Christians should get out of public policy.
"First, many of those who disapprove of advancing Christian values through public policy--regarding homosexuality, abortion and premarital sex, for example--will naturally want Christians to get out of politics, so they themselves can prevail politically. Christian involvement in politics for such people is not somehow preventing them from embracing Christ; it is preventing them from pursuing their own ideological political agenda and personal values.
"Second, if Christians were to leave public policy to those who do not share our faith values on the sanctity of life, defending the defenseless and caring for the poor, what kind of laws and policies do you think would result?
"Imagine where this nation would be today without the historical and continuing political influence of the faith community on issues such as slavery, abortion, civil rights, assisted suicide and religious liberty.
"The first two chapters of the book of Romans teach us that when people defy God as revealed in nature and in their consciences, by making evil choices counter to God's principles, they end up with a depraved mind and a hardened heart. Consider that the reverse is also true: When individuals act in accordance with God's revelation through nature and their consciences, by making good choices consistent with His principles, they maintain an open mind and a softened heart toward God. They also experience God's principles working in their lives, which can lead them to embrace His fuller revelation through Scripture and the Good News of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
"Therefore, when followers of Christ help individuals (through relationships and counseling) and our society (through public policy) to make choices consistent with God's principles, we are actually participating in evangelism. We Christians participate in public policy--by voting, advocating politically and voicing views in the public square--not because we think that laws consistent with Christian principles will save people spiritually, but because we realize that such laws can help keep minds and hearts headed in God's direction, to the One who can save."
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View or download "Faith at crossroads," a CMA PowerPoint analysis of and strategies related to the Pew poll survey