Bryon Johnson argues two things about evangelicalism:
1). Evangelicals are not declining in number or losing their faith.
2). Young evangelicals are not becoming more liberal.
On the first point, Johnson writes:
…evangelicals are not as powerful a cultural force as previously thought, and in the future they will be even less so. Neither of these claims is true.
The evangelical movement is undergoing a sea change, to be sure, but it is not the sort most observers imagine. For starters, evangelicals have not lost members. This was confirmed by the Baylor Religion Survey, an in-depth study of American religious beliefs and practices using data collected by the Gallup Organization. Instead of relying on questions about religious preference alone, as previous studies have done, the survey identified respondents by religious family, denomination, and local congregation.
This last identification is significant because of the declining importance of denomination in America. Nondenominational churches, almost exclusively evangelical, now represent the second-largest group of Protestant churches in America, and the fastest growing section of the American religious market. Many denominational churches, especially newer ones, avoid advertising or communication strategies that feature their denominational affiliation. Consider Saddleback Church. All of its members know that their pastor is Rick Warren, but not all know that their congregation is Southern Baptist. Typical is Christ Community Church, near Nashville, Tennessee—a member of the Presbyterian Church of America that does not highlight this fact in Sunday services or sermons.
This trend has affected popular statistics and has also served to exaggerate the loss of religious faith and evangelical influence in America. Most previous research missed a new phenomenon: that members of nondenominational churches often identify themselves on surveys as unaffiliated or even as having “no religion.” Because traditional surveys do not provide categories that adequately describe those who attend nondenominational congregations, their members often check “unaffiliated” in typical surveys and questionnaires.
According to a recent survey by the Pew Forum, 44 percent of Americans have switched their religious or denominational affiliation. Much of the media coverage suggested that something much different had happened: that a significant portion of the American population had left the faith of their youth. But that is not what the research actually discovered. These are two vastly different stories, with profoundly different implications for American religion in general and evangelicalism in particular. Switching churches or denominations should not be interpreted as a proxy for losing one’s faith.
On the second point, Johnson writes:
Another false conclusion frequently drawn from the 2008 election is that young evangelicals are leaving the “Christian right” and becoming social liberals. Early in that election year, ABC World News ran a story titled “Are Young Evangelicals Skewing More Liberal?” The report claimed that young evangelicals were moving to the left on social issues. (The subtitle was “Observers Say Younger Christians Have Longer, Broader List of Social Concerns.”) Similarly, the conservative National Review ran “Among Evangelicals, a Transformation,” an article that drew the same conclusion. Pundits on the left seem hopeful this is true; those on the right fear it may be true. But what do the data tell us?
There is some evidence for this contention. Analyzing data from the Baylor Religion Survey, Buster Smith and I found that young evangelicals were more likely than older evangelicals to think more should be done to protect the environment (57 percent versus 43 percent) and less likely to say that the government was doing too much (52 percent versus 61 percent).
We found no statistically significant difference between younger and older evangelicals on other moral and political issues, however. Younger evangelicals were, in fact, sometimes more conservative than their elders. More of the young believed that abortion of a child conceived as the result of rape was almost always or always wrong (61 percent versus 50 percent of older respondents), and more believed that stem cell research was almost always or always wrong (61 percent versus 51 percent). Younger evangelicals were no less conservative than their elders on marijuana use (72 percent versus 73 percent thought it almost always or always wrong); on homosexual marriage (85 percent versus 83 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed); on government spending on health care (63 percent versus 61 percent thought the government was doing too little); and on the war in Iraq (39 percent versus 37 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that going to war was right).
Read the entire article here.
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