Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pew Forum: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released the second part of its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. It includes some interesting information that needs to be considered by Christian churches, educational institutions, and others. As a result of the release of the survey the news media has produced a number of stories reporting on the results. USA TODAY included an interesting summary of some of the survey's findings in a story titled "Survey: More have dropped dogma for spirituality in U.S." Below are select excerpts from this story that intrigued me:

"Religion today in the USA is a salad bar where people heap on upbeat beliefs they like and often leave the veggies — like strict doctrines — behind."


"Such are the key findings in latest data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 35,000 Americans. Pew released demographic data in February from the survey, conducted May through August 2007. This new installment focuses on 60 questions about participants' religious beliefs and social and political views."


"Green observes, 'Americans are deeply suspicious of institutional religion. … (Some see religion) as about money, rules and power. That's not a positive connotation for everyone.'"


"Pew Forum director Luis Lugo attributes the decline of dogmatism to living in a pluralistic society, in which friends, co-workers, even family members come from myriad faiths. The survey found 37% of couples with children were married to or living with someone from another religion or faith tradition, bringing diversity 'right down to the kitchen table,' Lugo says.

"'Americans believe in everything. It's a spiritual salad bar,' says Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay. Rather than religious leaders setting the cultural agenda, today, it's Oprah Winfrey, he says.

"'After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the national memorial service was at Washington's National Cathedral, conducted by Episcopal clergy. After the 9/11 attack, Oprah organized the official memorial service at Yankee Stadium, and while clergy participated, she was the master of ceremonies.

"'The impact of Oprah is seen throughout this survey. She uses the language of Bible and Christian traditions and yet includes other traditions to create a hodgepodge personalized faith. Exclusivism (one religion has the absolute and exclusive truth) has gotten a bad name in America today,' he says."


"'Every religious group has a major challenge on its hands from all directions,' says Lugo. When he factors in Pew's February findings that 44% of adults say they've switched to another religion or none at all, Lugo says, 'You have to wonder: How do you guarantee the integrity of a religious tradition when so many people are coming or going or following ideas that don't match up?'"


The article concludes with the comments of a Southern Baptist leader who makes dogmatic assertions about the results of the survey which unfortunately involves no attempt to interact with the cultural shifts described in the report:

"The Rev. Frank Page of Taylors, S.C., past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, is not surprised by the Pew findings. 'The number (of churches that) teach a clear doctrinal Christianity are a minority today. How would people know it when they never hear about how to be saved?'

"Still, Page is undaunted. 'Jesus predicted all this,' he says, quoting from the Bible (Matthew 15:8): 'People honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.'

'We still work as hard as we can to share the good news,' he says, 'even though we know most will reject the way.'


The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey provides a reminder to Christians (perhaps brand new information to some segments of the subculture) that the nation has shifted to a post-Christendom environment.

No comments: