Written by Sherry
Tuesday, 26 February 2008 06:27
The Washington Times is taking a particularly bleak view of the Pew study of American religious practice that came out yesterday.
The title: "Catholic Tradition fading in the US"
The first sentence:
:"Evangelical Christianity has become the largest religious tradition in this country, supplanting Roman Catholicism, which is slowly bleeding members, according to a survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life."
I think the story really should have been titled "Mainline Protestant tradition fading in the US" - but I guess that's not a surprise anymore.
But this figure did startle me: In 1957, 66% of Americans were members of mainline Protestant churches. 50 years later, only 18% are part of mainline Protestantism. Now that's what you call a major fade!
"There is no question that the demographic balance has shifted in past few decades toward evangelical churches," said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. "They are now the mainline of American Protestantism."
The overall percentage of Catholics hasn't changed that much in recent years - but if we weren't losing so many members, we'd be growing dramatically and make up 33% of the country, not 23%!
So the real story is complicated:
In the US, religious affiliation is anything but steady state.
No single religious tradition enjoys the sort of hegemony that mainline Protestantism enjoyed 50 years ago.
Mainline Protestantism had collapsed into a death spiral.
Evangelical/Pentecostal Protestantism, which was practically a sect 50 years ago, has replaced it as the largest and most influential form of Christianity in the US.
Catholic numbers have remained relatively constant because their massive losses (1/3) have been offset by a significant number of converts and huge Hispanic immigration.
Catholic losses are supplying two groups: evangelicalism (almost 5% of US population are Catholics who have become evangelicals) and the non-practicing (5% of US population are Catholics are not affiliated with any religious tradition).
For every US evangelical/Pentecostal who becomes a Catholic (roughly 1.8 million), 8 American Catholics have gone in the other direction (roughly 14 -15 million). The 8:1 ratio.
The disproportion is even greater among Hispanics. 20% of Hispanic US Catholics become evangelicals or Pentecostals.
Those who consistently evangelize, "win" in a culture in which individuals tend to "re-choose" their religious affiliation as adults.