Christianity from the Margins
A recent article in the New York Times announced the continuing decline in the number of individuals who self-identify as Protestants, conservative evangelicals, and “born again” Protestants. The writer reports that the latest Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life found that fewer than half said they were “Protestant,” which reflects a steep decline from forty years ago when Protestant churches “claimed the loyalty of more than two-thirds of the U.S. population.”(1)
Perhaps more ominously, the study suggests that when these individuals leave they do not simply switch churches, but are actually joining the growing ranks of those who do not identify with any particular religion, ironically referred to as “the nones.” More than any other demographic group, those aged 18-22 years old make up more than one-third of these ‘nones.’ They are as religiously unaffiliated as the older generations were affiliated.
Of course, many theories are offered to explain this phenomenon.(2) One theory suggests that younger adults grew disillusioned with organized religion when religion began to be associated with more conservative politics. Another theory offers that the shift reflects a broader trend away from social and community involvement. The most prominent theory suggests that this is simply one more sign of the growing secularization seen in most developed countries.
While these studies are fascinating and important, and the theories as to the reasons for the decline in Protestant and Evangelical Protestant affiliation are worthy of serious thought and study, perhaps another perspective can be gleaned from the earliest beginnings of the Christian movement.