Culture Challenge of the Week: Reaching the Non-Religious

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: May 15, 2012 1:17 PM
Culture Challenge of the Week:  Reaching the Non-Religious

A recent Gallup poll highlights what many political insiders know intuitively: that the cultural divide between religious and non-religious Americans plays out at the ballot box.

Two-thirds (66%) of Americans describe themselves as somewhat or very religious, while one-third (33%) say they are "non-religious." According to Gallup, each of the presidential candidates, Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama, benefits from a core group of supporters defined by their religious perspectives. President Obama commands strong support (54% v. 38% for Romney) among white Americans who describe themselves as non-religious, while Mitt Romney followers are decidedly religious (62% of moderately or strongly religious voters support Romney while just 29% are fans of President Obama).

Religious Americans understand the stakes in this election because we have felt the consequences of the most-anti-religion President of our time. President Obama has gutted the work begun by President Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (renamed under President Obama as The Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships). His administration argued in the Supreme Court against the right of religious organizations to set religious hiring criteria for ministerial employees-and thankfully got slapped down 9-0 by the Supreme Court. His administration also has refused to allow continuation grants for successful Catholic programs to aid the victims of human trafficking--because those programs will not promote abortion. And his HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, claims to be "respecting religious beliefs" even while compelling faith-based employers, with few exceptions, to provide coverage for contraception, sterilizations, and emergency contraception. The list of attacks against religious freedom by this administration is long.

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Amidst this cultural divide comes the news that membership among Muslims (66.7%) and Mormons (45.5%) grew dramatically in the past ten years and evangelical Christianity grew moderately, with 12.3% growth in metropolitan areas. These religions, according to one expert, appeal to seekers because, "[t]here's something about strictness, a call to commitment, to people ready-made for conversions." The coherence of Christianity, lived with conviction, is compelling.

Mainline Protestant religions and Catholicism showed a decline in membership, however. I'm not surprised. Catholics supported President Obama in the last election and, in spite of their hierarchy's strong stands on moral issues, generally hew to the liberal Democratic line. As mainline Protestant congregations have jettisoned traditional morality in favor of Hollywood morality, one can't help but wonder why anyone would join at all? A person might as well be secular or unattached.

And in fact, an increasing number of people are. The numbers show that roughly half of all Americans are unaffiliated with any religious denomination. That doesn't mean they are all secularists---far from it. But they are disconnected and, in many respects, disaffected.

While Christians are still the largest denomination in the country---and Christian values still guide much of what is good in our institutions---the challenge is set before us: who will win the hearts of the growing numbers of unaffiliated Americans, particularly young people? Will they be won over to the forces of secularism and anti-religion? Or will believers reach out and communicate to our fellow Americans the values that undergird the freedom that our country has so long enjoyed?

The question is not just a religious one. Its implications carry over into the political and civic spheres as well. Dr. James Dobson, founder and host of FamilyTalk (www.MyFamilyTalk.com), reminded Americans recently that faith is a necessary underpinning for our country's freedom. He quotes former President Ronald Reagan as saying, "'If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under.'"

Let's not only live our convictions, let's share them convincingly. This election-and our nation's future-may depend on our willingness to do so.