US faith leaders explain why faith in God hits all-time low, say COVID made situation worse
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A new Gallup poll shows that Americans’ faith in God has reached an all-time low.
And four Christian faith leaders said a variety of factors, including young people filling their lives with things other than God and anxiety caused by coronavirus lockdowns, contributed to the decline.
The poll showed that 81% of Americans believe in God, down six points from 2017 and the lowest percentage ever recorded by Gallup. The largest drop in faith in terms of age groups was a 10% drop among 18-29 year olds who say they believe in God.
Bart Barber, pastor of Farmersville First Baptist Church in rural East Texas and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Fox News Digital that more and more people in the United States have “not only no connection with the religious congregation, but also really no time in life to stop and contemplate all that is spiritual.”
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“Even some of the people who identify as Christians and say they believe in God and have accepted the gospel, for many of them church, contemplation and worship have been squeezed out of the schedule of their lives,” Barber explained.
The Reverend Lawrence R. Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a former Lutheran pastor, told Fox News Digital, “People continue to search and ponder the larger issues, but the lack of dedicated spaces and time set aside for it leads to the chaos we see around us right now.”
Young people are the demographic that Catholic Bishop Robert Barron, bishop-designate of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester and founder of Word on Fire, “worries most about” because they “inherited the mitigation of the practice religion” that prevails in society.
“When I was a child, my parents took it for granted that we would be taken to mass, that we would be taught the ways of prayer, that we would learn about the saints. They just immersed us in this world,” recalls Barron. “Well, when you’re not immersing people in that world, you’re saying things like, ‘Oh, it’s up to you what you want to do when you’re 16.’ You lose all that. And then we are surprised that young people are adrift and that young people have lost their reason for being and their meaning?
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, president of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, told Fox News Digital that in some ways the poll is not surprising because churches have lost several generations of parishioners in not “feeding” the young in the Faith.
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“We are missing two or three generations of people who are not steeped in the rhythm or the liturgy of the church. They are not involved in the relationships within the church. They are doing other things,” Bickerton said. . “For me, practicing my faith is what reinforces my deep belief in God, and if you have generations who aren’t in church practicing the rhythm of worship or practicing their faith, it’s no surprise that ‘they are now doubting whether or not God exists.
The lack of relationship building and practice of church traditions that has contributed to declining belief in God has been severely exacerbated by coronavirus shutdowns across the United States, faith leaders have said.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of young people who have said, ‘You know, throughout this whole COVID thing, I’ve come to doubt the existence of God or my relationship with God,'” Bickerton said. , adding that people approaching him with questions about the struggle to keep their faith is a “daily occurrence”.
“You can’t underestimate the power of relationships,” Bickerton added. “So I think the isolation has bred that feeling of doubt.”
Barber recounted a situation during the COVID lockdowns that “moved the needle” for him when a grandmother in his congregation urged him to reopen the sanctuary because her son was battling depression after losing his father and was in a “bad place” mentally and emotionally without access to worship.
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“COVID, when you add that in, people are even more isolated and people are pulled out of church as well,” Barber said. “COVID has accelerated these things that were already trends before this.”
A study by conservative think tank Just Facts concluded that the stress and anxiety caused by coronavirus lockdowns destroy seven times more years of life than confinements saved, and several studies have shown that alcoholism, drug use and suicides have increased significantly during the pandemic.
“You see it at almost every level where if there is no opportunity for community engagement or if there is a deliberate rejection of community engagement. Whatever form that it might take, people are trying to fill that void somehow,” Rast said. “So higher instances of self-harm, higher instances of suicide, real mental wellness issues that people are dealing with, and how do you deal with it? in this regard as well.”
Barron said the pandemic “has had a huge impact”, including a “very negative impact on young people” who he has seen “up close”.
“Religious practice, prayer, going to mass, going to a church service, as that fades, beliefs will fade,” Barron said. “They have to be embodied, they have to be practiced.”
Several religious leaders who spoke to Fox News Digital blamed the decline in belief in God in the United States on the churches themselves.
Barron told Fox News Digital that the churches deserved the blame because they had stopped “challenging” young people.
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“We’re trying to make religion too friendly,” Barron said. “We’re trying to make it too culturally accommodating. No. We’re talking about ancient tradition, which has initiated people into the mystery of life, path and meaning for millennia.
“And if we just take the position of wringing hands and apologizing, we’re just giving in to the culture, and young people are going to say, ‘To hell with you’ and they’re going to find that unconvincing and uninteresting. Stop dumbing down the faith.”
Rast told Fox News Digital he believes various scandals at churches across the country have contributed to people drifting away from their faith.
“I think that gave a number of people permission to say, ‘If this is what the church is, if this is what Christianity is, if this is what belief in God results, so who needs this?'”
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Bickerton said young people in the church were disillusioned by not seeing what they heard in church on Sundays practiced on Mondays.
“I think replacing God with other things is certain, but I also believe the church is at fault at this point because the younger generation is loud enough to say they’ve gotten tired of what they’re doing. ‘she hears on Sundays is not what she hears on Mondays from people who sit on the bench,’ Bickerton explained.
“Living our faith is not just a trip to a cult, it’s an encounter in the world. And the younger generation wants to see how faith is lived in the culture. And when it’s not, when there are inconsistencies on the part of the people in the church. It casts a lot of doubt in them on, ‘Does this faith really matter?'”
While the Gallup poll is cause for concern among church leaders, some of the faith leaders who spoke to Fox News Digital expressed optimism for the future, including Rast. He pointed out that the percentage of people who believe in God in the United States is always higher than polls in European countries.
“When you take a longer view, the really remarkable thing is that even with the recent Gallup poll showing that just over 80% of Americans believe in God, that’s really a pretty stark number compared to the rest of Western culture.”
Barber explained that his optimism for the future comes from his study of history and his belief that atheism does not provide the answers people who abandon the faith seek.
“There have been many times in the history of Western civilization when societies became disenchanted with the idea of religion in general or Christianity in particular and turned away from the idea of God or the practice of ‘a faith seen in their parents or grandparents deciding to choose differently for themselves,’ Barber said.
“But I’m heartened that after times like this, over and over and over again, in cycles of history, people are becoming more and more disillusioned with life without God because there’s has deep questions in life for which atheism alone doesn’t provide good answers.
“So I remain optimistic,” added Barber. “I’m a long-term optimist and a short-term realist about where people and their faith are in America right now.”