The folks at the Pew Research Center recently examined how influential Americans believe Christianity is in today’s culture with some very interesting findings on the reasons for either its decrease or increase. These reasons are far different than most people believe and what is being put forth both in the church and in the larger media.
Is Mainstream Culture Against Your Faith?
When asked how much conflict they believe there is between their own faith and the larger culture, most Americans believe there is not a great deal of it, with only 13% saying there is “a great deal” and 29% believe there is “some conflict.” Fifty-seven percent said they believe there is no significant conflict, with 32% saying specifically there is “not much conflict” and 25% saying there is none at all.
This is an interesting finding, as religious people tend to overstate the degree to which they believe those in the larger culture do not like their faith. Pew previously found that only 7% of Americans have mostly negative views about the Church and Christians and 42% have mostly positive feelings. Fifty percent of Americans have generally mixed feelings, some positive and some negative. Truth be told, many faithful Christians would likely fit into this middle category as would their pastors. We all see things we like and don’t like in ourselves and other Christians. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul had their frustrations with believers and individual churches, for much of the New Testament are letters written to various groups of believers to solve serious problems and correct false belief and bad behavior.
Christianity’s Influence on American Life – Growing or Shrinking?
In terms of the influence that Christianity in general is having on American life and culture, those sentiments are generally negative. Only 27% of Americans believe that its level of influence has largely stayed the same while 53% believe its decreasing. Only 19% of Americans believe it is increasing.
An important note here is that nearly every generation from the beginning of time tends to take a more negative view on how their particular faith is impacting the larger culture. It is a constant sociological phenomenon and could be called “the Good Ol’ Days syndrome.” Things that really matter always seem, for most of us, to be better in the past and are always worse in the present. The truth is that some things tend to indeed be worse, while other things are actually better.
Only 3% of Americans say Christianity’s influence is flagging because Christians are “hateful and intolerant.” Just 1% believe it’s because Christians are too tied up in conservative politics.
Why a Declining Influence?
American’s beliefs on the primary contributors to the declining influence of Christianity today are quite different than what most of us expect with very little agreement on just what these factors are.
- Only 3% say it’s because Christians are “hateful and intolerant.”
- Just 1% believe it’s because Christians are too tied up in conservative politics.
- Only 6% believe that the actions of the Church and individual Christians are pushing people away.
- Only 1% believe it’s because “young people are no longer interested in religion.”
- Only 1% say it’s because of the hypocrisy of its leaders.
- Only 3% of Americans believe it is a result of the deterioration of the nuclear family.
- Only 2% believe it is a “decline in morals” or that people have simply stopped believing in God or the Bible.
- 2% say it’s because of Hollywood and influence the entertainment industry.
- 2% believe it is because society is growing more secular.
- Just 6% believe it’s because science, technology, and religion have replaced our need for religion.
- The majority of Americans (56%) can offer no specific reason for why they believe Christianity’s influence is declining. They just assume it is.
Why Increasing Christian Influence?
For those who believe Christianity is growing in influence, the majority feel it is because of the Trump administration making believers more visible. Other big factors they see as positive are that Christians are “pushing back against secular trends in the culture” and that they are also “building strong communities that watch out for people.” A significant number of Americans also said it is because Christian leaders are doing a better job of responding to scandals and misconduct within the Church itself.
How Much Influence Should the Bible Have on Our Laws?
When asked how much influence the Bible should have in determining the laws of our nation, feelings are evenly split between them being influential and not, 49 vs. 50% respectively. Only 23% believe Scripture should have “a great deal” of influence and 26% believe it should have “some.” Thirty-one percent believe it should have “none at all” and 19% believe it should have “not much.”
All Christians live in the context of a specific generation and culture. That is what history and geography are about. We each live in a specific time and place and God has us in this unique time and place for a reason. How we impact that culture, as salt and light as Jesus described us, should be of central interest to all believers. What is our influence? How do people see us? What difference are we really making?
In the midst of asking these questions, it is not always an issue of whether people like us or what we are saying. Christians have not been martyred since the beginning of the Church because they were always well liked. Sometimes they were well accepted, others not so much. It really depends whether we are listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in our age, being faithful to the scriptures and doing what Jesus calls us to do. Sometimes this will be win favor with people. Sometimes not. Whether or not is always an indicator of whether we are being faithful to our Christian faith. Jesus and the apostles were well received in a city and other times they were chased out. Jesus even explained what we should do when a city rejects us. But we must be faithful to what God calls us to in the age and culture in which we live.