It may not be the go-to source for most pastors, but Parade magazine has released a study on spirituality that churches across the nation should pay attention to.
After surveying more than 1,000 people, Parade found that the majority of Americans no longer follows conventional religion but still considers themselves spiritual. Of the 45 percent of respondents who labeled themselves "religious," seven out of 10 rarely, if ever, participate in a traditional worship service.
"The culture of religion is moving away from ritualism. It’s losing its edge," commented Richard Allen Washington Sr., senior pastor of St. James AME Church in Columbus, Ga. "Each generation views religion differently, and that is the tension that causes surveys like this. Religious ritual itself is good, but the challenge is when the ritual hasn’t equaled the success that many guaranteed would come. Churches have said, ‘If you do these things, you’ll be blessed.’ Unfortunately, they were lying."
Almost 70 percent of the general population says they believe in God, and three-quarters say parents are responsible for providing their children with a religious upbringing. Yet according to Parade, a mere 12 percent believe their religion is the only true faith, while 59 percent say all religions are valid.
It's this seemingly contradictory faith that has become the norm, says Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Barnard College in New York City, and an Episcopal priest. He paints the picture of the prototypical "religious" American: "A good, say, Presbyterian, and yet does tai chi in the park on Sunday Morning, consults the astrological tables in the newspaper and does yoga when she comes home from work at night, and sees no sense of contradiction among these various sorts of activities."
Balmer chalks it up to a choose-your-own-spirituality that has emerged from the stains of traditional religion, blended with a lifestyle of American consumerism. "You have all these religious options out there, and we Americans are good consumers," he says. "And the criterion seems to be, what can this do for me? How can this make me a better person? How can this make me happier?"
Says Washington: "I’m concerned about Christianity because far too many people need to know the unconditional love of God. They’re not seeing ‘Love God and love your neighbor.’ It’s frustrating." [parade.com, 10/4/09; ledger-enquirer.com, 10/4/09; cbsnews.com, 10/4/09]