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Redefining Religion in America Article

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									       Redefining Religion in America                       mainstream Protestant congregations as the
              by Mary Rourke                                Presbyterians, Episcopalians and United Methodists,
                                                            whose numbers continue to drop.

                                                            Losses for the United Methodist and the Presbyterian
                                                            U.S.A. church would be even greater if not for the
With almost no fanfare, the United States is                recent addition of Asian immigrants. Korean
experiencing its most dramatic religious                    Americans now account for close to 1% of the
transformation in this century. What has been a             Methodist and nearly 2% of the Presbyterian U.S.A.
nation steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition is fast     church.
becoming the most spiritually diverse country in the
world.                                                      With 60 million adherents, Roman Catholicism
                                                            remains the country's largest denomination, but there,
"More religions are being practiced in the United           too, expansion has been largely dependent on
States than anyplace else," said Paul Griffiths,            immigration. Latinos make up more than 30% of the
professor of philosophy of religions at the University      membership. At the same time, the Southern Baptist
of Chicago. At least 200 denominations coexist here,        Convention, the country's second-largest
and the number continues to grow.                           denomination with 16-million members, has seen its
                                                            ethnic congregations, particularly Asian and Latino,
The impact promises to be as far-reaching as the rise       grow by more than 50%. They make up about 3
of the Roman Catholic Church in the mid-1800s.              million members of the church.
Brought about by immigration, geographic mobility,
intermarriage and a growing disenchantment with             None of this accounts for the most startling challenge
some of our oldest religious institutions, this shift is    to America's oldest religious structures: the rise of the
redefining the nation.                                      nondenominational megachurch. In 1970, there were
                                                            10. Now, there are close to 400, with California home
The United States is now home to almost 4 million           to 79, more than any other state.
Muslims, five times as many as there were in 1970.
Close to half of them are African-Americans. At this        "The old-line churches, by that I mean Presbyterian,
rate, by 2000, Islam is likely to outpace Judaism,          Episcopal and Congregational, won't disappear
which has leveled off at 5.5 million members.               soon," said Wade Clark Roof, a religion professor at
                                                            UC Santa Barbara. "But their position of dominance
Two million Americans identify themselves as                won't hold. The old line is becoming the sideline. The
Buddhists, a tenfold increase since 1970.                   direction is away from history and doctrine, toward a
                                                            generic form of religion."
Hindus have grown from 100,000 to 950,000 in the
same period, Sikhs from 1,000 to 220,000.                   The 'Quest Generation'
"Cultural pluralism is changing America's religious         Melissa Latt is an Episcopalian who converted to
life," said Diana Eck, a professor of world religions at    Judaism when she married and sometimes
Harvard University. "It is making our spiritual             participates in a Native American drumming circle
tradition much richer and broader."                         for women. At Christmas she and her husband
                                                            decorate a tree. They celebrate Passover but not
While the United States remains predominantly               Easter. Friday evenings they light the Shabbat
Christian--85% of Americans claim this faith--the           candles before dinner.
same forces that have broadened the nation's religious
base are remaking many of Christianity's institutions.      "I don't really follow the faith," Latt said. "It's the
                                                            traditions that are important." Now in her mid-30s,
Only about half of Americans now die in the                 she sees herself as a spiritual "hunter" who has
denomination they were born in. More than three-            trouble with the bureaucracy she associates with
quarters claim a religious identity but have little to do   churches and synagogues. "I think there is no one
with any organized religion.                                religion," she said. "Spirituality comes from the
                                                            heart."
During the last quarter of the 20th century, the
country's fastest growing religious communities have        With so many new elements influencing the nation's
been Pentecostal, Mormon and Jehovah's Witnesses.           spiritual life, a growing segment of Americans have
                                                            started to custom-blend their own faith. Although the
Once the churches that served the rural South or the        numbers remain small, these home-grown
remote West, they are now outstripping such

                                                                                                                      1
innovations are exerting a disproportionate influence        ignores fundamental contradictions between one
on American religion.                                        belief system and another. After all, Judaism
                                                             embraces a single God; Buddhism embraces none.
Combining Jewish and Native American traditions              Christianity teaches one life, death and resurrection;
may be unusual, but other mixtures are far more              Hinduism teaches reincarnation.
common. There are, for instance, millions of
mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics who                 "What is at stake is the identity of a religious
regularly attend Pentecostal-style services.                 denomination," said Lanier Burns, chairman of the
                                                             department of theology at Dallas Theological
Roof, one of the first to identify this trend, refers to     Seminary in Texas. "Christ is the center of
spiritual explorers like Latt as members of the "Quest       Christianity. When you cease to have a Christ center
Generation." They are, he says, more interested in           you are not Christian. You make your choices and
experience than dogmas. "The gap is huge and                 you have to live with the consequences."
growing between the religious hierarchy and the
popular ways people have of believing and                    The debate goes far beyond scholarly circles. Within
practicing. The boundaries aren't quite there the way        Judaism, a strong backlash has already broken out.
they used to be."                                            So many Jews are concerned about preserving their
                                                             identity that Orthodoxy is attracting many people
The unconventional ways of these modern seekers              under 35.
have put them at the center of a fierce debate--one
that cuts to the core of the country's religious identity.   For the 10% to 15% of American Jews who are
Do they represent a passing curiosity or a sea               Orthodox, marriage outside their denomination is
change? Is there anything more to the quest than             discouraged, even to Reform or Conservative Jews.
spiritual narcissism? Should traditional religions
adapt, or resist?                                            By some estimates, those who identify strongly with
                                                             the faith they were born into, but do not belong to
"It used to be that people died in whatever religion         any church or synagogue, make up the fastest-
they were born into," said Martin Marty, a historian         growing religious group in the country.
of American religion at the University of Chicago.
"Today, you're much freer to shop." Defecting from           Demographers refer to them as the "unaffiliated," a
one church to another once carried the emotional             term also used for registered voters who do not join
baggage of abandoning home; now, such loyalty                any political party. According to a recent Gallup poll,
carries far less weight. Marty likens America's              96% of Americans believe in God and 98% pray
religious life to a spiritual marketplace.                   regularly, but only 29% attend a religious service
                                                             every week.
Other scholars think such imagery belittles a
profound shift. "I strongly object to the shopping           "The unaffiliated represent a huge number of people,"
metaphor," said Harvard's Diana Eck. "We are                 Marty said. "They may be very tenacious about their
becoming a nation shaped by more than one                    denomination and fight like crazy over it, but they
tradition."                                                  see church as only one means of gathering people of
                                                             like mind into a community."
Rodger Kamenetz embodies the new religious hybrid.
His 1995 memoir, "The Jew in the Lotus," made him            In the midst of this religious revival, perhaps in
the leading voice for those who combine Buddhism             reaction, atheism is thriving. Close to 1 million
and Judaism. (So many now do that they have                  Americans now say they do not believe in God. That
inspired the ironic moniker JUBU.) Kamenetz, who             is nearly five times what it was 30 years ago.
directs the Jewish studies program at Louisiana State
University Baton Rouge, trekked to the Himalayas in          While the meaning of the word remains the same, the
1990 to further his study of Buddhism. He still              guidelines are changing. Atheism's old standard
observes Jewish holidays but he does not belong to a         bearers--Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Frederick
synagogue or claim any denomination.                         Nietzsche--claimed that God is dead, or never
                                                             existed. Now many nonbelievers hold to a third
"People who have faith don't necessarily have a lot of       choice: God is suspect.
beliefs," he said. "If religious traditions are paths to
God, the question becomes, 'Is this tradition leading        Touring with his book, "God: A Biography," scholar
me closer' "?                                                Jack Miles found that some people see atheism as
                                                             part of faith, religion, or both. They represent another
Hybrid religion, though, offends many because it             form of hybrid--the atheists in the pews. Their logic,


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Miles explains, goes like this: "If I may doubt the       counseling, child care and "the Bible in business"
practice of medicine from the operating table, if I       study group.
may doubt the political system from the voting booth,
if I may doubt the institution of marriage from the       "This church is about honoring biblical principles and
conjugal bed, why may I not doubt religion from the       meeting the needs of people," said the Rev. Greg
pew?"                                                     Laurie, who founded the church in 1974. "We want to
                                                          be relevant to the culture, using Scripture to teach
Growth of Megachurches                                    people how to conduct their lives. It's not that I'm
                                                          anti-denominations. But politics happen in
On weekends, Harvest Christian Fellowship in              denominations. Leaders can seek to mold a
Riverside attracts up to 20,000 churchgoers. The low-     congregation into a certain form and hinder the work
slung brown stucco building looks like a small-town       God has planned for that congregation."
auditorium. Clear glass and modern music have
replaced stained glass windows, pipe organs and           The 'Others' Enter the Mainstream
monumental crosses. Elvis and Oprah find their way
into the sermons. The pastor rides a Harley-              Demographers once dismissed them as "other"--
Davidson.                                                 Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostals
                                                          were on the margins of mainstream Christianity. The
The evening service has the informality of parents        Evangelical movement was only a bit more visible,
night at the local school. From the velvety benches,      despite its 51 million members, in part because most
the congregation takes it all in with their arms around   evangelicals were contained by one or another
one another, comfortable as if they were in their own     mainstream Protestant church.
living room.
                                                          At the turn of the new millennium, though, these
No invention poses a greater challenge to mainstream      "others" are the most vigorous sector in all of
Protestant religion than the nondenominational            American religious life. As membership in the once
megachurch. During the past 30 years, approximately       dominant Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational
600,000 left their Protestant church for a                churches declined at the rate of 20% to 40% during
megachurch, according to David Roozen, director of        the past 30 years, Mormons grew by 90%, Jehovah's
the Center for Social and Religious Research in           Witnesses by 162%, and the Pentecostal Assemblies
Hartford, Conn.                                           of God Church by 267%. In the same years the
                                                          evangelical movement crossed the 77-million mark.
Among the earliest churches, Calvary Chapel of
Costa Mesa was founded in 1965 and attracted              Moderate Evangelical Christianity--of the sort
refugees from the counterculture. Living collectively     identified with Billy Graham--is now closer to
in "Jesus houses," the reformed hippies who flocked       mainline religion than is the liberal Protestantism that
to Calvary were looking for help to get off drugs and     backlighted such '50s icons as the novels of John
fit into middle-class society, while still maintaining    Updike and the golf courses of Dwight D.
what USC religion professor Donald Miller calls           Eisenhower's presidency. The reversal accompanies a
"their direct encounter with the sacred."                 shift in the prevailing winds--from liberal toward
                                                          conservative Christianity; from ambiguous
"Religion is a word they hate," said Miller of typical    intellectual probing to explicit moral teachings; from
megachurch members. "They like 'spirituality,'            an interpretive reading of the Bible to a literal one;
because it represents something the culture has           from a low-key approach toward attracting new
sucked out of them." Miller studied five such             members to the public promotion of a personal
communities in Southern California for his book,          relationship with Jesus Christ.
"Reinventing American Protestantism."
                                                          Two men galvanized the issues: Jerry Falwell with
Borrowing directly from marketing, most                   his campaign to promote the Moral Majority and Pat
megachurches target their audience: Hippies in the        Robertson through the Christian Coalition. Reacting
'60s, yuppies in the '70s and '80s, Generation X-ers in   to what they viewed as the debasement of secular
the '90s. The audience might vary but the rules are       life--be it legalized abortion, the gay rights
the same: Avoid a central governing body, blur the        movement or the ban on school prayer--they rallied
lines between ministers and members, slice away           those segments of society who felt excluded and
elaborate doctrines, profess unbending "traditional"      overwhelmed by the cultural revolution of the '60s.
values and package it all for a consumer-oriented
society. Harvest Christian Fellowship offers 57           But it would be a mistake, says Richard Mouw,
programs for its members. They include marriage           president of Fuller Theological Seminary in


                                                                                                                3
Pasadena, the second-largest evangelical seminary in       "From then on we've been making room for people,"
the country, to view evangelicalism in purely              said the University of Chicago's Martin Marty. "They
political terms. "It is a renewal movement. Many           might arouse suspicion at first, because they're not
people--including Roman Catholics--are identifying         like us, but over the long run they fit in. Every new
themselves as evangelicals because they are for            religious group has gone through it."
traditional Christianity. It's not a full theological or
spiritual system as much as it is a set of correctives."   Thirty years ago it was considered bold of Christians
                                                           and Jews to explore each other's faith. Now, interfaith
For most of this century, Pentecostalism was seen as       councils and prayer services include Hindus and
a subculture of the Protestant Church. While it is still   Zoroastrians. It is not uncommon for imams,
a movement within Protestantism (and increasingly          ministers and rabbis to take part in civic ceremonies
Catholicism), there are distinct Pentecostal               together. With the explosion of Internet programs and
denominations. The two largest, the Church of God          the proliferation of cable television, religions that
in Christ and the Assemblies of God, include more          were once considered exotic are now easily
than 8 million members. In addition, millions of           accessible. There are tens of thousands of "religion"
"charismatic" Christians in the Pentecostal movement       sites on the World Wide Web.
maintain membership in a mainline Protestant or
Roman Catholic church.                                     In 10 years, UCLA has doubled its religious
                                                           associations on campus, from 20 to 40, with the
"The liberal Protestant churches are addressing            notable addition of Asian religions. Educators across
feminism and homosexuality," Mouw said, "but these         the country report a similar expansion in such clubs.
are not the issues of a two-income family with             At the same time, colleges are showing a dramatic
violence, drugs and promiscuity surrounding their          rise in religion majors. "The students' appreciation of
children. Pentecostals address the primordial spiritual    religious diversity is more vibrant than ever," said
needs of ordinary people."                                 Joseph Tyson, professor of religious studies at
                                                           Southern Methodist University, where religion
Pentecostalism differs from fundamentalism in its          majors have increased fourfold since last year.
belief that everyday life invites mystical experiences.
No Christian community restores this lost dimension        Greater exposure is having an effect. The fascination
with quite the same gusto. "Pentecostalism matches         with Zen meditation has encouraged the revival of
most people's genuine belief in the supernatural," said    Christianity's contemplative prayer. Jewish groups
Vinson Synan, dean of divinity at Regent University        meditate using a Hebrew mantra instead of the Pali of
in Virginia Beach, Va. "It fills a hunger for the          early Buddhism. Muslims hold religious education
miraculous that transcends anything intellectual. It       classes on Sundays, although Friday is their most
crosses all social and economic lines."                    sacred day of the week. American Buddhist temples
                                                           across the country belong to a network called
The church of the rural poor has become a life raft for    "Buddhist Churches of America," imitating the
the middle class. Pentecostalism has also found an         Protestant Council of Churches.
enthusiastic audience among Latino immigrants.
"Over the past 20 years, about 15% of American             But for every sign of acceptance, there are the icy
Hispanics joined other churches," said Father Allan        details of intolerance. FBI crime statistics from 1996
Figueroa Deck, executive director of the Loyola            cite 1,401 religiously motivated hate crimes, a 53%
Center for Spirituality in Orange. "The perception is      jump in five years that can't be attributed just to
that a large number are going to Pentecostal               improved reporting methods. Churches, synagogues,
churches. The middle-class churches have difficulty        mosques and temples are the usual targets. But who
relating to the poor and struggling--and the Catholic      can point a finger from inside America's houses of
Church has become increasingly middle class during         worship, when Sunday morning services still tend to
this century."                                             be the most segregated hour of the week?

Greater Exposure Is Having Impact                          No religious group has been more riven over the
                                                           issue of segregation than the Baptists. The National
Scholars trace America's religious diversity to 1654       Baptist Convention, whose three main denominations
when Gov. Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam,               include 14 million members, is the largest black
now New York City, allowed a ship of Brazilian             religious group in the country. The Southern Baptist
Jews to land in his colony, although it had been           Convention, now 4% black, issued an apology to
created by and for Dutch colonists who worshiped in        African Americans in 1995 for its role in
the Reform Church.                                         perpetuating racism--the organization supported
                                                           slavery in 1845 and some of its leaders actively


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resisted the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Open     Major Religions
apologies have not reconciled differences between
the organizations or brought them together as one         Here is a look at the numbers of adherents in major
church.                                                   religions in the United States in 19700 compared
                                                          with projected numbers for 2000:
The challenge of integration will become even more
sensitive as new immigrants take their place in the       1970
public square. The country's founding documents all
but predicted that tolerance will never come              Protestants: 70.7
naturally. It has to be taught, questioned, resisted,
litigated and learned. Only in the past 30 years have     Roman Catholics: 48.4
the most virulent strains of anti-Catholicism and anti-
Semitism been substantially reduced.                      Jews: 6.7

As the U.S. goes through another of its periodic          Muslims: .8
religious revivals, the country is once again faced
with its religious complexity--a complexity that has      Buddhists: .2
no precedent in the history of nations. "We have
diversity," said Harvard's Diana Eck. But the             Hindus: .1
question is: "Will we get to pluralism?"
                                                          Sikhs: .001
Religious Affiliation in the U.S.
                                                          *
This map shows the distribution of the largest
Christian denominations in the United States. Each        2000
county is coded for the denomination with the most
estimated members.                                        Protestants: 88.8

Baptist: 50%                                              Roman Catholics: 61.8

Baptist: 25%-49%                                          Jews: 5.5

Catholic: 50%                                             Muslims: 4.0

Catholic: 25%-49%                                         Buddhists: 2.0

Christian evangelical: 50%                                Hindus: .95

Christian evangelical: 25%-49%%                           Sikhs: .22

Latter-day Saints: 50%
                                                          SOURCE:
Latter-day Saints: 25%-49%
                                                          Rourke, Mary. “Redefining Religion in America.”
Lutheran: 50%
                                                                   Los Angeles Times 21 Jun 1998.
Lutheran: 25%-49%

Methodist: 50%                                                     <http://articles.latimes.com/1998/jun/21/ne

Methodist: 25%-49%                                                 ws/mn-62199?pg=1>.

Other groups

No dominant group

****



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