MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) — It’s no secret that society is more divided than at other times in history.
These divisions have emerged in many areas of life, especially politics, education and the pandemic. There is also a growing trend of division in religion.
In the latest snapshot of American society, more people identify as “non-religious.” A Mid-Michigan pastor and religion teacher has weighed in on what may be behind the trend.
“I think every time we look at the numbers, every time we look at the statistics, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to say, ‘Well. Looks like things aren’t going well,'” said Jim Damman, pastor of 242 Community Church. in Saginaw.
He spent 17 years as a special education teacher before entering the ministry four years ago, helping to plant one of his church’s seven sites.
“I love what I do because I love people,” Damman said.
He is well aware that the nation as a whole is no longer so religious.
“These are tough conversations to have. Because at the heart of a relationship with Jesus is a faith in something that’s kind of invisible,” Damman said.
The latest figures from the Pew Research Center show that Christians now make up 63% of the US population. This statistic is down from 75% just a decade ago.
On the other hand, the number of “non-religious” people – who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” – is increasing.
In 2007, 16% of American adults said they were non-religious. That number is now at 29%, or nearly 3 in 10 Americans.
Damman points to a number of reasons.
“There have been a lot of distractions for Christians, for people in general. Whether it’s social media and the amount of information social media handles, some of the political and socio-cultural divides we’ve had to cross,” he said.
Sara Moslener, a professor of religion at Central Michigan University, said the shifting trends come as no surprise and she’s been tracking them for a decade.
“The story you tell is integral to my story in terms of leaving Christianity, but also having a lot of questions about the religious tradition that I was raised in, which was conservative evangelicalism,” said Moslener.
His research focuses on people who no longer associate with Christianity.
“I talk to my students all the time about the rise of ‘nones.’ And the students I teach here at Central Michigan University would fit right into that category,” Moslener said.
Recent research from the Christian organization LifeWay shows that two-thirds of young people stopped going to church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.
“What I hear them say is that they associate religion, especially Christianity, with certain positions on social issues, especially LGBTQ people, immigration,” Moslener said.
She also cites politics as a contributing factor.
“There was a real split within Protestant Christianity in particular,” Moslener said.
The same Pew Center research shows that 40% of American adults identify as Protestant, down 10 percentage points from a decade ago.
Moslener points to recent hot spots in society where certain Christian subgroups have shown support for things like the Jan. 6 Capitol riot or pushed conspiracies surrounding the pandemic.
“So now people are reacting in kind and saying, ‘Well, if that’s the form of Christianity that’s being promoted here in the United States, I don’t want anything to do with it,'” she said.
Damman said the church’s mission is less about promoting a certain religious point of view and more about reaching people with the gospel message.
“We just want to continue to point people to the life-changing message of Jesus and not necessarily feel like we have to go one way or the other in terms of political ideology,” he said. he declares. “One of the beautiful things about a church is that it can bring together so many different opinions and feelings and those same people can unite in worship, can unite in hearing the word of God, can unite by being together on a mission to serve.”
Damman said the focus should be more on loving each other.
“My hope would be the same hope as anyone who has a relationship with Jesus is that we would look to the eternal implications of loving and caring for one another,” he said.
Damman thinks Christians shouldn’t cling to differences, especially political ones.
“Reject them. Have patience, tolerance, dialogue with each other to overcome these things, the brighter our future will be,” he said.
Damman and Moslener both acknowledge that we are in an age of connectivity where more ideas are being exchanged online, especially through social media, which can reinforce division.
“Maybe we suffer a bit from how easily we can say what we want to say without the repercussions of being face to face,” Damman said.
At the same time, both agree that it is important to have open communication about religion.
“As a scholar of religion, respecting religion means to me that we take it seriously, right? If someone says, ‘I did this thing because of my religion,’ I I’m going to take it seriously,” Moslener said.
She said the United States continues to be a melting pot of ideas and cultures.
“Of course you have people growing up in homes of mixed religious traditions,” Moslener said. “We must do more to promote the value of multiracial and multireligious democracy.”
Damman said he was always focused despite the trends. His church as a whole bucks national numbers with more than 420 people baptized last year, which is more than previous years.
“The mission stays the same whether the numbers look like it’s going this way or that it’s going that way, the mission stays the same that there are always more people who need to know the Good News of who Jesus is,” Damman said.
The two also agree that it’s just a moment in time.
“It’s just a drop in the bucket of human history,” Damman said.
“It could be 10 years from now, things are flipping the other way,” Moslener said.
The pandemic has also had a significant effect on church attendance, which is still playing out to some degree.
Damman and Moslener both reiterate that it’s important to remember that when looking at numbers and trends, they could change.