Archives For unchurched

Back in June I wrote about how a initiative in Washington state on the issue of same-sex marriage could see the first real test of a post-Christian majority at the ballot box. More than half of Washington’s citizens don’t belong to any formal religion, becoming part of the demographic known as “nones,” and these “unchurched” have increasingly gotten more and more attention as their numbers swell. In addition, nones in the Pacific Northwest have their own special character according to the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” they are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.

 

Further, Washington isn’t alone in making history with a popular vote for same-sex marriage instead of against it. Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota are also poised to make breakthroughs on this particular issue if the latest polls are to be believed.

Polling numbers suggest a majority of voters support legalizing same-sex marriage on the ballots in Maine, Maryland and Washington, while Minnesota straddles the fence. Should any of the states approve the ballots, it will be the first time gay marriage passes by popular vote as opposed to going through the courts or legislature. “We’re feeling positive. The reality is, we haven’t won a ballot measure on marriage yet,” Human Rights Campaign state legislative director Sarah Warbelow told NBC News. “I think it’s very reasonable and realistic to expect that we’ll win one or more of these ballot measures; certainly the polling suggests that all four are … a possibility.”

Sticking with my “nones” theory, 25% of Maine residents are religiously unaffiliated according to the Pew Forum, while the 2010 US Religion Census shows that area also dominated by the “unchurched.” Likewise, Maryland’s numbers are also highly religiously unaffiliated (you can download a larger version of the map below here). So, like Washington, they could prefigure a “post-Christian” vote in terms of hot-button social issues like gay marriage.

However, it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action. Of course, this vote could go the other way, as elections are largely about who’s more motivated, and opponents to same-sex unions are often highly motivated and well funded. Also, with this being a presidential election year, enthusiasm for the candidate(s) who supports same-sex marriage will also be a factor. Still this is a very good sign that a demographic tide may have turned in Washington. We’ll check back in as new data emerges.

Evangelical polling organization The Barna Group has released a new survey that puts the number of “unchurched” individuals in America at close to 100 million.

“A new survey released by The Barna Group, which has been tracking America’s religious behavior and beliefs since 1984, reveals that one out of every three adults (33%) is classified as unchurched – meaning they have not attended a religious service of any type during the past six months. While that figure is considerably higher than the one out of five who qualified as unchurched in the early Nineties, it is statistically unchanged since 36% were recorded as having avoided religious services in the company’s 1994 study.”

Of course “unchurched” is such a broad category that it would apply to almost anybody who isn’t a dedicated Christian (or monotheist). Having not attended a public Pagan gathering in six months I would be considered “unchurched”, as would a Hindu who doesn’t live near a temple, or a Buddhist who is content with solo practice. In fact Barna makes a special note of the Asian “unchurched”.

“Some population segments are notorious church avoiders … Asians, however, doubled the national average: 63% were unchurched!”

Could it be that they are not interested in a “church” because they have other more fulfilling religious outlets? Which comes back to the problem of the Christian-centric classification of “unchurched”, an issue that Christian blogger John Morehead illustrates well.

“Imagine how evangelicals would feel if they read a report on a Neo-Pagan website that referred to evangelicals as “un-covened” or as “un-” or “non-Pagan” rather than as Christians or evangelicals. I understand the need for a general and all-encompassing term, but I prefer terminology that refers to a people group’s self-identity.”

The term is really useless outside of Barna’s narrow evangelical context. These surveys are really a goad to evangelical Christians to re-double their efforts at conversion, and a way to sell his latest books. “Unchurched” as a term seems to imply that “churched” is the natural state of things. This 100-million-strong number is just that, a number. It doesn’t mean anything, and it certainly doesn’t portray my religious world in any more depth than “nonquadruped” would. I certainly don’t need “churching” any time soon.