Are we winning?
Americans' faith in state of flux, survey finds
Seattle Times religion reporter
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: religions.pewforum.org
Washington state has long been known for having a large percentage of people who don't have any formal religious ties. A new national survey confirms that — and says a growing number of Americans are following suit.
The study, released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, surveyed more than 35,000 adults across the United States. It indicates that American religious identity is more fluid than ever, with people leaving or joining different faith traditions — or choosing no particular religion at all.
Among national trends, key findings include:
• More than a quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood.
• The number of adults who say they are not affiliated with any particular faith — 16 percent — is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with a particular religion as children. About 4 percent say they're agnostic or atheist, and 12 percent describe their religion as "nothing in particular."
• 78 percent of adults said they were Christian. Among those surveyed, about 51 percent identified themselves as Protestant, meaning the U.S. is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant nation. Surveys from the mid-1980s found about two-thirds of the population was Protestant.
• About 26 percent of those surveyed said they were affiliated with an evangelical Protestant church, 18 percent with a mainline Protestant church, and 7 percent with a historically black Protestant church.
• About 24 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Catholic — a percentage that's held fairly steady over the years. But the stability hides a large turnover. About one-third of those surveyed who were raised Catholic no longer described themselves as Catholic; but that's offset by the number of people joining the Catholic Church, including a large number of immigrants, especially Latinos.
• Those who identified themselves as belonging to other religious traditions — including Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism — make up nearly 5 percent. In contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the U.S. is primarily made up of converts.
"Every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents," resulting in a very competitive religious marketplace, according to the Pew Forum's report. "Those that are growing as a result of religious change are simply gaining new members at a faster rate than they are losing members."
In Washington state, the unaffiliated group tied for second with mainline Protestants as one of the largest "religious" traditions.
The largest traditions in the state are: evangelical Protestant at 25 percent, mainline Protestant at 23 percent, unaffiliated at 23 percent, and Catholic at 16 percent.
In this state, Mormons made up 2 percent of those surveyed. Jews, Buddhists, Jehovah's Witnesses and those belonging to historically black Protestant churches each made up 1 percent.
Muslims, Hindus and Orthodox Christians each represented less than half a percent.
The Pew study is "confirming that evangelical Protestantism is the dominant Christian subculture in the Pacific Northwest," said James Wellman, associate professor and chairman of the comparative religion program at the University of Washington.
At the same time, in Washington as in the U.S., the number of unaffiliated Americans is growing.
Wellman wonders if there's a relationship between those two phenomena.
"What's interesting to speculate is, as the evangelical culture has grown, has that precipitated the process of disaffiliation from others?" he said.