Why more people should join the Unitarian Universalists

https://i1.wp.com/www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/styles/scaled_480_wide/public/Logo_Gradient.jpg

First, take a look at this video:

For more details, see here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations

Over 30,000 divisions?! Remember this warning from Jesus himself: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (Matthew 12:25) If his word is true, then the Church is useless. It has been divided against itself since at least 1054 AD, when there was a schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The leaders of the two factions actually excommunicated each other!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East%E2%80%93West_Schism

And things got only worse in the 16th Century with the Protestant Reformation, which was actually a fragmentation.

It must be noted that the whole issue of the Church being the Body of Christ was invented by the Apostle Paul, not Jesus. But we can be sure that they would have agreed that the church should have remained united. Instead, we find many streets where two or even three different Christian churches may exist within sight of each other. If their faith in Jesus really meant something, shouldn’t their members all worship together? The only time a church should split is when its members increase so much that they have outgrown their original building. More on that later.

The obvious question is, how do you keep a church united while also allowing its membership to grow? I would suggest that the church give up being dogmatic and allow its members to seek truth in their own way, while still giving them a loving community to support them, regardless of what specific theology they end up with.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) allows such a wide diversity of views and theological paths that it admits Christians, Jews, Pagans, and Atheists as equally welcome and committed members. Yet they are a single denomination that in fact arose from the union of two similar groups in 1961.

http://www.uua.org/association

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is the central organization for the Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious movement in the United States. The UUA’s 1000+ member congregations are committed to Seven Principles that include the worth of each person, the need for justice and compassion, and the right to choose one’s own beliefs.  Our congregations and faith communities promote these principles through regular worship, learning and personal growth, shared connection and care, social justice action and service, celebration of life’s transitions, and much more.

Our faith tradition is diverse and inclusive. We grew from the union of two radical Christian groups: the Universalists, who organized in 1793, and the Unitarians, who organized in 1825. They joined to become the UUA in 1961. Both groups trace their roots in North America to the early Massachusetts settlers and the Framers of the Constitution. Across the globe, our legacy reaches back centuries to liberal religious pioneers in England, Poland, and Transylvania. Today, Unitarian Universalists include people of many beliefs who share UU values.

Each UU congregation is democratic—congregational leaders set their own priorities and choose their own ministers and staff. Congregations vote for the leaders of the UUA, who oversee the central staff and resources. The UUA supports congregations in their work by training ministers, publishing books and the UU World magazine, providing religious education curricula, offering shared services, coordinating social justice activities, and more.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs

Welcome to Unitarian Universalism

We are people of all ages, people of many backgrounds, and people of many beliefs. We create spirituality and community beyond boundaries, working for more justice and more love in our own lives and in the world.

Unitarian Universalism affirms and promotes seven Principles, grounded in the humanistic teachings of the world’s religions. Our spirituality is unbounded, drawing from scripture and science, nature and philosophy, personal experience and ancient tradition as described in our six Sources.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs

In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart. By creating meaningful communities that draw from many wisdom traditions, and more, we are embodying a vision “beyond belief:” a vision of peace, love, and understanding.

We have more than one way of experiencing the world and understanding the sacred. What we call our “Living Tradition” draws from six sources of inspiration from scripture to poetry to modern-day heroes. How do you experience the world? How do you make meaning? What beliefs and traditions are yours?

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/christianity

Many Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have a relationship with Christianity. Whether we’re moving away from a rigid Christian upbringing or moving toward an all-loving God, whether we call ourselves “Christian” or simply admire Jesus, we have a place in Unitarian Universalism. Our faith tradition grew from Christianity, and one of the six sources we draw upon in our worship and religious education is “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

Most Unitarian Universalist Christians believe in God, but not the traditional God-as-Trinity that most Christian churches promote. The UU Christian God is all-loving, as our Universalist forbears taught, and a unity, as our Unitarian forebears taught. This God is too big to be contained in one person, one book, one tradition, or one time in history. To UU Christians, Jesus is an inspiration and his teachings are profound—he possesses a divine spark that is born in all of us, and can be cultivated our whole lives long.

Our congregations celebrate Christmas and Easter with a liberal and inclusive twist. Our style of worship and day of worship are from the Christian tradition, even though our worship draws from many sources. The Bible and its many interpretations have largely shaped our history.

Some of our UU congregations are Christian in orientation, worshipping regularly with the New Testament, offering Communion, and celebrating Christian holidays throughout the year. All of our congregations welcome people with Christian backgrounds and beliefs.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/judaism

Many Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have a connection to Judaism. Whether we are ethnically, culturally, or spiritually Jewish, whether we’re married to a Jewish person, or simply inspired by Jewish wisdom, we have a place in Unitarian Universalism. One of the six sources we draw upon in our worship and religious education is “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

We honor Jewish holidays with a progressive and inclusive twist. UUs with Jewish heritage hold Passover seders, celebrate Hanukkah, and mark the High Holy Days. When we worship together, Judaism comes into play in a variety of ways depending on the congregation. In the fall our Sunday services often draw on themes from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our winter holiday-themed services often tell the story of Hanukkah. In the spring, we tell the stories of Moses and the Exodus, and some congregations gather around an all-ages all-faiths table to join in a celebratory Passover Seder led by Jewish UUs. Any time of year in our congregations, we may hear wisdom from the Bible, some midrash, a Hasidic tale, or a funny story from Jewish culture.

Our programs for children and youth involve young people in learning about Judaism through stories, rituals, and visits to synagogues. We teach respect for all faiths, and develop basic literacy in the world’s religions as well as Unitarian Universalism. As a home for interfaith families, we nurture kids with multiple identities and help them grow.

It can often seem strange for someone with Jewish heritage to participate in a congregation that calls itself a “church.” The word “church” has more to do with Unitarian Universalism’s history than with our current beliefs. (Though a few of our congregations have a strong liberal Christian identity—find a congreation near you to see how they honor diverse backgrounds and beliefs.)

No one needs change their beliefs or identity in order to be UU. We are people of many beliefs, honoring each person’s heritage and search for truth.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/atheist-agnostic

Our universe, from the smallest particles to the galaxies beyond our galaxy, fills us with profound wonder. Why life exists and for what purpose—humans have struggled to answer that question for millennia. In a day and age when so much is revealed to us by science, “God” may or may not be part of our worldview.

People with atheist and agnostic beliefs find a supportive community in our congregations. We are pro-science, pro-reason, and pro-Evolution. We know there is no “one right answer” when it comes to belief, and we don’t let that stop us from taking action for a better world. We build a community that welcomes us in our wholeness, cherishes our doubts, and invites our ongoing search for truth.

Since the early 20th century, Humanism has been an influential part of our continually evolving religious tradition. Many Unitarian Universalists who are atheist or agnostic also identify as Humanist.

Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz, human rights activist and President-CEO of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Service Committee, writes of our humanistic beliefs:

  • “We believe that human beings are responsible for the future; that history is in our hands, not those of an angry God or inexorable fate.”
  • “We believe that life’s blessings are available to everyone, not just those who can recite a certain catechism,”
  • “And we believe that those blessings are made manifest to us not just in the “miraculous” or extraordinary but in the simple pleasures of the everyday.”

Unitarian Universalism honors the differing paths we each travel. Our congregations are places where we celebrate, support, and challenge one another as we continue on these journeys.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/humanism

Many Humanists find a home in Unitarian Universalism. Some identify as Atheist or Agnostic, rejecting supernatural frameworks for creating meaning or morality. Some put their faith in the force of love or the spirit of life. Some find the sacred existing in the material world, with reverence for the intricate web of interdependence and interrelationship that defines life on Earth. All share a commitment to learn and grow in a spiritually-diverse community. Members of our Unitarian Universalist (UU) Humanist Association wrote:

We are “religious” in that we share with most Unitarian Universalists the natural human desires for a beloved and accepting community; a purpose greater than ourselves; rituals and practices that resonate with our common humanity and shared mortality; and opportunities to work with other tough-minded, warm-hearted people to do good in the world and to help one another attain the greatest possible fulfillment in life.

Since the early 20th century, Humanism has been an influential part of our continually evolving religious tradition. Unitarians and Universalists have always trusted in reason and affirmed the findings of science. We take the intellect seriously. We know, deeply, that each person is on a search for truth and meaning in life. Two of the six primary sources of inspiration and wisdom in Unitarian Universalism are:

  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love; and
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

As a non-dogmatic faith, Unitarian Universalism honors the differing paths we each travel. We celebrate, support, and challenge one another as we continue on these journeys.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/buddhism

Unitarian Universalist (UU) experience with Buddhism is rich and varied. We find inspiration in stories from Buddhist traditions, Buddhist meditation practices, and contemporary teachers like Sharon Salzberg and Thich Nhat Hanh. Many congregations have Buddhist meditation groups; we have over 100 local UU sanghas.

Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism both honor the beliefs people hold based on their own experiences and understandings. In neither tradition will anyone tell you what you ought to believe. Lama Surya Das writes about our shared values in Buddhist Voices in Unitarian Universalism:

Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism value many of the same things, including experiential practice, study and self-inquiry, mindful awareness cultivation, insightful wisdom development, and loving-kindness, combined with active compassion in the world. This is the heart of sacred activism—empowering, educating, edifying, elevating, transforming, and liberating.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/pagan

Many Unitarian Universalists draw inspiration from the cycles of seasons, the beauty and complexity of the natural world, and the intricate relationships between humans and all the other life on this planet. Some of us practice indigenous religions and Modern Paganism. All of these are part of the sixth source of our living tradition, “spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”

Our worship services include writings, poetry, and ritual of earth-centered traditions. As allies in indigenous peoples’ struggles for cultural survival, we do not borrow indigenous practices and use them as our own. We respect indigenous religions as paths to native peoples’ spiritual and cultural renewal, and welcome those who practice them.

We also welcome those who identify as Pagans, including Wiccans, Druids, and practitioners of Goddess Spirituality. The Modern Pagan movements have many Unitarian Universalists among them. Some of our congregations have Modern Pagan groups within them, organized as chapters of CUUPS (the Covenant of UU Pagans).

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/islam

Unitarian Universalist congregations have become religious homes to many people who have a personal relationship with Islam. Whether raised Muslim, married to a Muslim person, or simply inspired by Muslim teachings, a growing number of Unitarian Universalists weave strands of Islam into their faith today. It was like this for Hafida Acuay, who wrote in UUWorld:

“I had been reading the Tao Te Ching for a few years, and began to carry that little book in my purse, next to my pocket Quran. It gave me solace, too. I already knew that non-Muslims could also possess wisdom…. Eventually, I made the leap to Unitarian Universalism while searching for a philosophy that allowed me to identify and live my deepest values.” (Read more from Hafida in “From Islam to Unitarian Universalism.”)

Unitarian Universalists have supported American Muslim communities as they have faced threats, violence, and prejudice from citizens and authorities around the country. Through the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, we have challenged biases, condemned harassment, and built bridges through engagement and training. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is also a founding member of the Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign, a group of faith-based organizations that are dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment. Before 9/11/2001, and ever since, we have sought to be good partners for justice and understanding of Islam.

The UUA’s two publishing houses have been part of this support. Beacon Press has published Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation and Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, plus many other engaging books about Islam by Muslims. Skinner House Books has published Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer and Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs: A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents—books that seek to build understanding and share the beauty of Islam.

Our worship services, which draw from many sources, may include a reading from Islam’s sacred traditions, a passage by a contemporary Muslim author, or a poem by a Sufi mystic like Rumi or Hafiz.

http://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs/hinduism

Unitarian Universalists have many kinds of connections with Hinduism. Whether we were raised Hindu, in a relationship with some who’s Hindu, or inspired by teachings and practices of the diverse and multifaceted Hindu faith, we honor Hindu backgrounds and beliefs.

Ideas and practices from Hinduism are welcome in Unitarian Universalism. Our worships have drawn from Hindu sources: poetry, scripture, philosophy, and kirtan. We share many values with Hinduism—most centrally, that there is a unity at the core of religious diversity. God can be experienced in many forms, with many faces, but underneath there is one ultimate reality. Like Hinduism we affirm the personal search for spiritual truth, the idea that all things are connected, and a respect for other religious paths. Unitarian Universalism welcomes many understandings of divinity, including those of the incredibly diverse Hindu faith.

India’s religious landscape includes three types of Unitarianism–the Brahmo Samaj, founded in 1828 by Rammohun Roy, the Unitarian Church of the Khasi Hills, founded in 1887 by Hajom Kissor Singh, and the Unitarian Christian Church of Chennai, in Madras, founded in 1795. The two latter groups are active in the International Council of Unitarian Universalists (ICUU) and the South Asia Council of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF.)

Since 1984, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA’s) Holdeen India Program has worked in solidarity with child laborers, dalits, indigenous tribes, women living with poverty, and modern-day slaves as they fight for equity and just social change.

Note that we are not talking about denominations that have split off from Unitarian Universalism. These are all groups that are within the Unitarian Universalist Assocation and their members may all serve in the same building, worshipping together.

Here is the website of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship: http://www.uuchristian.org/

This is the website for Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness:  http://www.uuja.org/

Here is the website for the Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship:  http://www25.uua.org/uubf/

We also have a website for the HUUmanists:  http://www.huumanists.org/

Then there is the website for the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans:  http://cuups.org/

There is even a website for UU Mystics:  http://uumystics.org/ (Aren’t all religions mystical?)

I mentioned earlier that a church can outgrow its building and split as a result. The case of First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church (FJUUC) may suffice to show how a religious community may grow and even diversify without turning against itself.  http://www.firstjefferson.org/

The church was founded as First Unitarian Church of Fort Worth in the late 1940s and after moving to an ideal location in the eastern part of the city,  grew until it was too large for its tiny building. So two small groups split off in the 1960s to form the Arlington Unitarian Universalist Church  http://arlington-tx-uu.org/index.html,  which remains a small lay-led congregation to this day, and Jefferson Unitarian Church, which failed to thrive and in 1980 merged once more with the original church, with the reunited congregation changing its name to the present one.

In the 1990s, despite enlarging the building of FJUUC, its membership grew to over 250, thus causing overcrowding once more. At that point, another split occured with UUs in the west part of Fort Worth forming the Westside Unitarian Universalist Church:  http://www.westsideuu.org/index.html

But that still wasn’t enough, so a few years later, yet another split occured, since some UUs living north of Fort Worth wanted a congregation of their own, which became known as Pathways: http://www.pathwaysuu.org/

These were NOT divisions over doctrine or how the churches should be organized, or anything other than natural growth and development of a thriving religious community. They are all united under the UUA, as well as:

The Southwestern Unitarian Universalist Conference of the UUA: http://www.swuuc.org/

The North Texas Association of Unitarian Universalist Societies:  http://www.ntauus.org/index.shtml

And at a global level, we even have the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists:  http://icuu.net/index.html

For those who want to work through their faith, and not merely go to church, there is a UU outlet for that too:
http://www.uusc.org/
http://www.uusc.org/about-uusc/

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is a nonsectarian human rights organization powered by grassroots collaboration. We work anywhere rights are threatened – by natural disasters, armed conflicts, genocide, forced migration, and systematic injustice.

UUSC began its work in 1939 when Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp took the extraordinary risk of traveling to Europe to help refugees escape Nazi persecution.

For over 75 years, our innovative approach and measurable contributions have been grounded in the moral belief that all people have inherent power, dignity, and rights. Learn more about UUSC’s work.

Mission

UUSC advances human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies.

Vision

UUSC envisions a world free from oppression and injustice, where all can realize their full human rights.

Today, UUSC is a nonsectarian organization whose work around the world is guided by the values of Unitarian Universalism and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Read more about UUSC’s history.

UUSC is a 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. UUSC’s tax ID is 04-6186012.

UUSC is pleased to have earned the highest possible rating — four out of four stars — from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent evaluator of nonprofit organizations. This four-star “exceptional” rating indicates sound fiscal management and a commitment to accountability and transparency. The rating reflects UUSC’s consistent execution of its mission in a fiscally responsible way.

In order to create a world free from injustice and oppression — where all can realize their human rights — you need a movement. And to build a movement, you need passionate people. That’s why UUSC actively engages its more than 40,000 members and supporters by educating them on the issues so they can take informed action, whether it’s calling their senators, signing petitions to corporations or government agencies, or educating their communities and congregations at critical junctures for maximum impact. For over 20 years, UUSC has relied on a robust direct mail program not only to generate income but also to educate and mobilize its members and activists in action campaigns, thereby advancing its mission to promote economic and environmental justice and protect rights at risk. As a result, in accordance with the Financial Accounting Standards Board guidelines, UUSC allocates a portion of its direct mail costs to program services and to fundraising.

The world in general, and America in particular, needs a healthy source of spirituality and community. I beleive Unitarian Universalism can fill that need. If we truly believe in religious freedom, then we should belong to a denomination that lives up to that  ideal and does not create tyranny over anyone. Let it be so.

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13 thoughts on “Why more people should join the Unitarian Universalists

  1. Great video find, Dale.

    Little confused though — a UU using an atheist production as support?

    My parents are United Church goers and recently one of the denomination’s magazines had a cover article, “Why are we losing so many people to the Unitarian Universalists?” Seriously.

    I think I’m with you though. If churches looked at their role in the community as the most important thing, giving support and love regardless of specific theologies, they wouldn’t be in such political / doctrinal messes. Divisiveness is certainly conquering…

    And in terms of atheists, the issue of community has never really been addressed properly, from what I’ve looked into at least.

    • Little confused though — a UU using an atheist production as support?

      Why not? Atheists are welcome in UU churches, plus one can find truth and honorable positions from all sorts of people. That was actually noted in the blog entry above.

      My parents are United Church goers and recently one of the denomination’s magazines had a cover article, “Why are we losing so many people to the Unitarian Universalists?” Seriously.

      I would suggest that the United Church of Christ consider merging with the UUA. See here:
      https://dalehusband.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/religious-liberals-unite/

      Ironically, one of my concerns with the UUA is that it is losing its Christian background. If we become detached from our own history and fail to respect it, we doom ourselves to irrelevance.

  2. The United Church may be on the way towards joining, as you suggest.

    I read a book a while back by Gretta Vosper, a minister in the UC, in which she calls for a Progressive Christianity focused more on the community aspects. She and her congregation have almost completely removed all the doctrinal elements from their own services. They still work under the banner of UC, which is very surprising, but in some ways I see very little difference between her work and the UU.

    Well, except maybe that she seems to think that she is breaking new ground for Christians, or that she thinks she is at the forefront for change within Christianity…

    That concern of yours of ‘losing the history’ might be medicated by such a union with these so-called Progressive Christians…

    Have you heard of this blogger? http://churchofjesuschristatheist.blogspot.com/

    He wants to help in the development of a de-godded version of Christianity.

  3. And now I read this, which gives me even more hope:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-1017-putnam-religion-20101017,0,6283320.story

    Walking away from church
    Organized religion’s increasing identification with conservative politics is a turnoff to more and more young adults. Evangelical Protestantism has been hit hard by this development.
    By Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell

    October 17, 2010

    The most rapidly growing religious category today is composed of those Americans who say they have no religious affiliation. While middle-aged and older Americans continue to embrace organized religion, rapidly increasing numbers of young people are rejecting it.

    As recently as 1990, all but 7% of Americans claimed a religious affiliation, a figure that had held constant for decades. Today, 17% of Americans say they have no religion, and these new “nones” are very heavily concentrated among Americans who have come of age since 1990. Between 25% and 30% of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation — roughly four times higher than in any previous generation.

    So, why this sudden jump in youthful disaffection from organized religion? The surprising answer, according to a mounting body of evidence, is politics. Very few of these new “nones” actually call themselves atheists, and many have rather conventional beliefs about God and theology. But they have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics.

    During the 1980s, the public face of American religion turned sharply right. Political allegiances and religious observance became more closely aligned, and both religion and politics became more polarized. Abortion and homosexuality became more prominent issues on the national political agenda, and activists such as Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed began looking to expand religious activism into electoral politics. Church attendance gradually became the primary dividing line between Republicans and Democrats in national elections.

    This political “God gap” is a recent development. Up until the 1970s, progressive Democrats were common in church pews and many conservative Republicans didn’t attend church. But after 1980, both churchgoing progressives and secular conservatives became rarer and rarer. Some Americans brought their religion and their politics into alignment by adjusting their political views to their religious faith. But, surprisingly, more of them adjusted their religion to fit their politics.

    We were initially skeptical about that proposition, because it seemed implausible that people would make choices that might affect their eternal fate based on how they felt about George W. Bush. But the evidence convinced us that many Americans now are sorting themselves out on Sunday morning on the basis of their political views. For example, in our Faith Matters national survey of 3,000 Americans, we observed this sorting process in real time, when we interviewed the same people twice about one year apart.

    For many religious Americans, this alignment of religion and politics was divinely ordained, a long-sought retort to the immorality of the 1960s. Other Americans were not so sure.

    Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, the increasingly prominent association between religion and conservative politics provoked a backlash among moderates and progressives, many of whom had previously considered themselves religious. The fraction of Americans who agreed “strongly” that religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions nearly doubled from 22% in 1991 to 38% in 2008, and the fraction who insisted that religious leaders should not try to influence how people vote rose to 45% from 30%.

    This backlash was especially forceful among youth coming of age in the 1990s and just forming their views about religion. Some of that generation, to be sure, held deeply conservative moral and political views, and they felt very comfortable in the ranks of increasingly conservative churchgoers. But a majority of the Millennial generation was liberal on most social issues, and above all, on homosexuality. The fraction of twentysomethings who said that homosexual relations were “always” or “almost always” wrong plummeted from about 75% in 1990 to about 40% in 2008. (Ironically, in polling, Millennials are actually more uneasy about abortion than their parents.)

    Just as this generation moved to the left on most social issues — above all, homosexuality — many prominent religious leaders moved to the right, using the issue of same-sex marriage to mobilize electoral support for conservative Republicans. In the short run, this tactic worked to increase GOP turnout, but the subsequent backlash undermined sympathy for religion among many young moderates and progressives. Increasingly, young people saw religion as intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental and homophobic. If being religious entailed political conservatism, they concluded, religion was not for them.

    Sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer of UC Berkeley were among the first to call attention to the ensuing rise in young “nones,” and in our recent book, “American Grace,” we have extended their analysis, showing that the association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift. In religious affinities, as in taste in music and preference for colas, habits formed in early adulthood tend to harden over time. So if more than one-quarter of today’s young people are setting off in adult life with no religious identification, compared with about one-20th of previous generations, the prospects for religious observance in the coming decades are substantially diminished.

    Evangelical Protestantism, which saw dramatic growth in the 1970s and 1980s, has been hit hard by this more recent development. From the early 1970s to the late 1980s the fraction of Americans age 18 to 29 who identified with evangelical Protestantism rose to 25% from 20%, but since 1990, that fraction has fallen back to about 17%. Meanwhile, the proportion of young Americans who have no religious affiliation at all rose from just over 10% as late as 1990 to its current proportion of about 27%.

    Continuing to sound the trumpet for conservative social policy on issues such as homosexuality may or may not be the right thing to do from a theological point of view, but it is likely to mean saving fewer souls.

    Nevertheless, predictions of the demise of religion in America would be premature. More likely is that as growing numbers of young Americans reject religious doctrine that is too political or intolerant for their taste, innovative religious leaders will concoct more palatable offerings. Jesus taught his disciples to be “fishers of men,” and the pool of un-churched moderate and progressive young people must be an attractive target for religious anglers.

    To be sure, some of these young people will remain secularists. Many of them, however, espouse beliefs that would seem to make them potential converts to a religion that offered some of the attractions of modern evangelicalism without the conservative political overlay.

    Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, and David E. Campbell, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, are the authors of “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.” Information about a talk Robert Putnam will be giving on Oct. 21 in Los Angeles can be found zocalopublicsquare.org.
    Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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