Discussion and debate has surrounded the results of the Pew Research Center's new study into the religious composition of the American public — though there's one metric in the study that hasn't been given much attention.
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While most media outlets noted that the proportion of self-identified Christians decreased from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014 — with the share of unaffiliated Americans rising from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent during that same period — few outlets have given attention to a very different trend.
It is certainly true that the pool of unaffiliated Americans has grown the most due to some religious people switching to become "nones." Consider the fact that 18 percent of U.S. adults were raised with a faith of some sort and now no longer identify with any religion at all.
But a few key lines in the Pew report show that there's also a fair number of Americans who have moved in the other direction, theologically speaking.
"Nine percent of American adults say they were raised with no religious affiliation, and almost half of them (4.3 percent of all U.S. adults) now identify with some religion," the report reads.
That means that many atheists and unaffiliated Americans are actually becoming believers at some point. Still, those moving from a religious identity to being unaffiliated far outpace those moving from non-belief in their childhood to belief by a 4:1 ratio, according to Pew.
As for those non-believers who embrace a faith in their later years, a report in the Daily Beast suggested that it's likely due, in part, to relationships and marriages in which partners lead them to change their faith identification and, in some cases, their religious practice.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, believes that the overall "Christianity is dying" narrative surrounding the Pew Research Center study is incorrect.
"Rather than predict the impending doom of the church in America, this latest study affirms what many researchers have said before. Christianity isn't collapsing; it's being clarified," he wrote in a USA Today op-ed. "Churches aren't emptying; rather, those who were Christian in name only are now categorically identifying their lack of Christian conviction and engagement."
And while the proportions might be changing when it comes to Christianity as a share of the overall proportion, Stetzer noted that the numbers in the Pew study actually show an increase for evangelical Christianity from 59.8 million in 2007 to to 62.2 million in 2014.
Read his complete analysis here.
(H/T: Daily Beast)
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