A lot of fundagelicals thought the knucklehead whom Joe Biden beat last November was doing the Lord’s work in the White House. But it appears that guy did nothing to reverse the decline of Christian faith and religious commitment in general in the United States. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who say they belong to a church, synagogue, or other house of worship dropped below 50% last year:
Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century [Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time,” Gallup, 2021.03.29].
One could argue that the previous White House occupant provoked disbelief in more ways than one. Not all churches and churchgoers drank the GOP Kool-Aid that derailed the Executive Branch for four years, but as many Christians recognized, having a contemptible, lying narcissist as the political figurehead of the evangelical movement gave religion in general a bad reputation. Even among believers, belonging to a house of worship is losing its luster: Gallup says that 60% of Americans professing some religious belief say they are members of some temple, compared to 73% twenty years ago.
Church membership has declined in every demographic subgroup Gallup slices:
Over the last two decades, Protestants Baby Boomers are the only subgroup who have managed to keep their church membership decline in the single digits. Church membership among unmarried Americans, folks who haven’t finished college, Democrats, non-conservatives, and folks from back East declined more than 20%. The groups least inclined to belong to houses of worship are liberals (35%), millennials (36%), and political independents (41%). (Gallup also notes that Hispanic American church membership is 37%, but Gallup changed its methodology in 2011 and thus can’t make the same historical comparisons as it does for other demographic groups listed above.)
American believerhood and temple membership were on the decline before a stunning majority of white evangelicals choose an adulterous Manhattan Mammonite as their chief of marketing and salvation. But four years of a literal anti-Christ in the White House didn’t help faith leaders reverse America’s trend away from religion. “What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds.”
Not that I’m celebrating. The better half of my household still puts food on the table by bringing coherent Christianity to the dwindling faithful. And if the number of Americans claiming no religious preference keeps climbing (now at a record 21%) keeps rising, my contrarian resistance to being part of a crowd may force me to abandon my Christian atheism and adopt a less popular worldview.