As Religious Faith Continues to Decline, a Faithful Remnant Has Outsized Political Impact
A new study on the worldview of Americans reveals that the number of people who identify with a religious faith is continuing to drop, concurrent with an ongoing decline in a sense of purpose among millennials. At the same time, polling research also shows that political participation among religious conservatives is at an all-time high.
The latest research conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University found that since the start of the COVID pandemic, incidence of a biblical worldview dropped from 6% to 4% among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults 18 or older. The study noted that fewer say they are “deeply committed to practicing” their religious faith in 2023 compared to 2020, which was reflected by a 20-percentage point drop “in those who believe they have a unique, God-given calling or purpose for their life,” from 66% of adults before the pandemic to 46% today.
The research did find increases in specific religious behaviors, including an 11-point increase (from 27% to 38%) in those who believe sex between two unmarried people is immoral. There was also a six-point increase in those who agree that “intentionally lying in order to protect your reputation or best interests” is immoral.
Still, a huge decline was found among born-again believers who say they “have a unique, God-given purpose or calling,” plunging from 88% to 46%. A further considerable drop was found for those claiming to be “deeply committed to practicing” their faith, falling from 85% to 50%.
George Barna, who serves as the director of research at the Cultural Research Center, described the two shifts as “quite astonishing.” But as he told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Tuesday’s edition of “Washington Watch,” these numbers can partly be attributed to what is happening among the millennial generation.
“Millennials [are] currently 21 to 39 years of age — [the] largest generation in America’s history, our primary parenting generation,” he explained. “[The] four biggest issues they’re struggling with: Number one, no sense of purpose in life. Seventy-five percent say, ‘I don’t know why I should get out of bed in the morning.’ Think about the impact of that on a family. Secondly, you’ve got a majority of them who admit that every day they’re struggling with mental health issues, severe depression, anxiety, fear, these kinds of things. And what does that look like in reality? The highest suicide rate of any generation we’ve ever seen.”
Barna, who also serves as senior research fellow at FRC’s Center for Biblical Worldview, further pointed to a common millennial value. “[A] third issue [is] they believe that relationships are vitally important. They want to be connected. They want to belong. They want to be part of a community. But they say it’s not working. It’s not happening. Now, part of that has to be traced back to their own selfishness, if you will, the narcissism of the generation where they believe that everything is about me. And if you want deep relationships, it can’t all be about you. And fourthly … is their faith issue, their worldview. And we know that this is a generation among all adult generations that has the lowest incidence of biblical worldview … the foundation of it all.”
While the religious worldview of Americans continues to dwindle overall, Barna’s research has also found a simultaneous movement among religious conservatives that is coalescing around political engagement, which makes up approximately 9% of the adult population.
“[There is a] core of Bible-believing Christians in America who don’t want to just sit and tell other people what to do, but they want to make things happen,” he noted. “They have real ideas about how the world can change for the better, and they’re going to pour themselves into it.” As Perkins observed, this group, often referred to by Barna as SAGECons (Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservatives) made up 14% of the vote in 2020, which translated to a third of Donald Trump’s overall vote.
“Ninety-nine percent of SAGECons turned out to vote,” Barna pointed out. “I’ve been doing this in politics for 40 something years now, been involved in a lot of national elections, worked with four presidential candidates. I’ve never seen anything like that. So it’s unprecedented. But it’s because they feel that this is an urgent time. This is not a time to sit back. If you care about the country, if you care about the kingdom, you’ve got to dig in.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.