At the end of last month, Gallup released its findings from a recent survey about religious beliefs in the United States. The results were interesting, not least of which because it puts to an end the theory that the existence of a “Bible Belt” in America is a myth. But were the result really all that helpful?
The Gallup site says,
For the current ranking, Gallup uses the responses to a straightforward question that asks: “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” The rankings are based on the percentage of each state’s adult (18 and older) population that answers in the affirmative.
The results show that “the United States is generally a religious nation, although the degree of this religiosity varies across states and regions of the country.” But what does it mean for this country to be “religious”? More than that, what do people mean when they identify themselves believing religion plays an important part of their lives? Why is it important? How is it important?
Take my current State, Michigan. Gallup’s pole reveals that it is averagely religious. At least where I live in mid-Michigan, that means that there are many people who live as disenfranchised or nominal Lutherans and Catholics. Through conversation, it’s clear they either do not understand the gospel or no longer really care for “organized” religion. In other words they’ve received a Christian inoculation and are now resistent to listening to its message. This makes real gospel ministry difficult.
In some ways, gospel ministry would seem to be easier in places like New England where people are straight forward in saying religion isn’t important. There you can know what you’re aiming at. But what about places like the deep South where they identify themselves as the most religious of the country? Are they merely religious or do they know and understand and embrace the gospel?
All of these questions need to be asked because of the incongruity of having 65% of Americans saying religion is important alongside the staggering rates of abortion, marriage disintegration, and pornography sales and downloads in this country. It seems our national idea of religion isn’t making much of a difference in our lives. If it isn’t making much difference in our lives, then something is wrong with our religious beliefs. Either we what we’re believing isn’t of much substance, or we really don’t believe the truths our religions espouse.
As those who profess to be Christians, this survey should force us to not only exmaine our lives and beliefs, but also that of those around us. What do our neighbors say they believe? What about our churches? Thinking through these kinds of things will help us better connect with our communities and bring the gospel to bear on their lives. For example, do we need to focus on defending the faith as we proclaim it, showing unreligious people the veracity of the gospel? Or do we need to work at showing what the fruit of real faith looks like, showing religious people their real need of the gospel?
Let’s work at discerning and commit ourselves all the more to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ so that we can move from being merely religious to Christ-like.
HT: Albert Mohler