The bumper sticker on the car in front of me was emphatic.
You can’t be Christian and pro-abortion, it read.
“Really?” I said to myself as I trailed behind the car in rush-hour traffic. “Isn’t that God’s decision – and not yours?”
That was a couple of days ago, but the bumper sticker leapt back into my thoughts as I read the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study – a sweeping survey of Americans’ attitudes about faith and church.
The survey’s findings showed that America is becoming less Christian than it was only a few years ago.
In 2007, when Pew’s pollsters asked the same questions, they found that 78.4 percent of Americans said they were Christians. When they asked again in 2014, the pollsters discovered that 70.6 percent said they were Christian – a drop of nearly 8 percent in just seven years.
The survey also showed strong gains among Americans pollsters called religiously unaffiliated – those folks who identified themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.”
Seven years, these unchurched Americans accounted for 16.1 percent of the population. Now the number is up to 22.8 percent – a jump from being less than a sixth of the population to nearly a quarter of the population in just a few years.
What’s intriguing is that these numbers seem to reflect changes across the board. They’re occurring in every part of the country, in every age group, in every racial or ethnic group and every economic demographic.
That’s the “what” of the situation. The “why” is something we really don’t know.
There’s a speculation that this move away from organized Christian faith is a product of the increasing fragmentation of American culture. Or immigration. Or moral decay.
I’m not going to claim to know with anything resembling certainty the answer to that profound question.
But there’s a reason the car and the bumper sticker came to mind when I read the Pew results.
You can’t be Christian and pro-abortion.
There’s a political and public policy statement there, of course, and there is some evidence that the increasing political stridency in faith communities is alienating people who otherwise might be devout.
I’m not going to devote a lot of time to pointing out that there’s a difference between being pro-choice and pro-abortion – in part because I’m less focused, at the moment, on political arguments than about issues of faith.
I’m a Christian.
There are times, though, that I hesitate to say that – not because I’m abashed about my faith. No, my reluctance stems from the kind of tone I see in that bumper sticker. It isn’t that I want to suppress what that person thinks or even that I think he or she is wrong. But, because that sort of absolutism has become the popular perception of what Christianity is and what Christians believe, I’m hesitant to accept that label.
Because it doesn’t reflect my faith.
My guess – and I will acknowledge that it is only a guess – is that the person who slapped that sticker on the back of his or her car reads the Bible and finds both certitude and answers within its pages. If that’s the case, I’m happy for him or her.
For many of us, though, our spiritual quests are just that – quests. We read our spiritual texts and, instead of finding answers, we discover still more questions and find ourselves confronted with still more challenges.
For us, knowing divine imperatives is never an easy thing. And having the conviction that we understand God’s will enough to speak for Him or Her is almost impossible.
When I’m pressed for an answer about my faith, I describe myself as a renegade Protestant and explain that I don’t want anything, not even a church, getting between me and my relationship with God.
I used to think I was alone in believing as I did.
The Pew study suggests, though, that there are a lot of us out there who have more questions than answers but remain devout in the asking.