FTA: The March of the Nones Continue

From the Archives (FTA) is a category of posts previously published at The LatiNone that still have some contemporary relevance. This FTA post was originally published on September 7, 2017.

PRRI released yesterday a new ginormous poll of religious identification in the United States. At 101,000-ish cases the largest this century and its scope is so large that it is really unprecedented. Of course, I am interested in what it says about the religious nones. And I may say, many things are good news.

Take, for example, this pretty line chart tracing the growth of the nones back 40 years. Up to the 1990s, roughly 1-in-10 Americans were non religious. Then, by the 2000s the population started growing and was famously captured and highlighted by the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey nearly a decade ago. Back then people considered that 15 percent of Americans being non religious was a pretty big deal. In the crazy days following the release of the 2008 ARIS those of us in that team did a lot of media. My friend Ryan Cragun did an interview (I can’t recall where) predicting that the nones soon will be 25 percent of the country. I thought that was optimistic, time has proved me wrong.

Today, about one-quarter of Americans are religious nones. What does that mean for the country and its future? I don’t really know, but I will explore several questions regarding the growth of the nones in the next few posts using the PRRI report. I will explore the demographics of the nones, the politics of the nones, and likely engage with some of the pieces that have been, are being, and will be written about this report.

FTA: The March of the Nones Continue
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FF: The Religious Roots of New England’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage

Flashback Friday (FF) is a category of posts previously published elsewhere that still have some contemporary relevance. This FF post was originally published on April 25, 2013 in the PRRI blog.

Yesterday, the Rhode Island State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now returns to the State House of Representatives, which already voted in favor of a similar bill. Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican U.S. Senator, is expected to sign the bill into law once it reaches his office.

If and when Rhode Island finally codifies same-sex marriage into law, it will make New England the first region in the country where all states have legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples. According to PRRI’s recent survey, a slim majority of American (52%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. However, in New England, support increases to 7-in-10 (70%) residents. This high level of support may be related to the concentration of the religious groups most likely to favor same-sex marriage in the region.

New England has a low percentage of groups opposed to same-sex marriage. Only 7% of New Englanders identify as white evangelical Protestants, compared to nearly 1-in-5 (18%) Americans overall. Only 24% of white evangelicals favor same-sex marriage (71% are opposed). Black Protestants, who also oppose same-sex marriage (37% favor, 57% oppose), are also underrepresented in New England compared to the national population (3% vs. 8%). Instead, Catholics (30%), mainline Protestants (22%), and Jews (6%) are overrepresented among New Englanders, and majorities of these groups favor same-sex marriage (57%, 55%, and 81%, respectively). In addition, 1-in-5 (21%) New England residents are religiously unaffiliated, a figure that’s similar to the rest of the country. More than three-quarters (76%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor same-sex marriage.

Massachusetts was the first New England state to approve same-sex marriage in 2004. It was later joined by Connecticut (2008), Vermont (2009), New Hampshire (2010), and Maine, which is one of the three states that extended marriage rights for same-sex couples through referendum last November.

FF: The Religious Roots of New England’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage

More on the White Evangelical-to-Religious None Pipeline

On my post “The Nones are Causing the White Evangelical Aging Crisis” I wrote:

I guess they [younger people] are leaving [evangelical churches] more because of politics than theology, while the older folk are leaving due to theology. Why do I think this? Because the political differences between white evangelicals and former white evangelicals are wider among people who left religion than people who switched congregations.

A new research paper by Paul A. Djupe, Jacob R. Neiheisel, and Kimberly H. Conger shows that in states with anti-gay rights policies, the nones increased more rapidly. Abstract below

Hout and Fischer have made the repeated, controversial claim that the dramatic rise of “religious nones” in the United States is due to the prominence of the politics of the Christian Right. As the argument goes, the movement’s extreme stands on gay rights and abortion make religion inhospitable to those who take more moderate and liberal positions. We take another look at this proposition with novel data drawing on expert reports and interest group counts that capture the prominence of the movement in each American state from 2000 to 2010. We attach these data to decennial religious census data on the unchurched, as well as estimates of the nones from Cooperative Congressional Election Study data. At stake is whether religion is independent of political influence and whether American religion is sowing its own fate by failing to limit taking extreme stands. Rising none rates are more common in Republican states in this period. Moreover, when the Christian Right comes into more public conflict, such as over same-sex marriage bans, the rate of religious nones climbs.

This paper is very useful for understanding how politics affects religious identification. Alas, it doesn’t answer (and it wasn’t its goal to do so) the larger question about the religious beliefs of people who move toward no-identification. I think people, particularly young people, who become nonreligious and come from a conservative Christian background leave religion because of doubts about the veracity of religious beliefs than political matters. Otherwise they would join or start to identify with a more liberal Christian tradition.

Aside

The Nones are Causing the White Evangelical Aging Crisis

A recent piece in Newsweek about”President” Trump’s high approval levels with white evangelical Protestants highlights a problem in that community: they are not getting any younger. According to the article, current surveys find that white evangelicals are older than the general population. That makes sense since whites are generally older than the overall U.S. population. The article also states that young people are leaving over issues of same-sex marriage and the role of science. However, the story is more complex. Two big cohorts are leaving white evangelical churches, and they are quite different.

According to the 2014 Pew Landscape survey, 29 percent of white Americans are evangelical Protestants, and 10 percent are former evangelical Protestants. So, who is leaving? About 4-in-10 of those who have left the faith became nones, and about 4-in-10 joined mainline Protestant churches. This is an important fact left out of the Newsweek article. Many white people are not just leaving their own churches, they  are leaving religion altogether. But, do those joining mainline churches and those becoming nones have the same profile?

Let’s look first at their age profile. The 2014 Pew poll finds that 49 percent of whites are under the age of 50, similar to the 46 percent of evangelicals in that age cohort. However, 59 percent of former evangelicals joining mainline denominations are over 50 years old. By contrast, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the former white evangelicals who are now nones are under 50.

Indeed, among whites under 30 who have left evangelical denominations, those who became nones outnumber those who became mainline Protestants by nearly 3-to-1 (29 percent vs. 10 percent). The proportion of young former white evangelicals who are now non-religious is nearly double of actual white evangelicals under 30 (29 percent vs. 15 percent).

Are all these people leaving over the treatment of LGBTQ people and science? There’s some truth to that. Only 28 percent of white evangelicals in 2014 favored same-sex marriage. Among those who left and became mainline Protestants, just a plurality (48 percent) reported being in favor of same-sex marriage. Certainly more liberal, but not earth-shattering. Among the former white evangelical who became nones, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) favored same-sex marriage.

A similar pattern occurs with evolution. Nearly four-in-ten (38 percent) of white evangelicals think that “Humans and other living things have evolved over time.” A majority (56 percent) of those who joined mainline churches also agree that humans evolved, while 81 percent of those who became nones accept evolutionary theory.

While these numbers lend some credibility to the idea that people leaving evangelical congregations are doing so over their positions on LGBTQ rights or evolution, I think it is a political matter. If people were leaving their theologically conservative churches over these issues, they would be joining other congregations. Some of that is happening, since many people are switching to, presumably more liberal, mainline churches. That’s certainly the case with the older folk who are leaving evangelical congregations. But why the younger people are leaving organized religion altogheter?

I guess they are leaving more because of politics than theology, while the older folk are leaving due to theology. Why do I think this? Because the political differences between white evangelicals and former white evangelicals are wider among people who left religion than people who switched congregations.

Only 13 percent of white evangelicals and 15 percent of former white evangelicals who are now mainline Protestants identify as liberals. More than one-third (34 percent) of nones who were white evangelicals say they are liberals. While current evangelicals are more than twice as likely to say they are very conservative than former-now-mainline (15 percent vs. 6 percent), they are not very different in the proportion calling themselves just conservative.

The white evangelical “age problem” is mostly driven by young people leaving religion altogether, something that is not clear in the Newsweek piece. But the data shown here also hints at why white evangelical Protestants are so supportive of President Trump. That particular religious cohort is essentially pruning not just those who have stopped trusting religion altogether, but also people who seem to be appalled by anti-science and bigotry. This also means that “true believers” in the President will remain to identify as white evangelicals. The number to watch now is not just the overall white evangelical support for the President, but also if an increase in support is also mixed with a shrinking cohort.

If I have time, in a future post will be interesting to explore the educational profile of whites who remain Christian but are leaving their evangelical faith behind and how it compares to those remaining in the cohort.

The Nones are Causing the White Evangelical Aging Crisis