You might have missed it in the deluge of personal attacks dubbed "Campaign adds" but a statistic released last week marked a watershed for US history. Not only did the "nones" (people with no religious affiliation) become the fastest growing group in the American religious landscape but also, for the first time since its founding the Protestant percentage of the population dipped below 50% - it is now at 48% and will probably continue to fall in the near future. The United States is no longer a Protestant nation.
Now, you might say this was inevitable. After all, in countries like Switzerland, Holland, Germany - the percentage of Protestants has been falling steadily since the 20th century. Geneva, once the capital of Calvinist & Puritan Protestantism has now more Roman Catholics than Calvinists, and both groups are shrinking. In the Netherlands, Catholics & Protestants together barely count more than 60% of the population. Finally, the Czech republic is the most secular of all - over 70% of the population claims absolutely no religion whatsoever. In Marlborough the church the I pastor - once holding 100% of the town's members and being the state church for which all the cities inhabitants paid taxes - now has 200 members out of ca. 60 000 inhabitants today. You do the math.
But there is something disturbing in this trend. For better and for worse, Protestant Christianity and its ethics have shaped the US for the past 300 years. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams might not have been devout or orthodox Christians (two of them were actually Unitarians) but they were shaped by the values of the "New England Primer" and versed in the language of the Book of Common Prayer.
What does it mean for the US - and for the churches - that they are no longer a majority faith? What values will shape our society and country when the faith of John Winthrop, Charles Hodge, Reinhold Niebhur and so many recedes to the background? I would be curious to hear your answers
I will be preaching on the subject "The brave, non-Protestant world" this Sunday, the Reformation Sunday at First Church in Marlborough on 37 High Street at 10 AM. The liturgy will be based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. All are most welcome to come.