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The Death of Religion in America? What It Means for People of Faith

04-27-2016
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WASHINGTON America's religious landscape is changing.

Despite our Judeo-Christian roots, fewer Americans are identifying as Christian, while the number of Americans with no religion is growing at a record pace.

Pew research first surveyed more than 35,000 Americans about their religious views in 2007, then repeated the study seven years later.

During that time, those who call themselves Christians dropped nearly 8 percent – driven by declines among mainstream Protestant and Catholic congregations.

Non-Christian faiths inched up ever so slightly, just over 1 percent.

At the same time though, Americans who say they're atheist, agnostic or nothing, so called religious nones – rose by more than 6 percent, making the nones nearly 23 percent of the population.

Three Christian U.S. senators, two Democrats and one Republican, recently talked about this change and the role faith plays in their jobs as elected leaders.

"I've struggled in 22 years in public life with sort of how to be a religious person in the world, and what I've decided is I should just be authentically who I am and much like I would share that I'm interested in the Kansas City Chiefs or baseball and camping – if I would share that or if I would share that I'm married and have three children. Why wouldn't I share the most important thing about me?" asked Sen. Tim Kaine, Va-D.

Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford says the nation is becoming incresingly uncomfortable with expressions of faith.

"I tell people all the time that faith is faith when it permeates every part of who you are," Lankford said. "If your faith only matters to you on weekends, that's not really a faith, that's a hobby and you can have a hobby, that's OK, but if it's a faith it affects how I treat my wife, it affects how we treat each other, it affects how i drive, it affects how I interact with other people. It shouldn't be something that I hide because I was elected."

As people of faith and lawmakers work through these issues, the senators agree that open dialogue is critical.

"People will say you're either for religious liberty or you're for gay marriage," he continued. "Or they'll say if you support religious liberty than you're anti-gay and they'll want to take that and just pull that apart and that is factually not who we are, nor where we have been as a nation and I think that is a very precarious road of constricting speech."

Putting people in a box, Lankford maintains, silences people of faith and stops important conversations.

With the growth of milennials choosing lives without faith, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., worries about religious literacy among non-believers. He says an individual's right to exercise their religion must be on equal footing with individual liberty."

"As long as we can continue to lift up the importance of individual religious free exercise and that it deserves an equal footing with a civil society where we respect individual liberty, we're at least asking the right questions and fortunately those best principles do show up in the research," he said.

Devout Christians are actually reading their Bibles, sharing their faith and praying together more today than they did seven years ago.

Sen. Kaine says we are blessed to live in a country where both sides can talk about these issues civilly. That keeps America as a beacon to parts of the world where there are no peaceful approaches to separate religious beliefs.

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