A metro-area atheist said he encourages his fellow atheists and Protestants and Catholics to see a rapidly growing number of nonreligious as a “mission field.”
That was the viewpoint of Damion Reinhardt, treasurer of Oklahoma Atheists, when asked to share his comments about a Pew Research Center report released Tuesday.
The report, conducted by the center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, shows that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion is rapidly growing. At the same time, the Protestant share of the population has shrunk, it shows.
In 2007, 53 percent of adults in Pew Research Center surveys described themselves as Protestants. In multiple surveys conducted in the first half of 2012, fewer than half of American adults said they are Protestant (48 percent). This marks the first time in Pew Research Center surveys that the Protestant share of the population has dipped significantly below 50 percent.
Reinhardt, of Edmond, said atheists, Protestants and Catholics should not see the number of “Nones” — as the Pew report described the religiously unaffiliated — as a threat.
Several Oklahoma Protestant leaders said they don't feel threatened nor were they shocked at the report's findings.
The Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said the report's statistics say more about the church than the nation.
“Liberal Protestantism sadly has exchanged the truth of the Bible for question marks, repentance of sin for social activism, and the Gospel for political correctness, which produces nothing. Far too many evangelical churches and Christians have become self-absorbed, substituting a Sunday morning experience for a living faith,” Jordan said.
The Rev. Robert Hayes Jr., bishop of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, said the report “demonstrates where we've come as far as believers. That just goes to show you the distance the Church as to make up.”
He said going to church was an important part of American life over several decades after World War II.
“I jokingly tell people that I was in college before I found out that people had a choice about whether or not they would go to church,” he said.
Hayes said society has changed drastically, most notably since the 1960s and 1970s. He said department stores no longer close on Sundays, and many sports events are that day. Churches don't seem to speak the language of today's generation.
“This generation is looking for something more, something much more real, much more tangible and much more meaningful than these little Bible phrases that we give out,” he said. He said they are skeptical of people who say one thing and do another, and the church has to do better at practicing what it preaches.
Hayes and Jordan said they remain optimistic about the Church's future and its ability to eventually connect with those with no religious affinity.
“The church has been here before. The answer lies in the Church itself,” Jordan said. “A spiritual awakening that brings cleansing and renewal to the church will unleash the life-changing Gospel message. Only then will we see a transformation of the church and culture.”