Choosing your religion
Survey follows trend in Christians becoming non-denominational
Darryl Moore’s spiritual search began over 30 years ago while growing up in Connecticut.
As a child, she actively attended an Episcopalian church with her parents but stopped when she grew older and her parents went less frequently. She felt something was lacking from the experience. As a teen, she heard her cousin talk about her relationship with Christ.
“The way she spoke made me realize she was in love,” said Moore. “And here I was in love with my boyfriend, and I didn’t feel the way she felt.”
Moore, now 55, answered an alter call invi- tation at a Baptist church at the age of 21. The call struck a chord that resonated within her and she attended that church for the next 20 years. She eventually left, looking for a deeper connection, and joined the Church of God, reveling in the relative freedom. But again, she realized there was still something missing and felt lost and up in the air.
“You might say I was a church hopper for a while,” she said.
About that time, her husband, a lapsed Catholic, began attending church again at St. Pius X in Conyers.
“I waited for him to get over being Catholic, and thankfully that did not happen,” she said with a laugh.
Moore began attending Mass with her hus- band and even signed up for the Rite of Christian Inquiry for Adults class.
“I said, ‘I’ll go to these classes, but I’m not going to be a Catholic,’” she said. “It was a lot of the sacraments I didn’t understand. I would leave class some Sundays and go home and cry and yell at my husband. ‘I can’t believe this. It’s too hard.’”
Gradually, the obstacles disappeared for Moore, and she was accepted into the church two years ago. “The longing was there, and I knew I had finally found my house,” she said.
Today, the Social Circle resident is now part of the team that leads the RCIA program at St. Pius X. Her adult daughters, who had been raised Baptist, were somewhat confused by their mother’s conversion. She sat down with her eldest daughter to explain her conversion, and after a three-hour talk, her daughter decided to convert as well.
Though Moore’s journey may seem roundabout, her story is typical of many Americans, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released last week. It turns out the American religious landscape is quite dynamic and varied, with more than a quarter of Americans changing their religious affiliation as they grow to adulthood.
The survey, which had a sample size of more than 35,000, found that 28 percent of American adults are now affiliated with different religions, or no religion at all, than the ones they were raised with as children. That number rises to 44 percent if switches between Protestant denominations are included.
Protestants made up the biggest portion of American religious affiliation, at 51.3 percent, with Catholics as the next biggest group at 23.9 percent followed by the unaffiliated at 16.1 percent.
In Georgia, 70 percent of those surveyed were Protestant, 12 percent Catholic and 13 percent unaffiliated. Evangelical Protestants and historically black Protestants had strong representation in Georgia, making up about 38 percent and 16 percent respectively of those surveyed in the state, compared to 26 percent and 7 percent nation wide.
The biggest group to gain nationally was those who considered themselves unaffiliated to any religion. Only 7.3 percent of the adults surveyed had been raised unaffiliated but about 16 percent now considered themselves atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular when in came to religion.
Another group to gain members was people who considered themselves a nondenominational Protestant, which had only 1.5 percent raised as such but 4.5 percent that identified that way as an adult.
Groups that had a net loss of members include Catholics, where about one-third of those surveyed were raised Catholic but less than a quarter of adults considered themselves Catholic, Baptists, which had about 21 percent raised Baptist but 17.2 percent Baptist as adults, and Methodists, which had about two percent of adults fewer than the 8.3 percent who were raised Methodist.
In the Newton County area, the results seemed to reflect in the experiences of some local religious leaders and residents.
“I think more people are looking for peace inside and not just looking for a kind of specific denomination,” said the Rev. John Whatley of First United Methodist Church in Covington. “I think they’re looking for God and their relationship with God.”
He said the United Methodist Church had been losing members, although FUMC was growing and was working on different ways of reaching people through changes such as music and service styles and different outreach efforts.
“Our core message has not changed,” he said. “Our message is that everyone is important to God.”
Father John Kiernan at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers said there had been increasing changeover in the number of people leaving and joining the Catholic Church.
“People are, in one sense, shopping around,” he said.
He said St. Pius was growing by about 100 families a year and that an increasing number of people who were Catholic were also moving to the area from other parts of the U.S. and from outside the country.
“I think some people get disillusioned with the church,” said Gary Thompson, assistant pastor at Eastridge Community Church, a non-denominational church which he said was made up of many former Baptists and Methodists.
“ I think they can’t find what they’re looking for,” said Thompson of the numbers of Americans who changed affiliation or had no religious affiliation.
“ People want to believe religions are all the same. It doesn’t matter what you believe. That’s the post-modern way,” he said. “ That’s causing people to search from one thing to the next.”
Hoyt Oliver, professor emeritus of religion at Oxford College, who spent a lifetime studying many religions, refuses to put himself into any particular box.
“I’m familiar with a dozen or more religions and enjoy the hell out of ’em,” said Oliver, an ordained Methodist minister and former missionary who practices Buddhist meditation and has an interest in the intersection of science and religion.
“ I think religion should make one joyous and compassionate and it should not divide us into an ‘us’ and ‘them,’” he said. “I think if you’re uptight about your religion, it isn’t faith; it’s an addiction.”
The survey also found about a quarter of adults aged 18 to 29 were not affiliated with any particular religion, suggesting young adulthood to be a time of religious and spiritual questioning.
For Dan Walden, director of the youth and children’s ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Covington, young adulthood was when he left behind the faith tradition he had been raised with, the Catholic Church. He said it wasn’t until he had a family himself that he and his wife joined First Presbyterian.
“I think I was looking for something different,” he said. “I suppose what I was looking for was my own faith.”
But, he makes clear his choice had more to do with being pulled to his eventual church family than being pushed away.
Moore feels her search began because of an innate desire to know God.
“ Because that desire is there, people are always seeking to fill that hole. So they start a search. Some people fill it with things that aren’t good for them. Other people seek a spiritual direction.”
Lifting the name: Bethabara Missionary Baptist Church member Priscilla Ellis raises her hands in praise during the group prayer at Sharp Stadium Saturday afternoon to conclude the multi- church “ On the roads with Jesus” litter pickup.
Symbol of a faith: Many young people continue to search for the right faith to fit their needs, be it Christian or something else.