Peo­ple rarely seek guid­ance from clergy

The Prince George Citizen - - Religion - Jeff KAROUB

DETROIT — Ti­mothy Buchanan says he never con­sults clergy about im­por­tant de­ci­sions, but it’s not for lack of faith: he reg­u­larly at­tends a non­de­nom­i­na­tional Chris­tian church near his home.

Buchanan, 41, is not alone. A large ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans make im­por­tant de­ci­sions with­out calling on re­li­gious lead­ers for ad­vice, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey re­leased Mon­day by The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search . The poll finds three-quar­ters of Amer­i­can adults rarely or never con­sult a clergy mem­ber or re­li­gious leader, while only about a quar­ter do so at least some of the time.

“The church we go to is quite large, and we’re rel­a­tively new there,” said Buchanan, who lives with his wife in Bo­livia, N.C.

“We re­ally haven’t es­tab­lished a re­la­tion­ship with a min­is­ter there. Go­ing to larger churches, it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble now to get a re­la­tion­ship with a clergyman or woman.”

The lack of per­sonal con­nec­tion with ministers even in­cludes peo­ple who iden­tify with a spe­cific re­li­gious faith, though those who are most en­gaged with their faith are more likely to have re­la­tion­ships with clergy.

The poll finds about a third of Amer­i­cans say­ing they at­tend church or other re­li­gious ser­vices at least twice a month; roughly a quar­ter never go.

Among re­li­gious adults who at­tend ser­vices at least twice a month, about half say they some­times or of­ten con­sult with a re­li­gious leader. That com­pares with 16 per cent of re­li­gious adults who at­tend ser­vices less of­ten.

And while the poll finds a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans still iden­tify with a spe­cific faith, about half over­all say they want re­li­gious lead­ers to have lit­tle in­flu­ence in their lives.

For his part, Buchanan feels a con­nec­tion to faith – he grew up in a small church and has an uncle who is a Bap­tist min­is­ter – but he’s still feel­ing his way around where he wor­ships. Besides the size, he feels some of his own ret­i­cence to reach out to a pastor could be a re­flec­tion of the tech­nol­ogy-fo­cused times.

“Peo­ple don’t know how to have per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tions with other folks when you need to ask ques­tions or need to get help,” he said.

“For in­stance, we’ve got some is­sues with our health in­sur­ance plan, so I spent an hour to­day Googling... in­stead of just pick­ing up the phone and calling some­body.”

Tim O’Malley, a the­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Notre Dame Uni­ver­sity, said he suspects that tech­no­log­i­cal self-ser­vice is among the fac­tors con­tribut­ing to in­fre­quent contact with clergy.

“In Amer­i­can life, there has ul­ti­mately been a broad re­jec­tion of ‘ex­perts’ apart from the per­son search­ing for the an­swer on his or her own,” O’Malley said in an email.

“Think about the use of Google. You can lit­er­ally Google any­thing. Should I have chil­dren? What ca­reer should I have? When should I make a will? How do I deal with a dif­fi­cult child?

“In this sense, there has been a de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of in­for­ma­tion based on the seek­ing self,” he added.

“You can find the in­for­ma­tion more eas­ily through a search en­gine than find­ing a mem­ber of a clergy.”

There are some top­ics on which Amer­i­cans are more likely to reach out to re­li­gious lead­ers, the poll finds. Nearly half say they’re at least moder­ately likely to con­sult with a clergy mem­ber or re­li­gious leader about vol­un­teer­ing or char­i­ta­ble giv­ing. About four in 10 say they’re at least moder­ately likely to con­sult about mar­riage, di­vorce or re­la­tion­ships.

Jo King said she rarely con­sults with clergy mem­bers but would be moder­ately likely to talk to one of them about mar­riage, di­vorce or re­la­tion­ship is­sues. While she doesn’t feel the need to reg­u­larly meet one-on-one with priests, she reg­u­larly at­tends ser­vices and says re­li­gion has always been “very im­por­tant to me.”

“I used to con­sult pe­ri­od­i­cally with them... when I was younger, but I rarely con­sult with any­body. I kind of live my life my way,” said King, 72, a Catholic from Canal Winch­ester, Ohio.

Ex­perts say the clergy sex abuse cri­sis con­fronting the Ro­man Catholic Church also could be tak­ing a toll on con­sul­ta­tions be­tween parish­ioners and priests. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey, about a quar­ter of U.S. Catholics said the cri­sis had led them to re­duce their at­ten­dance at Mass and their do­na­tions to the church. Some bish­ops have ac­knowl­edged that many Catholics are dis­tanc­ing them­selves from the church be­cause of the furor.

Polling has shown a steep rise over sev­eral decades in the share of Amer­i­cans iden­ti­fy­ing as un­af­fil­i­ated with a re­li­gion. Gallup polls in 2018 showed 20 per cent of Amer­i­cans say­ing they have no re­li­gion, up from two per cent in 1955.

At the same time, more Amer­i­cans de­scribe re­li­gion as unim­por­tant in their lives, and church mem­ber­ship and ser­vice at­ten­dance have de­clined. Gallup polling shows about half of Amer­i­cans said they at­tended re­li­gious ser­vices within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.

Weekly church at­ten­dance among Catholics specif­i­cally has been steadily de­clin­ing, to roughly 40 per cent from 75 per cent in 1955, ac­cord­ing to Gallup.

O’Malley, who also serves as di­rec­tor of education for Notre Dame’s McGrath In­sti­tute for Church Life, sees “a lack of trust in all sorts of in­sti­tu­tions,” in­clud­ing houses of wor­ship.

“Surely the church – the Catholic church in par­tic­u­lar – has lost some moral author­ity in the last 25 years in the United States,” he said.

“But it is joined by schools, news­pa­pers, the me­dia in gen­eral, etc.”

The AP-NORC poll of 1,137 adults was con­ducted May 1720 us­ing a sam­ple drawn from NORC’s prob­a­bil­ity-based Amer­iS­peak Panel, which is de­signed to be representa­tive of the U.S. population. The mar­gin of sampling er­ror for all re­spon­dents is plus or mi­nus 4.1 per­cent­age points. Re­spon­dents were first se­lected ran­domly us­ing ad­dress-based sampling meth­ods and later were in­ter­viewed on­line or by phone.

As­so­ci­ated Press re­li­gion cov­er­age re­ceives sup­port from the Lilly En­dow­ment through the Re­li­gion News Foundation. The AP is solely re­spon­si­ble for this con­tent.


A gay pride rain­bow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the As­bury United Methodist Church in Prairie Vil­lage, Kan. in April.

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