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May  2015 12
National Pew Study on Religion

A new study on religions in America shows the number of people choosing to not be part of any religion is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. This trend comes as little surprise to Phillips Theological Seminary President Gary Peluso-Verdend.

“We’ve seen these trends for many years,” says Peluso-Verdend, who is also an associate professor of practical theology at the Tulsa school. “What is different or new is that the trends toward fewer persons calling themselves Christian and toward more persons either hostile or indifferent to religion are accelerating.”

The Pew Research Center report released this week says the number of adults in the U.S. who do not identify with any organized religion, a group researchers call “nones,” is now the second largest faith component in the nation, behind evangelical Christians. The research also shows a decline in the share of the U.S. population calling itself Christian by nearly eight percent in the past seven years.

Peluso-Verdend says he has been watching this trend for some time, especially among mainline Protestant denominations. And even though Oklahoma is often called the buckle of the Bible belt, he says many churches in the state are also facing the challenges of declining affiliation.

“Oklahoma is not immune to the trends,” Peluso-Verdend says. “If I were a leader of a religious community that depends on a stable or growing population, I would see many disruptive challenges in the Pew Report.”

From 2007 to 2014 in Oklahoma, the Pew study indicates Christian Evangelical religious affiliation fell six percent while those reporting no religious affiliation increased by the same amount. Roman Catholic affiliation fell four percent. But Mainline Protestants increased their numbers, gaining two percentage points in Oklahoma with historically black Protestant affiliation increasing by one percent.

Despite the decline, Christianity remains the primary faith for Americans, with about 70 percent saying they are affiliated with some form of the Christian faith.

“Compared to other Western nations, the U.S. is still a highly religious people,” according to Peluso-Verdend. “And each of the disruptions is also opening a new frontier. Persons with vision, energy, and courage may find the landscape is rich with possibilities.”

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