Some people struggle with the phrase “American exceptionalism.”
Our 44th president, Barack Obama, seemed uncomfortable with the concept when he said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
In other words, everyone’s nation is special in their own eyes.
That’s true to a degree, but it’s also a fact that America’s founding was unique to history. Establishing our Constitutional republic amounted to a 5000 year leap in good government.
But there’s one more thing that makes us unique. What is it?
America’s exceptional faith.
Need some encouraging news? Contrary to popular myth, we are not irretrievably becoming more secular in the USA.
There’s good news to be found in a recent Harvard study analyzed by Glenn Stanton in the Federalist, commentary by Gary Randall of the Faith & Freedom Network, and independent studies by Indiana University Bloomington and Pew Research Center.
We begin with a myth: “A widespread decline in churchgoing and religious affiliation portends doom to present-day America.”
Stanton states: “Statements like this are uttered with such confidence and frequency that most Americans accept them as true. Religious faith in America is going the way of the Yellow Pages and travel maps, we keep hearing. Is this true? Is churchgoing and religious adherence really in ‘widespread decline’ so much so that conservative believers should suffer ‘growing anxiety’?”
Here’s what three recent studies found.
The Harvard report shows that U.S. Christianity isn’t only alive, but growing. This statement is difficult to believe with the media’s drumbeat of liberal bias. But powerful new statistics point to a resurgence of faith.
Glenn Stanton says, “Not only did [Harvard’s] examination find no support for this secularization in terms of actual practice and belief, the researchers proclaim that religion continues to enjoy ‘persistent and ‘exceptional intensity’ in America. These researchers hold our nation ‘remains an exceptional outlier and potential counter example to the secularization thesis.'”
Believe it or not, the authors of Harvard’s report “found that the percentage of church-attending Americans relative to overall population is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776.” In fact, Stanton points out, “The number of attendees has continued to rise each and every decade over our nation’s history right up until the present day.”
Despite the hemorrhaging of mainline congregations, most analysts say the brunt of the losses are liberal churches. “When the so-called ‘progressive’ churches question the historicity of Jesus, deny the reality of sin, support abortion, ordain clergy in same-sex relationships and perform their marriages, people desiring real Christianity head elsewhere,”
Stanton reminds people: “Evangelical churches gain five new congregants exiled from the liberal churches for every one they lose for any reason. They also do a better job of retaining believers from childhood to adulthood than do mainline churches.”
In other words, Christianity is shifting — not dying. The number of people who read their Bible, go to church weekly, pray regularly has been “steel-bar constant” for the last half-century. “Patently persistent,” as Harvard calls it.
It also happens to be in astounding contrast to other nations.
“Attending services more than once a week continues to be twice as high among Americans compared to the next highest-attending industrial country, and three times higher than the average comparable nation.”
The percentage of such people is also not insignificant. One in three Americans prays multiple times a day, while one in 15 do so in other countries on average. Attending services more than once a week continues to be twice as high among Americans compared to the next highest-attending industrial country, and three times higher than the average comparable nation.
One-third of Americans hold that the Bible is the actual word of God. Fewer than 10 percent believe so in similar countries.
Stanton concludes: “The United States ‘clearly stands out as exceptional,’ and this exceptionalism has not been decreasing over time. In fact, researchers determine that the percentages of Americans who are the most vibrant and serious in their faith is actually increasing a bit, ‘which is making the United States even more exceptional over time.'”
Part of the reason for this consistency is the number of children Bible-believing people produce. Christian parents are outpacing the offspring of secular populations– and that’s helped to keep the fabric of faith alive.
There is another factor beyond faith. The University of London’s Eric Kaufmann explains in his book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” (he says yes) that the sustaining vitality, and even significant per capita growth of serious Christian belief is as firmly rooted in fertility as it is in teaching and evangelism. Globally, he says that the more robust child-bearing practices of orthodox Jews and Christians create many more seriously religious people than those with a secular agenda.
Here’s the kicker. Social Darwinism may be true, but just not in the way secularists think. Those who have babies and raise and educate them tend to direct the future of humanity. Followers of Christ are doing this. Those denigrating faith are not.
So, why does it seem like secularism is over-running the United States? First, because of the sheer dominance of the liberal media and academia. We hear and see a “fake news” perspective everyday and tend to believe it. But they present only one side of the equation.
Gary Randall also points to misleading data on the Millennial generation. He says:
“Leading sociologist of religion Christopher Smith has found through his work that most emerging adults ‘report little change in how religious they have been in the previous five years.’ He surprisingly also found that those who do report a change say they have been more religious, not less. This certainly does not mean there is a major revival going on among young adults, but nor does it mean the sky is falling.”
Randall ends his view of Millennials with this perspective from one of my favorite authors, Rodney Stark:
“We should not confuse leaving the faith with attending less often. Rodney Stark and other scholars report that young adults begin to attend church less often in their ‘independent years’ and have always done so for as long back as such data has been collected. It’s part of the nature of emerging adulthood. Just as sure as these young people do other things on Sunday morning, the leading sociologists of religion find they return to church when they get married, have children, and start to live a real adult life. It’s like clockwork and always has been. However, the increasing delay among young adults in entering marriage and family is likely lengthening this gap today.”
All of these facts about faith should encourage us. The half empty part of the cup may still point toward the emergence of a secular progressive’ faith-hating society on the horizon–just as I spoke about last week. But the half full cup reveals that God is still at work and this should motivate us to seek His increasing showers of blessing.
May there be a world-wide revival of exceptional faith in Jesus Christ.