the shape of leadership

“Nones” Sever Religious Ties Over Politics

Disagreement on political and social issues motivates some to abandon church

Politics may help account for the growing share of U.S. adults who choose not to identify with any religion, a new report from Pew Research Center indicates.

About a quarter of the U.S. adult population are religiously unaffiliated. When researchers asked these religious “nones” why they are unaffiliated, about half of respondents (49 percent) said a distaste for the “positions churches take on social/political issues” is a “very important” reason. In fact, this emerged as the second most common reason for joining the ranks of the “nones.”

Questioning religious teachings (60 percent) was the top reason for being unaffiliated. (Respondents could select more than one “very important” reason.)

When asked to identify the most important reason for being unaffiliated, 16 percent pointed to politics.

Other popular answers included the following:

  • “I don’t like religious organizations” (41 percent)
  • “I don’t believe in God” (37 percent)
  • “Religion is irrelevant to me” (36 percent)
  • “I don’t like religious leaders” (34 percent)

When asked to identify the most important reason for being unaffiliated, 16 percent pointed to politics, while 25 percent cited doubts regarding religious teachings and 22 percent said they don’t believe in God.

However, the unaffiliated are far from united in their reasons for withdrawing from religion. The answers varied widely between atheists, agnostics and those who simply identify as “nothing in particular.” For instance, just 4 percent of atheists say politics and social issues are the main reason they are unaffiliated, while 14 percent of agnostics and 21 percent of the “nothing in particular” group cite this as their primary motivation. And just 8 percent of those in the “nothing in particular” category cited disbelief in God as their most important reason for becoming “nones,” compared to 75 percent of atheists and 17 percent of agnostics.

This should give Christians, and especially church leaders, pause when it comes to engaging in political arguments and airing divisive opinions publicly. We must proclaim the truths of Scripture. Yet we must also remember Paul’s admonition to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). And that may mean sometimes opting to put aside personal proclivities for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:21-23).


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