Of the many cultural changes we baby boomers have experienced, religion in America, and the participation of Americans in organized religion, is as big as any. That’s what Pat O’Donnell writes about from the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, Kansas, in this Boomer Opinion piece which he simply calls, Boomers & Church.
As a former broadcast journalist, I continue to pay close attention to life and events that impact society. As a baby boomer, I find that parts of my own life are being affected by cultural changes. Once, a critically important part of my life was my church community. But not so much today.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a strong faith and maintain my prayer life. However, I believe my church left me, not the other way around. Now I am left trying to figure out how or if I will replace this once vital part of my life. I’m wondering how many others of my boomer generation may be in the same situation.
As I thought about this idea, I wondered what other boomers might be experiencing with organized religion and church. What is driving many of us away? Why are some many churches closing? Why are denominations reorganizing?
Perhaps it’s the sexual abuse scandals of the clergy. Or the extremes of the liberals and conservatives within each denomination. The growth of same-sex marriage. Perhaps the lack of a focus on the common good. I suggest that all of these things and more have contributed to the disconnect and the departures.
Friends directed me to several online resources where I could find information. One of those sites, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, provided volumes of data on attitudes towards church and faith. I was not shocked to learn that a Gallup Poll in 1993 found that 58% of people said religion was an important part of their life. In 2019, only 49% of those polled claimed the same.
I did find some specific details on our generation. A 2014 project by The Pew Research Center reports that 59% of boomers said religion was an important part of their life compared to 69% of our parents and 72% of our grandparents’ generations. Now, six years later, I suspect more of our age to be in a discernment mode regarding their relationship with a church.
I am certainly not an expert on research or religion. But in conversation with peers and friends, many seem to feel as I do. Our world, our culture, and American society are changing before our eyes. Some of these changes are for the better. Some produce more division among generations, and others lead us to outcomes we would not have expected.
Scott Thumma, Ph.D., writing for the Hartford Institute, says, “We live in a period of significant cultural unsettledness.” He calls it a “perfect storm,” impacting traditional congregations and faith practices.
In recent times we have seen news coverage of the severe divisions among many faith traditions. Some may lead to reorganizations within denominations due to the strong beliefs on all sides of the issues. Currently, nearly two dozen Catholic churches in Chicago are consolidating into about nine parishes.
My instincts tell me the relationship of younger generations to traditional church will be less impactful. They have not lived the religious norms of our youth.
I always thought I would become more engaged with my faith community as I aged, but just the opposite has happened. I believe there are many others with similar feelings choosing to live with peace and kindness rather than with the divisions currently experienced in many churches.