FOX47 NEWS - Religious Realignment

Jeff Angileri
Apr 12, 2009, 6:52 PM

Parishioners packed the pews in Wisconsin churches Easter Sunday, but a new survey shows, overall, the number of worshippers is dropping.

Seventy-six percent of people call now themselves Christian. In 1990, that number was 91 percent. Evangelical Christianity is on the rise, while historical congregations, including Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches have fallen.

Wisconsin Pastor Jerry Folk says people focus too much on these churches as separate groups. They have one mission, which is still the reconciliation of human kind within itself and with God, Folk said. We exaggerate our differences -- there's differences in worship style, differences in the way we express ourselves, but on the fundamental points of our faith, I don't think there are very many differences between groups.

Experts say it is those perceived differences that my be pushing people away. Twenty percent of Wisconsinites now say they are not religious or have no preference, compared to 8 percent in 1990.

Professor Charles Cohen of the Lubar Institute says that doesn't mean 1/5 the population is atheist.

They may be people who are practicing their own rituals or lead what they see as religious lives on their own, or they may be attending several different congregations, Cohen said.

Still, about about 15 percent of Americans say they are atheist or agnostic, and they may be gaining more power politically. For the first time in history, President Barack Obama, a Christian, mentioned non-believers in an inauguration address. Experts say it could be a sign of a religious realignment in the 21st century.

To be more diffuse, more open, more mobile like the American population itself, Cohen said.

The survey, called the American Religious Identification Survey, was conducted by Trinity College in Connecticut.

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