A recent study shows that churches are working harder than ever to increase membership.

That has become more difficult because an increased number of people are showing a lack of interest in institutional religion.

Traditional wisdom was that as people grow older, start families and eventually face their mortality, they understand more about the importance of religion.  The latest research suggests that pattern is no longer true.

In 1975, 65 per-cent of Americans had confidence in the church.  That number has declined to 37%.

A new Pew research poll shows an increase in the number of religious “nones”, as they are known.  This is a group who say they do not identify with any specific religious group.

They say their “crisis of faith” is due to several factors.

American views of the honesty and ethics of church leaders has dropped to a new low.  This group sites an absence of inspirational leaders of high integrity and leadership capability.  They insist the scandals involving most of the prominent religious groups in recent years has affected their choices.

But the main reason given for their decision to turn away from any religious affiliation is the way political leaders use their beliefs to attack others. They claim there is a biased relationship between religion and political policies.

These non-religious “nones” contend that religious people tend to be the most bigoted and non-accepting people on earth.  They say instead of non-conditional love, religious people practice conditional loyalty and if you disagree with them, you become a target.

 Several stories that have made news headlines could give credibility to their argument.

Recent op-ed pieces written by some parents detailed why they are raising their children not to be affiliated with religion.

One says children raised without religion tend to be more tolerant and forgiving.  Another parent said people who attend church see themselves as being more moral and accuse politicians of using their views on morality as a weapon.

One mother says religion doesn’t make good people because people make good people.

A Catholic priest in Florence, South Carolina denied Communion to Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice-President, Joe Biden recently.

The priest said he did so because of Biden’s stance on abortion.  Biden is a life -long Catholic and says he does not advocate for abortion but supports a woman’s right to choose.

It was revealed this week that the priest who made the decision to refuse Communion to Biden had reportedly made contributions to the campaigns of several Republican candidates in the past.

A North Carolina high school teacher was suspended last week for allegedly separating students in her class by their religious beliefs.

The students say they were separated based on their belief in God and asked their views on LGBT rights.

The teacher allegedly told students that if any of them said anything about the incident, she would “not recommend them for a job or even entrance to college.”

Many of the most controversial topics in American politics have been made so because of religious involvement reasoning.  Those include abortion, birth control, same-sex marriage and stem cell research.

We are all aware that politicians use religion to discredit their opponents.

The recent claim by Republicans that all Democrats are non-Christian is as outrageous as saying all Republicans are racists.  Both are political lies and calling each other names does nothing to unite “one nation under God.”

One truth stands out in all of this.  Faith is not complicated.  Religion is.

 It doesn’t bode well for future generations if religion plays no part in their lives because of the actions of misguided people.

 I’m no Joe Biden fan but it has been reported that he is a faithful church member.  If churches exclude people who have differing political views, we will have a lot of empty pews.

 A teacher abusing her position to call out students on their religious beliefs is unprofessional and she should be ashamed. 

Shaming and embarrassing people in the name of religion is just wrong.  It is one thing to defend your religious beliefs when challenged, but it is another matter when people use those beliefs to justify hateful and demeaning actions.

Desmond Tutu once wrote: “Religion is like a knife; you can use it to cut bread or stick it in someone’s back.

Faith is a journey to learn about God’s love for all mankind.  We cannot convince others to take this journey if we make them feel isolated.  God is the only one who has the incomparable ability to change hearts and minds on any subject.

Anita McGill is a former publisher of The Sentinel. She can be reached by email at anitamcgill99@gmail.com.

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