Potential religious shift could be a sign of hope


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Over the last few years, there has been a clear shift in the religious landscape of this country. Perhaps the biggest change is the declining number of self-identified Christians; a Pew Poll from May showed that number had fallen from 78 percent to 70 percent between 2007 and 2014.

But it seems that there may be another important shift in the country’s landscape: the rise of liberal Christianity.

In some ways, we see it already in evolving attitudes on once controversial issues such as gay rights. A Pew Poll in July shows that members from pretty much all Christian denominations have increased their support for same-sex marriage over the last decade.

One of the broader shifts appears to be the way that public religious discourse is being defined less by those social issues and more on economic issues.

Even though he has largely adhered to the church’s strict social teachings, Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of caring for the poor and dealing with the effects of climate change.

Just last week, Bernie Sanders framed his economic message within a Christian framework at Liberty University that appears to have resonated.

In response to the speech, a Liberty University alumni gave a response referring to Sanders as a “John the Baptist” who had come to awaken Christians to their neglected duties to the poor.

Certainly, there are plenty of signs of the religious right’s presence in our country. We have Kim Davis denying marriage licenses as part of her “religious freedom” and Republicans working to defund Planned Parenthood.

But it seems like we may be in a transitional period where the voices of religious conservatives will grow fainter. Perhaps what will rise up is a religious dialogue concerned with issues of poverty and equality.

As an Atheist, my personal feelings on that prospect are mixed. It would of course be great to see the religious right, with all its hypocrisy and cruelty, diminished.

On the other hand, I do not think we need religion to behave decently. There are a great number of secular arguments for addressing poverty and inequality that I find even more compelling than the religious ones.

Also, I believe in the separation of church and state and don’t believe we should be more eager to bring religion into public policy just because the religion is becoming more sane.

But, if we live in a world where there is religion, and I don’t see that going away anytime soon, at least we could have a better form of it.

Then we might be better able to meet the real, pressing challenges that we have before us.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.