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Evangelicals Now Outnumber Catholics in America

by Susan Brinkmann Staff Writer (Feb. 26, 2008) Evangelical Christians are now the largest religious tradition in the U.S., edging out mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics for the first time, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey, one of the largest of its kind in half a century, was conducted among 35,000 Americans age 18 and older from May 8 to Aug. 7, 2007. It found that the country is still predominantly Christian (78 percent of the adult population) and that a growing number of Americans have no religious affiliation (16%) or say they are members of other world religions such as Islam, Hindu, or Buddhism (5%).     Evangelical Protestantism is now the largest single faith tradition in the country at 26.3 percent of the population (59 million), followed by Catholicism at 24 percent (54 million), mainline Protestantism at 18 percent, the unaffiliated at 16 percent and black Protestant churches at 7 percent. “While those Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers as a result of changes in affiliation, Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes,” the report states. “While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.” According to the survey, among the foreign born population, Catholics outnumber Protestants by a margin of two to one (46% Catholic vs. 24% Protestant.) “Immigration is what is keeping them afloat,” John Green, a Pew senior fellow, told The Washington Times. “If everyone who was raised Catholic stayed Catholic, it’d be a third of the country.” The survey found that those who leave Catholicism either drop out of religion entirely or join Pentecostal or evangelical churches. One out of every 10 evangelicals is a former Catholic. “It’s a desire for a closer experience of God,” said Luis Lugo, Pew Forum Director. “It’s not so much disenchantment with the teachings of the Catholic Church but the pull of what they see in Pentecostalism.” Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholics. “This means that roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics,” the report found. Changing one’s religious affiliation is not a phenomenon exclusive to Catholicism, however. The survey found that a quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor or either another religion or no religion at all. Jehovah Witnesses experience the greatest bleed with two-thirds of those raised in the faith reporting to have left it in adulthood. The greatest growth has been in the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%). This is particularly prevalent among youth where one in four Americans age 18-29 say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion. Although only a quarter of this group describes themselves as atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the population, respectively), the majority of the unaffiliated (12.1%) merely describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” The survey found that religious affiliation of any kind in the U.S. is very diverse and extremely fluid. The Protestant population in particular is characterized by significant fragmentation among hundreds of different denominations. Most of this population can be loosely grouped into three distinct religious traditions – evangelical Protestant churches (26.3% of the overall adult population), mainline Protestant churches (18.1) and historically black Protestant churches (6.9%). Among the more unusual findings in the study: Hindus and Mormons are the least likely to be married to someone of another faith or to be single. Mormons and Muslims have the largest families. Three quarters of American Buddhists are converts. Jews are the highest income group in American but Hindus are the best educated with nearly half of all adult Hindus having some post-graduate education. © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly/Women of Grace.