Religion News recently headlined the closing of every one of Lifeway Christian Resources brick and mortar stores.There are 170 of them. They will go entirely online.
The digital shift comes amid declining customer traffic and sales, according to LifeWay.
And it follows the closure of other major Christian retailers, such as the United Methodist Church’s Cokesbury stores, which closed in 2012, and Family Christian Stores, which closed its stores in 2017. At the time, Family Christian was considered the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise.
LifeWay had acquired another chain, Berean Christian Stores, in 2013.
LifeWay adhered to a fundamentalist Christian approach, and dropped several popular authors’ books over ideological differences. It banned author Jen Hatmaker’s books after she expressed support for LGBTQ Christians, and it threatened pastor author Eugene Peterson when it appeared that he was going to officiate a same-sex marriage. It also dropped Rachel Held Evans’ book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” in 2012 after a similar dispute over the book’s content.
In other words, its approach to Christianity had a lot in common with Mike Pence’s.
Fortunately, it’s an approach–and a religiosity– that is rapidly diminishing.
A number of recent polls have documented a significant reduction in the number of Americans who are religiously affiliated; so-called “nones” are now 35% of the population. Among younger Americans, the percentage is greater.
For Millennials and even GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all. The Nones claim 44% of the 18–29 age group, and nearly that (43%) among those who are 30–44.
This is more than twice their market share among Americans older than 65, just 21% of whom say they are atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular. However, even that 21% is a five-point rise from where the over-65 group was in 2015, when just 16% identified themselves this way.
Other findings: Barely a third of Americans believe it’s important for married couples to share the same religious affiliation (36%), but majorities do believe that couples should share the same social values (76%) or feelings about children (81%). And it will come as no surprise to learn that Republicans are much more religious than Democrats.
In school, most of us learned about the Great Awakenings of early U.S. history. (Great Awakenings were a series of religious revivals in the then-British colonies and the early days of the country during the 17th and 18th Centuries.) These were episodes of religious fervor that swept through the country before eventually abating. A number of religion scholars have also dubbed the late 20th Century rise of Christian fundamentalism from which we seem finally to be emerging as a latter-day “Great Awakening.”
America has been fertile ground for these periods of excessive and ostentatious piety, and a number of sociologists have attributed the outlier religiosity of the U.S–we are far more religious than other Western democratic countries– to the personal insecurities that characterize societies with an inadequate social safety net. (Scholars have documented a significant correlation between personal insecurity and religiosity.)
Since our social safety net hasn’t improved, I don’t know how they might explain the current declines in religious affiliation. I personally attribute it to the excesses of judgmentalism and appalling lack of humanity displayed by the Christian Taliban. The religious right makes religion look pretty repellent.
Whatever the cause, if I were choosing nomenclature, I’d save the label “Great Awakening.” for the current rise of the “nones.”