When ‘religious’ isn’t religious

As I started my daily read of newspapers, I was shocked (well, disappointed) to learn that our region was one of the least religious regions in America. A new Gallup poll found that, “Only 26 percent of those surveyed in this area say they are very religious, which puts the Albany-Schenectady-Troy region in ninth place among the least religious of the 189 areas polled.”

What is frustrating about this statistic is that as you ride through the Albany region is that there are four to six churches per town. In my town, Ballston Spa, New York  there are six churches in a one mile radius. That is a tight area with a lot of churches. Those churches represent a range of Christian sects: Baptist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, Methodist, Episcopal, and Catholic. That doesn’t even count smaller non-Christian groups.

With so many churches in this area, you’d think that if you build it, people will come. That was true 50 years ago when returning men from War World II were looking to join a civic community were church attendance was expected.

The trouble with using a term “religious” in a poll is that the word “religious” is seen as a pejorative term. As another Times Union article points out, that if the poll used the word “spiritual” the results may have been different. And, using both terms of “spiritual” and “religious” would most likely yield a higher religious or spiritual affiliations. Case in point, A Rasmussen poll found that 54% of American adults feel at least “somewhat connected” to their local church. In addition, 34% said they are “very connected.” The poll did not ask respondent’s religious affiliation. Church connection is another way to measure religious affiliation.

In 2013, “religious” isn’t “religious” any more. More accurately, the term “religious” carries many negative connotations. Even the term “religious conservatives” carries a reactive wince to many. How many times do we hear the term, “religious liberals”? Almost never. Many would see that term a contradiction but it is not. Most in the media just drop “religious” .

The word “religious” is not inherently negative, but we Christians and religious folk alike must turn the tide of the negative sediment. In addition, news outlets and polling groups need to understand that they are using outdated and inaccurate terminology. We continue to be a “religious” nation without using the word “religious”.

Alan Rudnick

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Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education. http://alanrudnick.org

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  • cken

    Sadly being religious is the antithesis of being spiritual.