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Does America's Future Belong to Religious Liberals?

Contact: Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion and Democracy, 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell, jwalton@TheIRD.org

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- A new poll projects that America is becoming more religiously liberal with each generation.

The survey from the liberal-leaning Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), done with the Brookings Institution, shows 19 percent of Americans overall are religious progressives, compared to 28 percent who are religious conservatives, while 38 percent are religious moderates. Fifteen percent are nonreligious.

However, the poll shows the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the Millennial generation.

IRD President Mark Tooley commented:

    "Some media reports have latched onto the poll as evidence of the Religious Left's ascendancy, even though the premise only works if each generation stays on the same fixed trajectory.

    "The PRRI determinism assumes that Millennials will not change their views as they age. It assumes subsequent generations will not react against previous generations, even though most generations, when young, assume they are wiser and therefore must be different from their immediate predecessors.

    "Many Millennials will become more religious and conservative as they age, especially if they marry and have children. Religious conservatives also have more children than religious liberals or secularists.

    "The next generation of religious conservatives may speak differently from yesterday's Religious Right. But they will still be conservative and likely much more numerous than liberal counterparts. The Left often expects abstract tides of history to ensure its final victory. But religious liberals, who almost always dilute the doctrines of their faith to replace or supplement them with secular fads, usually ensure their own demise.

    "The Left believes in its own nonreligious providential destiny. But history moves in more crooked, unpredictable paths. And religious traditionalists, most of them conservative, believe that history has another ultimately inexorable direction, guided by The Lord of history.

    "All liberal-controlled denominations are suffering massive membership loss. Fifty years ago, one in six Americans belonged to the largest seven liberal Mainline Protestant denominations. Today it is one in 16. All growing denominations are theologically conservative, as are most thriving non-denominational congregations. Almost all the largest seminaries today are conservative. Urban churches that attract the much vaunted Millennials are typically evangelical.

    "Liberal religion is usually a reaction against trans-generational orthodoxy, not a sustaining alternative to it. In contrast, religious orthodoxy is not a guarantee of vibrancy and growth but it almost always is a prerequisite."