Newsweek: A surprising number of Americans are switching religions

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Like most of his congregants at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown, Father Albert wasn't born an Episcopalian. In fact, he first walked into St. John's almost 20 years ago as a Jewish physician. He had done a lot of searching to find a spiritual home since his high-school days, when he attended Hebrew classes. "I wasn't very religious, but I always read everything I could get my hands on about religion, regardless of tradition," he says. Peering through round, owlish glasses, he is subdued when discussing his decision to enter the priesthood. The choice is still "very painful" to some members of his family, he says, but to him it was a change of profession more than of faith.

However he frames it, Father Albert is not alone. A surprising number of Americans are switching from one religion to another. A 2007 survey done by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 44 percent of Americans profess a different religious affiliation from the one they were raised in. Excluding shifts between Protestant denominations, the number—28 percent—is still remarkably high. (Never having asked the question before, the Pew researchers had nothing to compare it with and are back in the field to ask, among other things, how many converts eventually return to their childhood faith.)

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

17 Comments
Posted January 26, 2009 at 4:20 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. perpetuaofcarthage wrote:

He didn’t “convert”, he just “switched religions”. “To him it was a change of profession more than of faith.”

January 26, 5:51 pm | [comment link]
2. austin wrote:

I would say the portion of cradle Episcopalians I have encountered in the US can’t be much above 30 percent   And among clergy-people, lower still.  (The cities of NY, IL, CA may not be representative, however.)  A real contrast with the UK or commonwealth countries.  And one of the reasons the institution’s been gutted from within.

January 26, 6:00 pm | [comment link]
3. perpetuaofcarthage wrote:

TEC really is a new religion, so they don’t want the people raised in the old religion to be ordained and preach the old way.

January 26, 6:13 pm | [comment link]
4. Jon wrote:

#1… yes, I found that first paragraph really striking, especially:

“To him it was a change of profession more than of faith.”

By his own testimony, there wasn’t much of a difference in faith between becoming an Episcopal priest and his earlier life as a nonreligious Jew.  His beliefs weren’t much different.  The difference was the job—like going from being a plumber to a park ranger—very different job but not any special difference in faith.

Later in the article he says the usual reappraiser BS line about the Episcopal church encouraging doubts and questions, so apparently he wasn’t misquoted.

January 26, 6:18 pm | [comment link]
5. libraryjim wrote:

And so many of our ministers in the Episcopal/Anglican church parishes come from other denominations, mostly NON-Liturgical. 

That wouldn’t be so bad, except that they then seem determined to alter the character of the church into a ‘clone’ of the church they just left!  Sometimes they even seem HOSTILE to the Liturgical atmosphere of the Church.  One priest, raised Baptist, in Panama City even disbanded the choir and substituted his son’s Praise Band at all services—at the altar instead of in the Choir Loft.  Now, it was an OK praise band—not highly professional or even ‘good’, but ok—but we weren’t given a choice, a vote or anything like a say.

Years ago, my daughter went through a confirmation class at Advent Church that she said was like a Baptist VBS program (we used to go to these when she was in pre-school) more than an Episcopal preparation program. Very little said about the Prayer Book, the Creed, or the history of the Anglican church and style of worship.

My question: if they liked what their former denom. did so much that they want to mold their current denom into that form, why did they switch in the first place?

I think (IMO) if you switch churches or denominations, don’t try to convert the denomination after joining. Find out why they are doing things as they do and how they do it and get on board.

January 26, 6:18 pm | [comment link]
6. John Wilkins wrote:

In the Northeast, many newcomers are former Roman Catholics.  I imagine that in the South they are a combination of former Evangelicals and non-religious persons who need an identification. 

Most born and bread Episcopalians I’ve met are moderates.  They like the gay people in their congregations.  They would disapprove of Fr. McGreevy.  They know the bible, but think it’s a human document.  They believe in the formal structure.  They believe in being Christians. 

I sometimes think they believe in being Christians in a similar way that reform and secular Jews are Jews. 

I don’t think one can make a case that Episcopalians have ever all been traditionalists, or that they were in the majority.  Plenty of Bishops themselves have been ... “progressive” since the Glorious Revolution.

January 26, 7:00 pm | [comment link]
7. Daniel wrote:

John Wilkins, in #6, is quite right.  TEC is a marvelous organization that has remade God in its own image to suit the deeply felt desires of its priests and congregants.  If I had not been reading Jeremiah and Ezekiel recently, I would find the situation merely humorous.  Instead, I find it terrifying, particularly for the eternal souls of those clergy who have knowingly lead those they are supposed to shepherd astray.

January 26, 7:10 pm | [comment link]
8. Grandmother wrote:

I remember being at a committee meeting with the door open. We could hear a “new” person who had come to visit to see about becoming a member.

One of the first things I heard out of his (quite loud) voice was “Out in California we do it another way”.. My (probably unChristian) thoughts were, “oh, oh, this is gonna be trouble”..

Guess what, within three years, the priest had been run off, and the church closed..  This man and his family were a huge part of the cause.

Gloria in SC

January 26, 7:45 pm | [comment link]
9. tjmcmahon wrote:

Of kids I knew when I was 10, who were Episcopalians, I kept in touch with 9(including me).
1 orthodox Anglican
1 moderate to liberal Episcopalian
1 occasional churchgoer (died in an accident)
4 Roman Catholics
2 Do not attend church other than weddings, funerals and such.
So much for Anglo Catholicism in America

January 26, 10:28 pm | [comment link]
10. sophy0075 wrote:

Two comments:
1. Father Albert says he preaches “biblically based sermons.” I do not understand how this can be, given that he is a non-celibate homosexual. I guess this is just more proof that reappraising members of TEC apply different meanings to words than a Christian would use.
2. As an Anglican who converted from conservative Judaism, I could not agree more with the comment that from Father Albert’s non-practicing Judaism to his belief system in TEC, there is very little difference. Instead of worshipping on Friday nights and Saturday mornings (which I doubt he did, given that he was not an observant Jew [as I was, by the way], he is now at services on Sunday mornings. I would be interested in knowing Father Albert’s opinions regarding the divinity of Jesus, and whether he espouses the Presiding Bishop’s belief that Jesus is “a way” rather than “the way.”

January 26, 11:02 pm | [comment link]
11. palagious wrote:

C’mon, its Elanor Clift, nobody has taken her seriously for years and its in Newsweek, which guarantees no one excpet blogger will ever read it.

January 26, 11:05 pm | [comment link]
12. Byzantine wrote:

My apologies for the harsh tone but TEC is, for the most part, Baby Boomers (with women and their homosexual friends in the vanguard) who relish the aesthetics and intellectual cachet of the liturgy, the vestments, and the hierarchy without bothering themselves with the theological substance behind all these things.

This begs a question:  truly, if we can all just go along and get along, what is the need for the episcopate?

January 27, 11:44 am | [comment link]
13. John Wilkins wrote:

#12 seems to imply that most people go to church because of theological beliefs. I’m a bit skeptical, nor do I think God Himself is worried about correct thinking.  I doubt we’d ever get everything perfect.

#7, God is constantly remaking the church. It has since it began.  It has never been static.

January 27, 5:56 pm | [comment link]
14. Jon wrote:

#13.  Hi John.  Nice seeing you on here.  You write:

“nor do I think God Himself is worried about correct thinking.  I doubt we’d ever get everything perfect. “

Consider for a minute the world of medicine.  I am sure we’ll all agree that no M.D. is perfectly correct in every medical belief he has.  But from that would you conclude that the AMA should not have any standards at all, and that it would no departure of any kind from received AMA doctrine would justify revoking a maverick MD’s license?

Remember that this thread began with an article describing a man who says that he was a nonreligious Jew, then became an Epsicopal priest, and in the process experienced no substantial change in his faith.  For us here at T19, that’s a concern.

You see, we think that a priest is in many ways like a physician.  Just as a physician who believed in Voodoo, or Christian Science, or so forth would, with the best will in the world be harming his patients—likewise we think that the Christological claims made by the creeds matter a great deal, and that a priest who disbelieves in them would be (with the best will in the world) harming his parishioners.  Because he will be basing his ministry (just as the physician would be basing his medical practice) on dangerously false ideas.  So as I say it is of great concern to us when we hear of TEC priests who’s faith is not substantially different from a nonreligious nonChristian.

January 27, 6:34 pm | [comment link]
15. Jon wrote:

Correction… I was writing too fast and a couple stray words crept into a sentence.  I should have written:

“But from that would you conclude that the AMA should not have any standards at all, and that no departure of any kind from received AMA doctrine would justify revoking a maverick MD’s license?”

January 27, 8:28 pm | [comment link]
16. Byzantine wrote:

#12 seems to imply that most people go to church because of theological beliefs.

Did you actually read my post?  I said just the opposite:  they go because they relish the pomp and the intellectual cachet of vestments, liturgy and hierarchy without bothering themselves with the theological substance behind it all.

The Christian faith was rigorously worked out with the guidance of the Holy Spirit over ecumenical councils spanning a thousand years.  It is neither added to nor taken from.

January 28, 1:19 pm | [comment link]
17. libraryjim wrote:

Byzantine,
I go for both. I feel God’s peace more at a liturgical service, with all the pomp and vestments, etc. than I do at a Pentecostal free-form worship service.  And I truly feel spiritually fed at the Eucharist at a liturgical church than I do with the cracker and juice at a Baptist service.

But if the preaching and Christian Ed teachings don’t match up to the Bible and historic Christian teaching, I don’t stay at that parish. I ‘shop around’ until I find the best blend of the two.

And if you read Justin Martyr’s “Apologia”, you find that the liturgical service is what was practiced by the Apostles.  The Greek Orthodox will tell you that theirs is closest, but I think all Liturgical services are fairly close in style, even if some of the elements have been ‘revised’ over the centuries. The structure is still the same.

January 28, 6:58 pm | [comment link]
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