Many in the media, theologians and pollsters seem to be in a consensus that data shows American Christianity is in a steep decline. A series of polls from the last few years have revealed that the Church is hemorrhaging members at an alarming rate — particularly millennials. But, while analysts will continue to assess and contest the validity of such studies, one thing is clear — there is another faith community experiencing and even steeper decline, and very few are talking about it.
That religion is Islam.
A Pew survey taken earlier this year shows that, while America’s Muslim population has risen by some 50 percent in the last decade, an astonishing 23 percent of those raised as Muslim no longer identify with that faith. This means that approximately 1 in 4 Muslims in this country will leave their faith. As Michael David puts it at the Catholic Herald, “Americans are un-mosquing at an even faster rate than they are un-churching.”
There is also an important factor that seems to increase the likelihood of an exodus from the Islamic faith: immigration. According to Pew, “one striking difference between former Muslims and those who have always been Muslim is in the share who hail from Iran. Those who have left Islam are more likely to be immigrants from Iran (22%) than those who have not switched faiths (8%).”
In a rather shocking addition, Pew found that most of those who are converting to Islam were raised in the Christian faith.
“About half of all converts to Islam (53%) identified as Protestant before converting; another 20% were Catholic. And roughly one-in-five (19%) volunteered that they had no religion before converting to Islam,” Pew noted.
But what would be their reason for disowning Christ and embracing the prophet Muhammad? Well, 21% insisted that they had studied religious texts and investigated Islam before making the life-altering decision.
Other reasons to ditch Christianity and embrace Islam related to an increased sense of community, a potential marriage partner who already followed Islam, and being introduced to the faith by a friend.
Pew Research Center estimated that there were roughly 3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the U.S. in 2017. The organization noted that Muslims made up about 1.1% of the total U.S. population.
Those of a Catholic faith, Pew found, are likely to continue in their faith. But does much of this also have to do with their immigration status? More from Catholic Herald:
“The children or grandchildren of immigrants who stop practising the faith are more likely to identify – if only nominally – with their family’s religion. Because Catholic immigration is so high, there are many “cultural” or “lapsed” Catholics: those who identify with the Faith, but don’t attend Mass. Meanwhile, Protestants who have “un-churched” are more likely to identify as irreligious.”
In a 2017 study, The Public Religion Research Institute asserted that White Christians now account for less than half of the American public:
“Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian, and only 30% as white and Protestant. In 1976, roughly eight in ten (81%) Americans identified as white and identified with a Christian denomination, and a majority (55%) were white Protestants,” PRRI noted in the study’s Executive Summary.
In addition, the organization found that America’s youngest religious groups are “all non-Christian.”
“Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are all far younger than white Christian groups. At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30. Roughly one-third (34%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are also under 30,” the summary continued.
“In contrast, white Christian groups are aging. Slightly more than one in ten white Catholics (11%), white evangelical Protestants (11%), and white mainline Protestants (14%) are under 30. Approximately six in ten white evangelical Protestants (62%), white Catholics (62%), and white mainline Protestants (59%) are at least 50 years old.”
You can read the full Pew study write-up here.