Q: Is that true that the United States is a Christian nation?

Answer: Research reveals that the predominant religion in the United States is Christianity, with over 70 percent of the total population saying they are Christians. I prefer to say that this country is a religious nation. It is important to acknowledge the 5.9 percent of non-Christian people of faith and 22.8 percent with no affiliation. In a country that upholds the freedom of religious expression as well as freedom of personal expression, all should be recognized.

With this topic, other questions come to mind. The first question concerns the commitment of Christians to their places of worship. The Pew Research Center reports that 39 percent of Catholics and 33 percent of mainline Protestants attend church once a week. The numbers for black Protestants and evangelical Protestants are in the 50 percent range. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are in the 70 percent range of weekly church attendance.

These statistics give witness to the fact that there are faithful churchgoers, but there are people who are unable to attend church and some who do not want to attend.

This point leads to the different ways that people can access religious messages. The new ways are far different from the Methodist preachers who rode the circuit on horseback to preach in outlying places. Religious camps and tent revivals were popular. In the early decades of the 1900s, new methods of spreading the word became available. Calvary Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania was the first to broadcast its religious messages in 1921. Afterwards, famous preachers including Billy Sunday, Aimee McPherson and Dwight L. Moody used the radio to reach more people. Fulton J. Sheen, who used the radio to reach a wide audience, started his television program in 1951. He is considered by most to be the first televangelist. For decades, Billy Graham’s moving messages and warm personal style brought thousands to his worldwide crusades, which were also televised.

Graham and other ministers, including Oral Roberts, Pat Robinson, and Jerry Falwell, opened the door for the “Big Tent” programs on television. It is easy to recognize the power and influence of televangelist programs and megachurches that can reach more people than the small church on the corner. This fact leads to another point.

Statistics reveal that some Christian churches are losing members, and churches have been closed. To find some of the answers to this point would mean looking at the changing role of churches. Larger churches can afford to offer full social and religious services to families, which can be appealing to members who want their children to spend more time in church.

Yet, sometimes important things can be lost in large spaces. In smaller churches, the members can be baptized, wedded and buried by a minister or priest who is more than an acquaintance. A minister calling to a young boy by name and encouraging him to be faithful to his beliefs can be inspiring. The bright young girl who is hungry to learn can grow spiritually with the help of a dedicated Sunday School teacher. These things are hard to duplicate on the big stage.

Another question comes to mind. Is America a country with high moral standards? The U.S .Bureau of Justice Statistic revealed that in 2016 there were close to 2,298,300 people out of a population of 324.2 million in correction centers. America has too many lawbreakers and/or an inadequate social justice system.

I acknowledge that there are many people with low moral standards who are not in jail, and I do not classify all the people in corrections centers as lacking moral standards. My wife and I taught classes in a women’s prison, and we found women who made mistakes and needed help with life skills or other treatments not available.

Maybe one answer is that those on the inside need the help from the more morally fortunate on the outside. What if the members of the 350,000 congregations in America (as reported by the Hartford Institute) could reach people before they break the law? Perhaps the harm done to innocent people could be reduced and the lives of potentially harmful lawbreakers could be improved.

A country needs citizens and people who govern to interact with each other in moral and humane ways. One of the roles of religion is the generation of moral standards and humane values. It takes commitments to bring about changes and to be more than a country of religious numbers.

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Earl Crow’s column is published Saturdays in the Winston-Salem Journal. Email him at ecrow1@triad.rr.com.

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