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Evangelicals See Declining Influence in U.S.

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                      ©2011 Religion News Service

Are U.S. evangelicals losing their influence on America?
A new poll released June 22 from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life seems to say just that, with the vast majority--82 percent--of U.S. evangelical leaders saying their influence on the country is declining.
At the same time, their counterparts in Africa, Asia and Latin America are far more optimistic. "There's both a huge optimism gap and a huge influence gap in terms of the way these folks perceive things," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum.
Researchers surveyed more than 2,000 leaders invited to attend the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, last year.
The Rev. S. Douglas Birdsall, executive chair of the Lausanne Movement, which worked with Pew on the survey, said the U.S. pessimism is rooted in a changed culture where Billy Graham has retreated from public life and government-sponsored prayer has been banned from public schools for more than a generation. "There was a time when there was a Ten Commandments in every classroom, there were prayers in public places," he said. "So having gone from that position of considerable influence, even though we might actually have more influence than churches in ... other parts of the world, the sense is that it's slipping from our hands."
The perception of declining influence comes as the nation has become both more pluralistic and more secular. The vast majority of U.S. leaders surveyed -- 92 percent -- called secularism a major threat to evangelical Christianity.
Some evangelical denominations are starting to acknowledge pluralism in hopes of increasing their numbers. The Southern Baptist Convention, which drew the smallest attendance since World War II at a recent meeting in Phoenix, and is grappling with declining baptism rates, has launched a plan to diversify its leadership.
Researchers also found that evangelicals are far more pessimistic than their Global South counterparts about the current and future state of evangelicalism.
About half (53 percent) of U.S. leaders said the state of evangelicalism is worse than it was five years ago, and nearly as many (48 percent) said they expect it to grow worse in the next five years.

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