Americans have less confidence in organized religion today than ever measured before — a sign that the church could be “losing its footing as a pillar of moral leadership in the nation’s culture,” a new Gallup survey finds.
“In the ’80s the church and organized religion were the No. 1″ in Gallup’s annual look at confidence in institutions, said Lydia Saad, author of the report released Wednesday.
Confidence, she said, “is a value judgment on how the institution is perceived, a mark of the amount of respect it is due.” A slight upsurge for Catholic confidence, for example, parallels the 2013 election and immense popularity of Pope Francis.
Overall, church and organized religion is now ranked in fourth place in the Gallup survey — behind the military, small business and the police — while still ahead of the medical system, Congress and the media, among 15 institutions measured.
In the mid-’70s, nearly 7 in 10 Americans said they had “a great deal or quite a lot” of confidence in the church or organized religion. That has bobbled downward decade by decade to a new low of just 42%, according to the report.
However, the most significant influence on the religion statistic is the high number of Americans disconnected from organized religion and likely to have little or no confidence in it, Saad said.
A Pew Research survey this year finds nearly 23% of Americans say they don’t identify with any religion. The Gallup data — which combined this group with non-Christians — finds only 10% of these had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in religion.
There is also a distinct decline in confidence in the church among Protestants and Catholics. Gallup tracks an overall downward drift of more than 20 percentage points for both traditions since the 1970s, to 51% of Protestants and Catholics alike — “the first time it has been the same for both,” said Saad.