Friday, April 10, 2009

Get Your Switch On

Are you a "religious switcher"? If you are now a member of a faith community other than the one you were raised in, that's what some sociologists would call you. I would probably fall into the "switcher" category. Here's a story about the religious switching phenomenon in American religion:

FUQUAY-VARINA -- This week during Easter services, Fuquay-Varina United Methodist Church will welcome 27 families. Only a handful, however, will be lifelong Methodists.

These newest members will include former Roman Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and at least two Pentecostals. And while most families are joining as a unit, in several instances only one of the spouses is joining; the other will continue to practice his or her faith as part of another congregation or no congregation.

The face of religion in the United States is changing, and nowhere is it more evident than in new member classes across the Triangle and in fast-growing towns such as Fuquay-Varina, where the population has nearly doubled since 2000. In these suburban communities, America's experiments with what sociologists call "religious switching" are especially apparent.

A 2007 survey by the Pew Forum for Religion in Public Life found that more than a quarter of Americans -- 28 percent -- profess a different religious affiliation from the one they were raised in. If one includes changes from one Protestant denomination to another, 44 percent have changed their affiliation.

And the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey shows that Christians are increasingly eschewing any kind of denominational identity. Fewer than 200,000 people called themselves "nondenominational Christian" in 1990; last year, 8 million Americans chose that label.

As brand loyalty to everything from detergents to cell phone carriers is dwindling, so too is loyalty to a denomination that may have nurtured and formed successive generations in a particular faith tradition. (Read the whole thing here)

Religious switching could be viewed as an expression of the dawning consciousness of the oneness of religion, a core teaching of the Baha'i Faith:

"It is evident that growing numbers of people are coming to realize that the truth underlying all religions is in its essence one. This recognition arises not through a resolution of theological disputes, but as an intuitive awareness born from the ever widening experience of others and from a dawning acceptance of the oneness of the human family itself. Out of the welter of religious doctrines, rituals and legal codes inherited from vanished worlds, there is emerging a sense that spiritual life, like the oneness manifest in diverse nationalities, races and cultures, constitutes one unbounded reality equally accessible to everyone."
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World's Religious Leaders, p. 4)

For those who may view this trend with concern, the Universal House of Justice offers the following:

"It may be objected that, if all the great religions are to be recognized as equally Divine in origin, the effect will be to encourage, or at least to facilitate, the conversion of numbers of people from one religion to another. Whether or not this is true, it is surely of peripheral importance when set against the opportunity that history has at last opened to those who are conscious of a world that transcends this terrestrial one -- and against the responsibility that this awareness imposes. Each of the great faiths can adduce impressive and credible testimony to its efficacy in nurturing moral character. Similarly, no one could convincingly argue that doctrines attached to one particular belief system have been either more or less prolific in generating bigotry and superstition than those attached to any other. In an integrating world, it is natural that patterns of response and association will undergo a continuous process of shifting, and the role of institutions, of whatever kind, is surely to consider how these developments can be managed in a way that promotes unity. The guarantee that the outcome will ultimately be sound -- spiritually, morally and socially -- lies in the abiding faith of the unconsulted masses of the earth's inhabitants that the universe is ruled not by human caprice, but by a loving and unfailing Providence."
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World's Religious Leaders, p. 4)


  1. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Switching goes both ways. I lived in a Baha'i community where over the course of six years, at least three prominent believers left the Faith. One of those cases was particularly sad because what I saw was that he was leaving the Faith to protect the unity of his Christian family.

    To me this news serves as a reminder to strive to improve the quality of our community life, which the Universal House of Justice has said a few years ago that we have little understanding of. People will stay when they know and trust that they will be loved and supported by their community through the trials and triumphs of their life. I've been seeing enough brusqueness from the friends recently that seeing this blog caused me to post.

  2. Anonymous, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is true that switching includes people switching from the Baha'i Faith to other faiths. It is true that our Baha'i communities have much to learn about building the quality of community life that our Faith is supposed to have and that will meet the spiritual and practical needs of its members. Clearly I don't know anything about the circumstances to which you are referring and so can't comment on them. However, there are some things that come to mind for me as I reflect on what you have shared in a general sense.

    1. Leaving the Baha'i community may be the best choice for an individual, however it does not help the community to become the kind of community I think you are talking about. It is not a answer to the problem of love and unity in the Baha'i community.

    2. Leaving the Baha'i community is not always a bad thing for individuals or the community itself. I think there are times when this is the best choice for all involved.

    3. People sometimes take a break from the community for a time and then get involved again at a later time. I believe that this is likewise a good choice for some people in some situations.

    4. Sometimes the reasons people leave the Baha'i community, like any other faith community are ultimately personal and may have nothing to do with what the Baha'i community is doing or not doing.

    5. Ultimately what makes a person a Baha'i is their belief in Baha'u'llah. "The Faith of no man is conditioned by anyone other than himself". Whatever the condition of the Baha'i community I live in, what does that have to do with my Baha'i identity? Am I willing to give that up because of the imperfections of others?

    My point is not to minimize whatever difficulties the souls you are referring to experienced. It is not my place to judge them or anyone else. I can definitely relate to the issue you are raising and have faced my own tests since joining the Baha'i Faith in 1996. These are just some of the thoughts your response provoked in me.