That's the fastest growing category listed for people in their religious preferences right now.
We talked a little about this during my ecumenical clergy lunch this noon. We talked about a lot of things, actually; we learned that the mayor of our city prays for us regularly, and vowed to pray for city officials as well (school board, police, firefighers, teachers, city board, etc.). We talked about the National Day of Prayer; one of our members is a Police Chaplain in Another City. He had been invited to a Community Prayer Breakfast that morning. When he looked at the website, he discovered that it was run by an extremely right-wing group; the speaker for that morning compares Obama to Hitler. So, he declined to attend.
But, I digress. Among all the things we talked about: how to work for the common good in our community, whether to be a part of the 4th of July Parade this year, someone mentioned that the fastest growing religious category right now is "unaffiliated."
Atheism is growing too, but "unaffiliated" people aren't necessarily atheists. Some of them may be; some of them aren't. They are people who don't affiliate with any religious organizations. They're not Lutheran or Catholic or Presbyterian or Baptism or non-denominational or even Buddhist or Ba'hai. They are 'unaffiliated.'
It seems to me that there are at least two (probably more) reasons for this, but two that I can identify. One I am very sympathetic to; the other, not as much.
First, people have become more and more suspicious of institutions. I'm sympathetic to this particular suspicion. Although the Catholic church and the priest abuse scandal has been much in the news lately, you don't have to search very hard to find different kinds of abuse of trust in other religious institutions. And you can certainly find instances where it seems that people were "using" the religious office for their own, less edifying, goals. Some people have a hard time with religious leaders who, for example, have their own private plane. Others have a hard time with religious hierarchy which protects the powerful at the expense of the weak.
So, people who wonder about the institution of the church, who have a hard time trusting for one reason or another: I get that. We are looking for autheticity, not bureaucracy. I am looking for authenticity, too.
On the other hand, I think there is very much an individualistic impulse in us, an impulse that resists working with genuine (but flawed) community. Community is life-giving, but also risky. When we live with other and let them get to know us, we can be blessed, but we can be hurt as well. It's tempting to opt out. Actually, I can understand part of this impulse, too.
A number of years ago I heard about a little church where the pastor had cancer. The church members supported and prayed for their pastor. They also gave several fundraisers to help defray the costs of his expensive treatments and travels to Another City. Then, it came out: the whole story was a Lie. The pastor had never had cancer. He used the money raised to go to Another City for vacation.
Those of us who are disciples of Jesus who also affiliate with churches know both the blessing of living and working together, but also the pain of falling-short. We know when others have let us down, when we have been hurt, when our lofty ideas of what Christian Community is supposed to be about have come crashing down. And yet....
As for me, I struggle with wanting the church to be Better, but knowing it will never be Perfect.