People who once identified with a Christian religious tradition but now identify with none are the fastest growing group in America today. Sociologist Stephen Bullivant labels these individuals “nonverts” and argues in his book of the same title that these individuals have had a profound effect on the changing relationship of Christianity to American culture. Christianity is no longer the default setting in America. Christianity is now in a minor key; nonverts set the tone, and their music is secular.
Surveys today place those who cite “no religion” as their personal religious preference as fifty-nine million people. Bullivant’s interest, however, is in trying to understand the forty-one million people who say that they were brought up in the church or belonged to the church but now are non-religious. One of his primary findings through extensive interviews and research is that nonverts are often antagonistic to what they perceive to be the injustices associated with the Christian tradition. Feeling that their parents and others in authority have harmed them, nonverts often adopt a neo-pagan (Wiccan) position in which they seek to do no harm to others. This fuels many nonverts’ passionate support of LGBTQ positions.
Nonverts who are not filled with anger about what they perceive as societal harm done to them and others by Christianity often turn away from Christianity due to indifference. The “Flatline Protestant” chapter opens with the words, “I was Presbyterian.” Bullivant asks the twenty-two-year-old young man who made that declaration, “And now?” The young man responds, “I’m nonreligious at this point.” He explains further, “I’m not saying I won’t go back to being religious again. It’s just a little like an inconvenience for me to be a practicing Presbyterian” (74). Prior to this, the young man testifies, he was involved in all sorts of short-term mission trips to Peru, “providing humanitarian aid, all that stuff.” Now he doesn’t hate it; he just doesn’t have time for it. Bullivant observes that this young man’s transition from practicing Presbyterian to nonvert involved no great spiritual crisis. “He just dropped it, as one might a gym membership, when he found other, more pressing things to be doing” (75).
Danny E. Olinger | “Presbyterians and Nonverts: 100 Years after Christianity and Liberalism” | October 2023 Issue of New Horizons
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