Cavins’ reaction to new Pew survey: Sound the alarm

| May 13, 2015 | 26 Comments
Attendees of Catholic Charities USA’s annual gathering in Charlotte, N.C., praying during an Oct. 5, 2014, Mass at St. Joseph Vietnamese Catholic Church.

Attendees of Catholic Charities USA’s annual gathering in Charlotte, N.C., praying during an Oct. 5, 2014, Mass at St. Joseph Vietnamese Catholic Church.

The share of the U.S. population that is Christians has sharply declined, fewer young people attend church than ever before, and more Americans are leaving organized religion behind altogether, the Pew Research Center found in a survey it published May 12.

“While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men,” Pew reported. “The drop in the Christian share of the population as been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics.”

The Catholic Spirit asked Jeff Cavins, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and a nationally recognized Catholic speaker and author, to share his analysis of the report and what it means for the Catholic Church locally and in the U.S.

TCS: What’s your first reaction the report?

Cavins: My first reaction is that the religious landscape is reflecting popular culture and the news. People are becoming bored with mainline religion and looking for alternative ways of satisfying their spiritual needs. Americans are turning to social causes as a way of expressing their inner priorities and some are turning to radical movements, such as ISIS, to find meaning.

TCS: What surprised you?

Cavins: What surprises me is that the figures are as good as they are in favor of mainline Christianity. Christian movements do not appear on the evening news as having much influence and are not providing answers to the angst in the American soul.

TCS: What didn’t surprise you?

Cavins: What didn’t surprise me was the rise of Islam around the world. Islam seems to be the only world religion that is somewhat organized and is speaking into the current spiritual void.

TCS: Pew says a decline in people who are mainline Protestant and Catholic is the main driver of the drop of the Christian share of the population. What does this tell you?

Cavins: It tells me that mainline Protestant Churches, as well as Catholic parishes, are not participating by not articulating their worldview in the public square. In some sense they both have lost their story and are not providing anything that is attractive or compelling in juxtaposition to the social headlines.

TCS: What does this mean for the Church in the U.S.?

Cavins: It means that unless we begin to teach our children the unique message of Jesus Christ, other messages will eclipse ours and we will be put in the position of defending the Gospel to our own children. The fact that many Catholic adults do not understand their faith means that the battle will be lost at home, even before the battle is brought to the public square.

TCS: Should this data concern Catholics? Why or why not?

Cavins: Our reaction as Catholics should go beyond concern and move to the category of alarm. Think about it, the true story of the world, that is the saving action of Christ and the hope of eternal life, is fading. This amazing story of salvation history is giving way to a mindset that largely discounts historical Christianity and welcomes a “gospel” that calls evil good and good evil. We as Catholics are responsible for proclaiming the good news, but if the good news is not understood or proclaimed, the void will be filled.

TCS: You have a finger on the pulse of nationwide Catholic evangelization initiatives. What gives you hope for the future of the Church?

Cavins: My hope is in the grassroots efforts of many holy men and women who will not stop being witnesses of Jesus Christ. My hope is in the fine young priests and bishops that God is raising up to lead us into difficult waters. When times become difficult, which we know well in our own archdiocese, we are forced to do things differently. When we are forced to do things differently, we often do them better. I’m very hopeful about our future as a church because I’m confident that Christ will not abandon us, and I’m confident that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us.

TCS: What’s the most important question Catholics should be asking ourselves as they reflect on this data?

Cavins: I think Catholics need to seriously consider the world they are creating for their children and grandchildren. If Catholics depart from the true story of the world, that being Christ and his worldview, they will be passing on to their future generations a worldview that could be described as a boat lost at sea. Catholics need to ask themselves, “Is the message of Christ worth dying for? If so, is it worth living for?”

TCS: What is your overall takeaway?

Cavins: It’s time to sound a clear alarm! What we are doing to spread the good news of Jesus Christ is not working in America. We need to seriously reevaluate parish life, formation and begin to teach and expect that every Catholic would know and proclaim the truth of Christ. Truth is not a concept or abstract idea to discuss. Truth is a person, Jesus Christ.

Survey shows increase in Americans who aren’t part of any religion

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