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American Congregations Increase Interfaith Involvement
One legacy of the September 11 terrorists’ attacks is a dramatic increase in American congregations’ interfaith involvement in the past ten years.
Religious communities’ involvement in interfaith worship has doubled and involvement in interfaith community service activities has nearly tripled.
That’s the good news. At the same time, a majority of congregations still has a long way to go in reaching out to other faith communities. Only a little more than one in ten faith communities shared worship across faith traditions in the past year.
These are among the conclusions drawn from a major new Faith Communities Today 2010 survey of American congregations.
FACT is releasing a new report, titled “American Congregations Reach Out To Other Faith Traditions: A Decade of Change, 2000 – 2010,” that explores changes in interfaith involvement from before September 11 to the present.
The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP) conducted the FACT 2010 survey, and analyzed responses from 11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States. The survey updates results from surveys taken in 2000, 2005, and 2008 and is the latest in CCSP’s series of trend-tracking national surveys of U.S. congregations.
David A. Roozen, Director of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and Professor of Religion and Society at Hartford Seminary, said that “Americans’ awareness of our country’s religious diversity has increased dramatically in the last decade and one might hope that the 350,000 or so congregations that provide the institutional foundations for that diversity of religious expression would be helping their members make sense of and civically integrate that diversity.”
“This report shows that they are making some progress in that direction. But clearly the traditional cultural norms of indifferent tolerance and limited interaction across faith traditions remain deeply entrenched in American society,” he said.
In the survey, congregations also were asked about their involvement in educational or fellowship activities across faith traditions and about their involvement in joint celebrations with other faith traditions.
The survey found that 13.9 percent of congregations shared worship with other faith traditions, up from 6.8 percent in 2000. Approximately 20 percent of congregations were involved in an interfaith community service projects, up from 7.7 percent in 2000.
Key factors in greater interfaith involvement include theology, a positive view of diversity, a culture that supports change and a leader who advocates for increased involvement with the civic community, Roozen said. Location of a congregation and its demographics play less of a role, he said.
Among the findings, outlined in the new report:
- The Oldline Protestant family of congregations is more likely to engage in interfaith worship than Evangelical Protestant congregations by a nearly two to one margin (19.4 percent versus 11.9 percent in 2010). More important, though, is theology: The most liberal congregations are the most engaged, and the most conservative congregations are the least engaged, regardless of family.
- There is an East Coast tilt to interfaith involvement. This is understandable because the Northeast is home to a greater number of Oldline Protestant congregations, while West is more Evangelical Protestant.
- A congregation’s openness to diversity is a key factor. One in five congregations with a very strong desire to be culturally diverse have been involved in interfaith worship. Openness to change also is important – one in four with innovative worship have been involved also in interfaith worship.
- The emphasis that a congregation’s leader places on a public presence in civic events directly ties to its involvement in interfaith engagement.
In summary, Roozen said, “One legacy of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 has been an increased involvement of American congregations across faith traditions in the past decade. It remains relatively infrequent and only a fraction of intra-faith congregational interaction. Liberal theology, a positive view of diversity, a culture that supports change, and leadership that advocates for new ways to relate to the broader community are critical pushes toward greater interfaith involvement. A congregation’s location and demographics, less so.”
Links to view the report and related material are available at: www.faithcommunitiestoday.org.
Hartford Seminary and Faith Communities Today will hold a webinar for journalists on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. The webinar is open to invited journalists; to reserve a slot, go to https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/623701042. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information on how to join the web conference.
Faith Communities Today surveys and publications are products of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a collaborative, multifaith coalition of American faith communities affiliated with Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
FACT/CCSP offers research-based resources for congregational development that are useful across faith traditions, believing that all communities of faith encounter common issues and benefit from one another’s experiences. It also informs the public about the contributions of congregations to American society and about the changes affecting and emanating from one of America’s major sources of voluntary association – local congregations. For more information on CCSP, visit www.faithcommunitiestoday.org.