About 70 percent of Indiana residents are Christian, but an increasing number are straying away from churches and organized religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.
The study showed a decline in interest in traditional organized religions nationwide, especially in Christianity. The percentage of Indiana residents who identify as Christian has decrease by almost ten percent since 2007.
“It’s not as popular to follow a religion as it was in years past,” said David Wesner, president of the IU Christian Student Fellowship. “I think not identifying with a specific religion makes some students feel more empowered to make their own decisions.”
Many students that once considered themselves Christians did so because their parents raised them that way, Wesner said. Now that students are separated from their parents, many are beginning to question their devotion to organized religion.
“Generations before us considered Christianity to be the norm, but this isn’t the case anymore,” Wesner said.
The study showed that only 63 percent of Hoosiers said they were “absolutely certain" they believed in God in 2014, a 13-percent decline since 2007.
Wesner said that he does not think this is the case at IU.
“I think there are still many students on campus that are religious, just not as many who express it in terms of being part of a church or an organization,” Wesner said.
The Pew Research Center study also examined the increased acceptance of homosexuality among Hoosiers.
According to the study, 54 percent of Hoosiers believe homosexuality should be accepted, which is eight percentage points more than in 2007.
Doug Bauder, director of the LGBTQ+ Culture Center, emphasized the difference between identifying with a specific religion and having a general faith life.
“Today, I think younger people are still finding ways to experience and express their spirituality but in less traditional ways,” he said. “Organized religion and the expression of one’s spirituality can be worlds apart.”
Bauder said that as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, he is accepted in his local faith communities.
“Coming to terms with my sexual orientation, while not easy, has only deepened my spirituality,” Bauder said. “I choose to express my faith in the context of a local church because leaders like Dr. King and others inspired me to see social justice as a matter of one’s faith.”
The Christian Student Fellowship accepts all people, and Wesner said he would never expect anyone to alter their beliefs solely because of what others believe.
“We’re called to love others whether or not we agree with them, but we should not change our own beliefs just to make others more comfortable,” Wesner said.
In the end, Bauder said if students want to join a religious organization, then they should not let anything stop them from doing so.
“In Bloomington alone, there are a number of faith communities, Christian and Jewish, which embrace all members,” he said, referring to two examples of the many religions in Bloomington. “I encourage students to seek out those communities if they are interested in expressing their faith in an organized community setting.”
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