• A new survey finds that college students with a religious identity report significantly higher rates of heterosexuality than their atheist, agnostic and non-affiliated counterparts. On the website Get Religion (September 20), political scientist Ryan Burge analyzes new data from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), a free speech organization, which runs an annual survey of college students that often features question on religious beliefs, but this year included questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. While recent surveys have found a sharp growth of young adults—often college students at elite universities—identifying as LGBTQ, the FIRE study found that more than two thirds of its sample of 18-to-25-year-old college students identified as a man or woman and indicated that they were straight in terms of sexual orientation. The next largest category was man/woman and “something else” in terms of sexual orientation. About 1 in 10 were bisexual men/women and 1 in 20 said that they were men/women and were gay/lesbian.

    The religious group with the highest proportion of heterosexuals was Muslims (85 percent), followed closely by Protestants, Catholics, “Just Christians,” and Hindus. Burge was surprised that only 78 percent of Latter-day Saints in college said that they were straight—7 points lower than Protestants. Additionally, 13 percent of LDS students said that they fell into the “something else” camp. The groups that were the least likely to say that they were heterosexual were atheists, at 55 percent, and agnostics, at 53 percent; those who said that they were “nothing in particular” were only at 62 percent. As for transgender issues, just 1 in 100 Christians said that they were not a man or a woman, and even more secular and liberal groups including atheists and agnostics identified largely as man/woman (97 percent of each group).

    (Get Religion,

    Source: Rawpixel.


  • A new study finds that there has been a significant undercounting of congregations in three diverse areas of the U.S., suggesting a wider pattern of stability and growth in American religion rather than decline. Writing in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (online in September), J. Gordon Melton, Steven Foertsch and Todd Ferguson analyzed the 2010 U.S. Religious Census (Religious Congregations and Membership Survey or RCMS) and found that its county-by-county congregational counts have underreported congregations by as much as 25 percent, missing new and emerging religious movements and denominations as well as ethnic congregations. Melton, Foertsch, and Ferguson found these undercounts in McClennan County, Texas, Whatcom County, Washington, and Richmond, Virginia (for which there were an additional 100 unverified congregations that were not included because of funding issues). In McClennan County, encompassing the city of Waco, the researchers found that 140 congregations (26.6 percent of the congregations) were not included in the RCMS data. The authors tested their McClennan County findings with the more recent (2020) RCMS and again found a large undercount, though the percentage of undercounted churches dropped to 23.3.

    There was also an increase in the number of congregations in the RCMS from 2010 to 2020, 4.2 percent, with a population growth of 5.3 percent. “This implies that the congregations we are finding in our survey are likely uncounted because they are the product of migration. A natural birthrate increase would not yield immediate affiliation and establishment of additional religious congregations within a 10-year time period,” the authors observe. Thus these uncounted churches are those that the RCMS would have difficulty collecting data on—Latino and other ethnic churches and non-denominational and megachurch plants. Melton, Foertsch, and Ferguson conclude that the fact that more than 23 percent of the congregations in these areas were not reported in the RCMS data suggests that religious demographers are missing a “new invisible community” of non-denominational and independent congregations elsewhere. This is consistent “with what is known about religious life in America as a whole—that both total church/religious membership and the number of denominational/religious bodies has been on a 200-year growth trajectory that continues to the present.”

    (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,

    Source: BoxCast.


  • Reporting on the results of his research on Anishinabe (Algonquin) Jehovah’s Witnesses from Kitigan Zibi (Outaouais, Quebec), Arnaud Simard-Emond argues that more attention should be given to the strong but understudied presence of Jehovah’s Witnesses among indigenous communities across Canada and the United States. Writing in the current issue of the journal Social Compass (June), he notes that conversion to Catholicism among the Algonquins from the 19th century was primarily due to the work of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Most Anishinabe would see the Oblates as benevolent figures, but the perception started to change in the 1940s and 1950s, especially in relation to the painful experiences of physical and psychological violence endured by youth attending residential schools run by clergy. Resentment grew in Kitigan Zibi. The woman who would become the first local convert to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) already showed opposition to the missionaries at that time. She converted after being in touch with JW “publishers,” who started visiting from time to time for two to three weeks from the 1940s, and she was followed by several other local people in the 1950s. At that time, the Witnesses became the only available alternative to Catholicism in Kitigan Zibi—others would follow later (like Pentecostalism in the 1970s). Beside tensions with missionaries, factors like economic changes and the disruption of traditional territories created conditions favorable for conversion to Jehovism in the 1950s. Currently, there are no new conversions in Kitigan Zibi, but Witnesses continue to exist in this milieu mostly through intergenerational transmission of the faith, leading some young people to embrace the beliefs taught by their parents.

    The original converts in Kitigan Zibi are no longer alive, a fact that leads Simard-Emond to urge Canadian and American scholars not to lose time in exploring the significant presence of Witnesses in indigenous communities. In the United States, there are a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses among Navajos, said to have been the first native nation to have established a congregation using their own language. In Canada, there have been Witnesses in aboriginal communities at least from the 1930s in British Columbia. But research on the JWs among indigenous people remains extremely scarce.

    (Social Compass,

    Jehovah’s Witnesses at the “Gateway to NaWons” event in June 2015 (source: Jehovah’s Witnesses).


  • Considered one of the original yet often overlooked of the “seven sisters” of mainline Protestantism, the Disciples of Christ (or Christian Church) has seen serious declines in its membership, attendance, and total number of congregations exacerbated by Covid. Citing recent statistics from ALEX, a subscription-based database for the Disciples of Christ, Juicy Ecumenism (September 14), the blog of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, reports that the church’s “ability to minister as a denomination of nationwide reach is rapidly fading.” As with other mainline Protestant churches, the denomination reached its pinnacle approaching two million members in the mid-1960s. By 1993, that number had halved, and was again halved by the early 2010s. By 2019, the Disciples were down to 350,618 members and an average attendance of 126,217. Covid restrictions intensified the decline, with the denomination reporting 281,348 members and an attendance of 97,402 in 2021, which dropped to 277,864 and attendance of 89,894 in 2022. While many denominations reported some attendance rebound in 2022 after 2020–21 closures, the Disciples experienced a 21 percent drop in membership from 2019 to 2022. Congregations have also declined from more than 8,000 to 3,624. Ministers have meanwhile hovered around 7,000 since the early 1970s.

    (Juicy Ecumenism,

    Source: National Council of Churches’ Historic Archive CD and print editions of the Council’s Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.


  • A new study finds that social movements that are built on alliances between secular and religious groups and actors are associated with greater strategic capacity and an increased ability to generate media attention, gain access to high-level political officials, address issues at the state and national levels, and gain a reputation for being politically effective. In their study appearing in the journal Mobilization (28:3), sociologists Richard L. Wood, Brad R. Fulton, and Rebecca Sager analyze data from the National Study of Community Organizing Organizations to evaluate the political efficacy of religious-secular alliances in social movements, studying a total of 178 of the 189 such organizations in the U.S. In comparing organizations with secular-religious alliances against those without such partnerships, the researchers find that the former groups have a complementary relationship that improves their efficacy. Because secular and religious organizations are distinct and do not overlap with each other in who and how they go about community organizing, they do not compete and can therefore learn from each other, allowing for productive alliances. Such resource sharing allows these alliances to better address issues affecting poor communities at the state level. In this complementary relationship, the religious organizations profit from the electoral skills that the secular groups offer, while introducing new approaches to the “moral framing of political issues.” Wood, Fulton, and Sager add that in more religiously influenced settings, such as in the South, religious organizations might also bring electoral skills to the table. However, the authors also found that these alliances were associated with lower mobilizing capacity, suggesting that there is a trade-off in such partnerships.


    Source: Michigan Publishing (University of Michigan).


  • The non-affiliated, or nones, make up an increasing share of Canada’s population, but there are different kinds of nones in the various Canadian provinces and not all of them share the same secular outlook, writes Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme in the journal Studies in Religion (52:3). Religious nones are one of the fastest growing demographics in Canada; according to one survey by Statistics Canada, 47 percent of millennials between the ages of 15 and 34 say they have no religion, compared with 33 percent for members of Generation X,. While the debate continues about whether this means a loss of institutional belonging among nones or a sign of ongoing secularization (or both), Wilkins-Laflamme focuses on how Canadian nones are different according to the regions and provinces of Canada they live in, using data from the 2019 Millennial Trends Survey to understand this regional variation. She finds that British Columbia respondents are least likely to have received a religious upbringing, adding that British Columbians also show higher rates of being “spiritual but not religious” and are more likely to discuss religion and spirituality with friends.

    Going to the far east of the country, in Atlantic Canada (such as New Brunswick and Newfoundland) organized Christianity is still the norm and nones experience more stigma in disaffiliating, but many still retain some beliefs and some pray occasionally. In the western prairie provinces (such as Alberta and Manitoba), there are also remnants of belief and practice, but there is also a higher rate of agnosticism among nones there. In Ontario, nones have a higher rate of uncertainty and disinterest when it comes to belief systems and worldviews and have the highest rate of infrequent attendance at religious services. Quebec, in contrast, has the highest rate of polarization of nones in Canada between more anti-religious atheists and those who practice “many self-identified spiritual practices.” Wilkins-Laflamme concludes that the different positions that Canadian nones take toward spirituality and religion complicates the picture of a widespread movement toward secularism in the country.

    (Studies in Religion,


  • TThe Christian Brethren, an evangelical body with roots in Britain and Europe, has become a global force, with a successful ministry to children, according to the newsletter Future First (October).The Brethren, who are related to the Plymouth Brethren, though less separatist and more open to cooperating with other Christians, is known for its role in developing premillennial teachings on the second coming of Christ and for its absence of clergy. The newsletter cites statistics collected prior to the quadrennial international gathering of Christian Brethren, showing a global attendance of 3.6 million people across 40,000 churches or assemblies (those gatherings not yet considered churches are called “preaching points”). Although the churches have an average attendance of 57 adults, they have an impressive average of 32 children. That average is three times the number in the UK and is mainly the result of the Brethren’s presence in Africa, where many churches have more children than adults. Like other churches, the most growth for the Brethren is found in Africa and Asia, with rapid expansion in the latter region, doubling their attendance from 155,000 in 2015 to 300,000 by 2022. Although the Brethren lack clergy, they rely on “workers” as leaders, about four-fifths of whom are full-time. The last three years have seen the numbers of workers increase from 14,200 in 2019 to 16,500 in 2022, an average annual increase of 5 percent. Three-quarters of the workers serve in either Asia or Africa, which may be a contributing factor in the attendance growth in these continents.

    (Future First,

    Christian Brethren Assembly in Tamil Nadu, India (source: JustDial).