In Washington, D.C. there are as many polling reports as there are monuments. Politicians rely on polls to influence their colleagues and the media often uses polls to sway public opinion. But polling data is not unlike the weather. Wait a few minutes.Things will change.
A poll by the Gallup organization wanted to explore the topic of religion and its influence on America. What they found was alarming. According to Gallup, seven in ten Americans believe that religion is losing its influence on American life. That's one of the highest responses Gallup has received in its 53-year history of asking the question.
In 1957, when Gallup first asked the question, 69 percent said religion was increasing it influence on America. Eisenhower was president and America was recovering from the Great War while focusing on family and rebuilding as a nation.
Things began to change, however, in the mid-1960's. America was experiencing a "sexual revolution" and moral absolutes were becoming passé. When Gallup asked the same question in 1970, 75 percent of those surveyed said religion was losing its influence in our country.
When the sexual revolution failed to meet the needs of the human heart and, in fact, left some "experimenters" broken-hearted, opinions changed once again. The war in Vietnam ended, and Americans once again began to embrace the role of religion. On September 11th, 2001, our world changed dramatically.
In the first Gallup polling done after the attacks, 71 percent of Americans said religion was increasing its influence on our nation. Not only was America a nation at war but we also struggled with how religion fit into our lives and into our world. While church attendance initially increased sharply after the attacks, interest in religion and faith quickly faded, returning America back to the same level of interest found in 1970.
Attendance at churches slowly spiraled downward to the current level of 61 percent who say they regularly worship, the lowest figure since the 1930's. By comparison, in 1947, 76 percent of Americans were regular churchgoers.
Moving past the fog of numbers, what does this polling data tell us? Are we struggling with a lack of certainty in our religion?
Thomas Manton, an English Puritan clergyman, lived during the 1600's yet his work impacted Charles Surgeon, the renowned English preacher spoke to over 10,000,000 in his lifetime. Spurgeon said of Manton that his works contained "a mighty mountain of sound theology" and his sermons were "second to none" to his contemporaries. Manton understood faith must focus on someone worthy of worship and in the certainty that Christ Himself can provide. He said:
"If a man would lead a happy life, let him but seek a sure object for his trust [or faith], and he shall be safe: "He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." He hath laid up his confidence in God, therefore his heart is kept in an equal poise."
In a day and age where being in "equal poise" is not easily obtained, may we hold fast to an unchanging Truth - not to the assurance of religion but of the sure hope of the Gospel.