- THE CHURCH – Every time I kneel, they stand. I stand, they sit. Everyone is kneeling and I, alone, am standing. This is because I am attending a Catholic mass with my wife and kids, who are Catholic, and I am a Presbyterian. We Presbyterians – Church of Scotland, John Knox, bagpipes and booze – don’t kneel except to pick up coins and cash dropped by errant Salvation Army donors, speaking of denominations.But I have a bigger problem than this out-of-step maneuvering, and you may too, if you are a Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist or member of any other group which defies the papist takeover of America. You see, for the first time in our nation’s history, Protestants are a minority. An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that only 48 percent of Americans now consider themselves Protestants. (The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey puts it at 51 percent.)This figure is down from what it was at the beginning of this country –110 percent. Indeed, we Protestants founded America, first by killing off most of the heathen Indians and burning at the stake those of other faiths. Every one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was a Protestant except for Charles Carroll of Maryland, the token Catholic, and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin who were Deists. They worshiped elm trees. Today Deists worship the trombone section of the Coast Guard Band.
For decades it was an official requirement that all U.S. presidents were Protestant, at least that’s what we told everyone. Then came John F. Kennedy, a Catholic. In the 2012 election, for the first time in our nation’s history a major political party fielded a presidential running team with no Protestant on the ticket. The GOP had a Mormon, Mitt Romney, and a Catholic, Paul Ryan. The Republicans could not find even one Protestant as a sop to we 48 percent, apparently because we made up Romney’s bottom 47 percent. Also, for the first time in our history, there is not a single Protestant on the U.S. Supreme Court (or military veteran). We’ve got six Catholics and three Jews deciding Roe v. Wade, both of whom were Protestant.
Why this drop in our numbers? Actually, the Pew (that’s the official and long-standing title of an organization that surveys everything, but don’t you love such a name for this religious survey?) study found that Americans of all faiths are moving to “none of the above.” Today, one-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14 percent). It is not clear where the Deists fit in. I’ll ask the Coast Guard Band. Many of those polled said they were religious and believe in God, but didn’t cotton to any organized religion. Others said they just didn’t like being labeled.
Here in Texas we have the largest church, in members, of any religious facility in the U.S.: the Lakewood Church in Houston, the Rev. John Osteen presiding, with 40,000 parishioners and a nationwide TV audience. The church meets in the former Houston Rockets arena, and has no formal ties with any denomination. Lakewood Church closes for Christmas so the Osteens can go skiing in Aspen. Honest.
Texans have always been religious; it’s a tradition along with guns, guts and intolerance for bigots. Back in the early days, in order to receive the generous land grants given by the Mexican government, Anglo-American immigrants had to sign a paper saying that they followed the Catholic religion and didn’t own slaves, but both sides sort of went wink-wing, nudge-nudge about the agreement. And throughout our history Texas has always tolerated all sorts of cults and odd groups. We have the Aggies, Cowboy fans and people who eat boudain.
The Branch Davidians looked everywhere to find a place where they would feel at home. They chose Texas — a spot just outside Waco — so they could watch Baylor students dance and drink. Members of Yearning for Zion also explored many different places until they finally selected a ranch near Eldorado which would allow the church elders to marry dozens of 12-year-old girls. However, the leaders were arrested, much to the satisfaction of 12-year-old boys.
As we might expect, geographically Texas tends to be heavily Protestant in the north and east and Catholic in the south and southwest. Catholics are the largest single denomination in the Lone Star State. Among Protestants, Southern Baptists lead in membership (notice that the largest building in any small Texas town is the First Baptist Church), followed by the United Methodist Church, Churches of Christ, Assemblies of God, the Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopal Church. Why the “USA” at the end of the Presbyterian Church? In 1861 the denomination split over slavery. The North wanted to keep it, the South was for abolition, or maybe it was the other way around. The two churches didn’t rejoin until 1958 — we Presbys hold a grudge.
A 2010 census found that Texas ranks first among the 50 states in the number of Evangelical Protestants and the number that belong to “non-denominational” Evangelical Protestant churches. Texas is second in Hindus, third in Buddhists and fifth in the number of Mormons. Bet you didn’t know that Texas has more Muslims than any other state: 421,972. (In Houston, Muslims outnumber Episcopalians, Jews, Presbyterians, Church of Christians and Lutherans.) Why so many Muslins? One hint: King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia has had thirteen wives, and has fathered at least 35 children.
Meantime, I am standing, sitting, ignoring the glares of my family. The church printed a program so that non-Catholics would know what to do and when, but it was in Latin. We need to burn a few more heretics.
Ashby kneels at firstname.lastname@example.org