Most of Latin America and Latinos in the United States are undergoing significant changes in their religious affiliations from Catholics to Protestants and from Catholics and Protestants to unaffiliated. As of 2013, the Pew Research Center found that among the 35.4 million Latinos in the U.S. then, Catholics were still in the majority at 55 percent and dropping, Protestants at 22 percent and growing and unaffiliated at 18 percent and by far the largest number were be found among the younger generation.
America as a whole is 75 percent Christian of which a little over 50 percent are Protestant and a little below 30 percent are Catholic. Like the Latino cohorts, both groups are rapidly losing ground to the unaffiliated that stand at over 20 percent and growing.
A significant part of the reason that the Christian religious groups are shifting from one to another or leaving altogether is the growing dissatisfaction not so much with the belief systems, but with the way the leadership relates to its followers and its obsession with accumulating and exercising power over the politics of the moment. Believing and worshiping God is no longer sufficient to a clergy class that seeks to dominate the political standards of a democratic state.
The irony is that the original reason Europeans came to America was to separate themselves from the state that would not allow them to worship in their manner. Now it seems that the pendulum is swinging back to the adoption of a state religion that reflects the beliefs of our loudest Christian proselytizers and that is dangerous.
The religious roots of Christianity have undergone at least two major events that have profoundly changed its direction and meaning. The first was the revelations of Christ to the world that includes taking the very public and “external” laws of Moises (i.e the Ten Commandments) and converting them to very personal thoughts and feelings watched over by the Holy Spirit.
The notion of sin became less about public acts that had legal consequences and more about thoughts, feelings and concepts that could be resolved and forgiven through the Grace of a new Covenant. Christ shed his blood and died so that every believer could find redemption by simply asking.
The second event took place in Nicaea (today Iznik, Turkey) in 325 CE where the development and adoption of the Nicene Creed took place and the document became the basic Christian statement associated with the Holy Trinity. The purpose of this step however, was more to make the Christian community the official church of the Roman Empire.
The union of Church and State was very much an outward manifestation of rituals that went against the very personal relationship established by the Grace of the new Covenant. Also, this deep involvement in politics and the tyranny it created helped in part to cause the Protestant rebellion in Central and Northern Europe and the separatist movements that included participants such as the Puritans and Separatist that came to America as its first settlers.
The memory of religious oppression caused in part our founding fathers and the communities they represented insisted on a strict separation of church and state. The issues were so important that it leads the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution and says: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Religion in our political system can have the same effect as in the past. Like then, it can be the face of tyranny.