A new Gallup poll says that Americans’ confidence in the Church or organized religion is at 44 percent, an all-time low in the slow, continuous decline that began in the 1980s.
In many ways, Gallup’s poll speaks to how much attention society pays to religion and religious authorities. In 1973, organized religion outranked even the Supreme Court as America’s most-trusted institution. It enjoyed steady popularity until the mid-1980s, when Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart suffered very public sex scandals. Then public trust of the Church plummeted below 60 percent.
Trust in religion slowly climbed through the 1990s, until 2001, when the allegations of child abuse and mass cover-ups rocked the Catholic Church, sending confidence in religion into a tailspin that shows no signs of slowing.
This public posture toward the Church follows a trend of national feelings about institutions, with record lows recorded for the education system, banks and TV news, as well. And while Americans have expressed distrust of organized religion, the number of Americans who say they are religious has not changed significantly since the 1970s.