Media reports over the last several months have trumpeted that witches in the U.S. now outnumber Presbyterians.
It’s great religious click-bait but the assertion, to the extent it’s based on anything, rests on a false comparison.
In 2014 Pew Research Center estimated that 0.4 percent of Americans, about 1 to 1.5 million people, identify as Wiccan or Pagan. This statistic, cited in all the media reports, is evidently the most recently available data, although it is four years old. But faddish stories can sometimes be ginned up based on old numbers.
Media reports have compared this number of supposed Wiccans/Pagans with 1.4 million Presbyterians, hence the provocative headlines. Witches and other adherents of natural religion outnumber a major Christian tradition in America.
Pew’s Wiccan estimate includes all persons who identify with Wiccan type beliefs. The Presbyterian number is based on the enrolled membership of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is the largest Presbyterian denomination in America.
This comparison does not involve equals. A more accurate assessment would compare enrolled members of covens with the enrolled members of all Presbyterian denominations.
Of course, there is no registry of covens or other pagan groups. Wiccans don’t tend to have institutions with formal membership. They are mostly individualistic and, although claiming ties to ancient pagan beliefs, are very American and modern in their pursuit of their own mostly self-created nature-based spirituality. “Wicca” as a term dates to the mid to late 20th century.
A more accurate comparison would liken total self-identified Wiccans with total self-identified Presbyterians, not just enrolled church members. According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, two percent of Americans self-identify as Presbyterian, which would equal about 6.6 million Americans, or 5 times as many Wiccans.
The total number of enrolled members in Presbyterians denominations would include not just the 1.4 million of the Presbyterian Church (USA). There are also the Presbyterian Church in America with 375,000, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with 145,000, the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians with 121,000, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church with 71,000, the Korean Presbyterian Church in America with 55,000, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church with 31,000. Counting other smaller denominations there are maybe 2.1 or 2.2 million total Presbyterian church members in America.
Far more people typically identify with a church tradition, based on their past, family ties or occasional involvement, than are actively formal church members. But sometimes splashy headlines are based on false comparisons between self-identification of a non-Christian movement with formal members of a Christian denomination.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Mark D. Tooley