Faith can bring a family together in powerful ways. The communal rituals and meals, the traditions that continue year after year, the hymns and verses that grab the heart, the comfort of prayer in times of sorrow, the subdued giggles over little ones' misbehavior in the pews—these are just some of examples of how religion strengthens family bonds.
For this issue of Family Business, I spoke to family leaders about their efforts to unite their families and resolve inherited conflicts. Some of these individuals told me that the family's shared faith has helped them work through difficult issues.
Will religion be as effective as a bonding agent in the future? Consider these statistics from the Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study, a survey of more than 35,000 Americans published last May:
• The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular" rose more than six points between 2007 and 2014, from 16.1% to 22.8%.
• The proportion of Americans who say that religion is very important in their lives dropped from 56% in 2007 to 53% in 2014.
• Two-thirds (67%) of those born between 1928 and 1945 said religion is very important in their lives, compared with only 38% of those born between 1990 and 1996. "As older, more religiously observant generations die out, they are being replaced by far less religious young adults," the Pew researchers wrote.
These changes, the investigators noted, are occurring in all regions of the country. The Pew study also found that the United States is becoming more pluralistic as well as less religious:
• The share of American adults who identify as Christians dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014.
• The proportion of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths increased from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014.
• Nearly four in ten Americans (39%) who have gotten married since 2010 say they are in religiously mixed marriages.
The Duda family, featured on our cover, proclaim their Christian faith on the website of their business, A. Duda & Sons Inc. Stacy Mello, chairman of the Duda family council, told reporter Margaret Steen that the family is open, but not political, about their beliefs. "We quietly go about being a faith-based company and using these principles in how we operate our business and how we treat people," Mello said.
Most business families in the U.S. have customers, employees and suppliers who don't share the family's faith. The chances are increasing that they will also have family members of different faiths, or that some family members will abandon religion altogether.
In the "Advisers Forum" section of this issue, Dennis Jaffe suggests issues that a family of faith might consider amid the realities of a changing society. "The choice to adapt should not mean abandoning deeply held values," Jaffe writes. However, he adds, it may lead to a search for "ways to apply personal values while also respecting community differences." These considerations will become more pressing in the future.
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