Deseret News best of 2012: Faith in the community
Observing the services from a back pew in the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, I noticed a broad population of worshipers: about half of the congregation was Caucasian. Rev. Jerry Hirano told me that just 20 years ago, more than 99 percent of those attending services were Japanese.
Indeed, when Buddhist and Hindu temples were first established in America more than a century ago, they were the spiritual and cultural gathering places for Asian immigrants who came to America seeking economic opportunity. The same can be said for many of religions brought to America by immigrants.
But times have changed. I saw many followers who don't hail from India observing prayers and meditation rites at the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple. The congregations at local mosques and formerly all-black Christian churches across America are similarly seeing a growing number of converts from other faith traditions.
Reporting on how people live their respective faiths — whether Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or Mormon — I have witnessed firsthand what demographers have been pointing out for years: that America’s religious landscape is changing.
In 2012, the Deseret News explored this change through interviews with members of a variety of faiths, including leaders in efforts to educate the country about religion and promote interfaith dialogue. Many emphasized the importance of understanding diverse faith traditions in order to eliminate stereotypes that can lead to discrimination or violence, blunting the powerful force for good that religion can be in a community.
The faith beat also followed the growing number of youth and young adults who are drifting from religion, with an eye toward what faith leaders and families are doing to counter that trend.
As a backdrop to these trends in religion, we also documented a growing threat to the freedom to practice religion and follow one's conscience. People of faith are increasingly facing laws that demand they make a choice between their conscience or secular rules and regulations. Battles over the line between church and state continue to crop up. The Deseret News has chronicled the work of those seeking — and finding — ways to ensure that all Americans, believers and non-believers alike, can exercise their First Amendment rights and have a voice in the public square.
That public conversation will only grow in importance as the American religious landscape continues to change. But even as it changes, faith remains a vibrant and integral part of the lived experience of millions of Americans and a cornerstone of coverage at the Deseret News.
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