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Churches eye revival among recession

As the recession has deepened in South Carolina, the Rev. Wendell Estep has pondered this question: “Is God removing those things in which we have placed our faith so that we might have to turn again to him and trust him?”

There’s no doubt in Estep’s mind that God is working in mysterious ways in our money-obsessed culture. Estep believes that, in these troubled economic times, Christiansare heeding God’s voice and reflecting a more spiritual bent.

He sees it in the finances of his own First Baptist Church in Columbia, which, he said, is in its best monetary shape in six years.

Members are tithing and contributing to missions and outreach efforts toward “the least of these” because they believe they must answer to Godfor all their income, not just the traditional 10 percent tithe.

Will the spirituality last? Estep doesn’t know, although history suggests times of economic depression lead to spiritual reawakening.

“I’m not panicked at all,” Estep said. “If my faith were in Wall Street or the government, I would probably panic. But my faith is in God.”

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REVIVAL OR CONTINUING DECLINE?

Traditionally in American history, times of hardship have led to religious revivals. Some say that is happening again. Others disagree.

For example, the American Religious Identification Survey, released in March, found:

-- A continuing decline in the number of citizens aligned with organized religion.

-- An increase in the number of Americans who say they have no religion. In South Carolina, that number rose to 10 percent — or one in 10 — from 3 percent in 1990.

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