Due in part, surely, to population growth among America’s non-Christian citizens, but only in part.

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people…

Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).

Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

I would have guessed the main cause was the pedophile-priest scandal but Barna suggests that it has more to do with increasing mainstream acceptance of gays. The more comfortable people are with them, the more uncomfortable they are with Christianity’s hostility to homosexuality. Whether that’s because they’re simply not buying the idea that Christians hate the sin but love the sinner or whether it’s because they don’t think of homosexuality is a sin isn’t clear, but probably a bit of both.

Here’s the trend in a nice, neat, straight line:

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And here, from Gallup today, is the favorable ratings for the top-tier candidates among “non-religious” Americans. If Barna’s right about which way the wind is blowing, the Democrats’ newfound interest in faith will be a very passing fancy.

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