Does Rev. Billy Graham's death mark end of era of unity?

By Alicia Booth - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Despite the masses of people who came to hear his message in his later years, the Rev. Billy Graham acknowledged that people were starting to turn away from religion, especially young people. But why?

There are as many theories about that as there are religions, but everyone News4Jax spoke with agrees that the passing of Graham marks the end of an era of unity. And they say whether it could return is up in the air.

Graham made an appearance in Jacksonville in 2000, and at the time, the city had never seen anything like it -- thousands of people gathering to hear Graham's message of unity.

Greek Orthodox priest Nicholas Louh was there and remembers seeing people of many different religions showing up to listen to the evangelist.

"Despite his deep conviction and his Christian faith, he was a symbol of hope that drew people," Louh said. "No matter who they were, no matter where they were in their walk of faith, he drew people to him."

For several years now, research and polling have shown that the number of non-believers is growing, and many of them are millennials.

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Logan Ansteatt, a University of North Florida senior, is a self-proclaimed atheist. He said he has nothing against those with faith. It's just not for him.

"I find that it's better to rely on myself, the people who are around me, the connections I have made, everything that I do, you know, just work hard for it and not be praying to something that may or may not be there, I guess," Ansteatt said.

Therein lies the challenge for clergy everywhere.

"Young people are searching for answers," said the Rev. Christopher McKee, with the First Baptist Church of Oakland. "It's not that they don't necessarily have a spiritual inclination, it's just they're looking for those answers in different ways."

McKee said it's not enough to just talk.

"A lot of millennials want to do. They want want service," McKee said. "They want to be able to provide transformation in their communities and in their neighborhoods. They want to touch people's lives."

For religious leaders, tough questions remain.

"Are we too inwardly focused? Are the walls to our church too closed? To our temple, to our mosques?" Louh asked. "Are we allowing ourselves to make a difference in the world? That's what I think Billy Graham yearned for us all to do."

There is now a growing movement of people known as the "nones," which are people who don't affiliate with any religion. The First Coast Freethought Society is a group in Jacksonville that's been around 20 years and promotes science over religion.

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