Reading religion surveys can seem like confronting the Tower of Babel: stacked questions, confusing terms, unscientific methodology.
It gets even crazier when results are contradictory. How does that happen?
Some surveys lean like the Tower of Pisa
The Pledge of Allegiance is a perfect example.
There’s almost always a flap over how many Americans do — or don’t — want the words “under God” kicked out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, on Nov. 19 a court in Monmouth, N.J., will hear the case of the American Humanist Association battling the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District to have schools edit out mention of God.
The humanists claim 34 percent of Americans agree with their view. But, wait. What about a survey conducted earlier this year by LifeWay Research, a Christian research agency? It found that only 8 percent would cut God from the Pledge.
Why four times the difference? Look to the poll language.
LifeWay asked: “Should the words ‘under God’ be removed from or remain in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America?” That’s a straight-up question with no preface.
The humanists’ survey, however, began with a bit of pointed Pledge history — before getting to the (loaded) question:
“For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase ‘under God.’ During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase ‘one nation, indivisible … ‘ was changed to read ‘one nation, under God, indivisible … ‘. Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.
When Brianna and Chris Lindsay married in June, they had the church, the minister, the bridesmaids … and a foot-washing ceremony for the bride and groom.
It was, they said, a sign of their mutual submission.
“First he took off both of my shoes and we had a water basin and pitcher,” said the bride, recalling the five-minute ceremony during which a friend read a poem about the couple. “In return, I got down in my dress, took off his socks. … It probably was a little awkward for us — maybe a little — but we felt like it was an important message to show people.”
In an age of big-ticket destination weddings and reality show “bridezillas,” some evangelical Christians are opting for what writer Catherine Strode Parks calls “A Christ-Centered Wedding.”
Her new book details ways brides and grooms can fill their wedding with biblical touches to reinforce for friends and family the centrality of their faith.
“If we really believe that marriage is important, that it matters and that God infused it with so much meaning, then we want to share that joy with those who are present and invite them into that celebration and that worship,” said Parks, who co-wrote the book with her mother, Linda Strode.
More Americans today say religion’s influence is losing ground just when they want it to play a stronger role in public life and politics.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds 72 percent of Americans say religion’s influence is declining in society — the highest percentage since Pew began measuring the trend in 2001, when only 52 percent held that view.
“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion & Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire for more religion and politics.”
Growing numbers want their politicians to pray in public and for their clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And nearly half of Americans say business owners with religious objections to gay marriage should to be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples.
There are three ways to look at the findings, released Sept. 22:
I went to the mecca of evangelicalism for college — beautiful campus in the suburbs of Chicago, where I received a scholarship from none other than the Pope of Evangelicalism, Billy Graham, for my work in street evangelism. As in, speaking to random strangers on the street in order to convert them to Christianity. Post graduation, I became a missionary, the Protestant equivalent of achieving sainthood.
I look back on that girl on fire and marvel at her earnest faith. If I could, I would reach back and massage the tense knots out of her high-strung shoulders, weary from carrying the weight of her neighbors’ eternal destinies. I would wistfully explain to her that the first person she tried to witness to, that gentle, drunken, homeless woman named Kathy, needed more than my rehearsed Roman Road to salvation. Then I would break the Temporal Prime Directive and reveal to her that one day she would become more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing.
The truth is, I’m just better at being evangelized. It’s probably how I was so easily converted at the tender age of 12. The young Christian is expected to learn how to share their testimony: their story of how God changes your life. By the time I was in my twenties, I had given my testimony a bajillion times.
But my own story often bored me.
Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina, and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday.
The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.
“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.
“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”
Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.
Why Evangelicals Should Care About 'The Mikado' Controversy If They Care About Reconciliation in the Church
In my pastoral counseling class in seminary, the professor played a video of a counseling session of a black couple. He intended for us to learn some lessons on marriage counseling from it, but it turned out to be a laugh fest for the mostly white class. Repeatedly the husband and wife cut each other down with witty insults. My sense is that the couple reminded the students of George and Louise Jefferson from the TV show The Jeffersons. I sat next to an African American student that day and during the break I turned over to him and asked, “Do you find this funny?” He said, “I’m glad you asked,” and proceeded to tell me that he witnessed this kind of behavior firsthand in his own home since his parents are divorced. Needless to say he did not find the video amusing. I encouraged him to voice this to the class, which he courageously did when we returned from break. It seems while the professor intended to communicate one thing from showing the video, it communicated another because of the manner in which the students were racialized.
I share this story as an analogue to the recent controversy surrounding the production of the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s The Mikado — a comic opera written in 1885 as a critique of British politics and institutions, set in distant, mysterious, and mostly made-up Japan. It began with Sharon Chan writing an editorial to the Seattle Times, calling the current production of it by an all-white cast as “yellowface” and “open[ing] old wounds and resurrect[ing] pejorative stereotypes.” Since then, Jeff Yang has also written an editorial for CNN.com entitled, “Yellowface staging of ‘The Mikado’ has to end.” I will not rehearse their arguments here; I write to address why this incident matters to North American evangelicals.