Lifeway Research

America Welcomes Christians, Jews; Atheists, Muslims Not So Much

LIfeWay Research / RNS

Graphic via LIfeWay Research / RNS

Americans are all for religious freedom — but disagree on who can claim it.

Diverse religious groups are recognized — but Christians and Jews are significantly more welcome than atheists, and many don’t see a welcome mat for Muslims. And not everyone means the same thing when speaking of a “Christian” nation.

So finds a new look at Americans’ religious self-image, detailed in a LifeWay Research survey released July 29.

Most Americans Look So Kindly on Churches, They Might Even Go Sometime

Photo via Twenty20 Inc / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Twenty20 Inc / Shutterstock.com

The findings show that as many as 45 percent of Americans will look at the church brand on the sign out front — Catholic or Baptist or Methodist or whatever — and drive past, thinking it is “not for me.”

And yet, McConnell said, the survey reveals an openness in most people — if not a very theologically deep one — to stopping by, even if they declare no religious identity, the “nones.”

“Many people view a church like the ice cream parlor down the road. They think, ‘When I’m in the mood, I can go.’ Church leaders can take it as good news: People haven’t ruled them out. But they have to be a little unsettled at how little people are thinking about this,” said McConnell.

U.S. Churchgoers Still Sit in Segregated Pews, and Most Are OK with That

Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS.

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma." Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS.

On the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (Jan. 15), just as the civil rights drama Selma was nominated for best picture in the Oscar race, one fact of American life was little changed.

Sunday morning remains, as King once observed, the most segregated hour in America. And, against a backdrop of increased racial tensions, new research shows that most Americans are OK with that.

Two in three (66 percent) Americans have never regularly attended a place of worship where they were an ethnic minority, according to new polling analysis released by LifeWay Research.

“People like the idea of diversity. They just don’t like being around different people,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based research firm. 

“Maybe their sense is that church is the space where they don’t have to worry about issues like this,” he said. But that could be a problem, because, Stetzer said, “If you don’t like diversity, you’re really not going to like heaven.” 

Why Are Religious Survey Results So Confusing?

A crowd recites the Pledge of Allegiance at a Kerry campaign rally in 2004. Photo via American Spirit via Shutterstock/RNS.

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.

What Do Americans Pray for? Themselves. And Maybe a Sports Team

“Among Americans who pray: People typically pray for…” graphic courtesy of LifeWay Christian Resources/RNS.

When Americans aren’t busy praying for themselves or their own needs — and most of them are — many are seeking divine intervention on behalf of a favorite sports team or the golden ticket in the lottery, according to a new survey.

About 13 percent of Americans who pray say they pray for sports teams, compared with about one in five (21 percent) who say they have prayed to win the lottery, the new survey from LifeWay Research suggests. 

A survey earlier this year from Public Religion Research Institute suggested that more Americans (26 percent) pray for their sports team, while more than seven in 10 (73 percent) say they have never done this.

Some of LifeWay’s new survey’s main findings include:

Churches Shun Mental Illness; Offer Little Help to Sufferers, Families

“Talking About Mental Illness” graphic courtesy of LifeWay Christian Resources/RNS.

Protestant clergy rarely preach about mental illness to their congregations and only one quarter of congregations have a plan in place to assist members who have a mental health crisis, a new LifeWay Research survey found.

The findings, in a nation where one in four Americans have suffered with mental illness, demonstrate a need for greater communication, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the evangelical research firm, a ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources, which is an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.

When it comes to mental illness, researchers found:

  • 66 percent mention it rarely, once a year, or never
  • 26 percent speak about it several times a year
  • 4 percent mention it about once a month
  • 3 percent talk about it several times a month.

“When we look at what we know statistically — the prevalence of mental illness and the lack of preaching on the subject — I think that’s a disconnect,” said Stetzer.

Study Finds Majority Of Pastors Are Ill-Equipped To Handle Domestic, Sexual Violence Issues

On a brighter side, 80% of faith leaders state that they would take the right steps in trying to reduce the violence if they were given the right training and resources to properly serve their congregations. “This is a conversation the church needs to be having but isn’t,” said Jim Wallis, president and founder of faith and social justice advocacy group Sojourners. “We cannot remain silent when our sisters and brothers live under the threat of violence in their homes and communities.”

Behind the Numbers: Religious 'Nones' May Not Be Who You Think They Are

Atheists and unbelievers gathered March 24, 2012 on the National Mall for the Reason Rally. RNS photo by Tyrone Turner.

In recent surveys, the religious “nones” — as in, “none of the above” — appear to lead in the faith marketplace. In fact, “none” could soon be the dominant label U.S. adults pick when asked to describe their religious identity.

But they may not be who you think they are. Today, “nones” include many more unbranded believers than atheists, and an increasingly diverse racial and ethnic mix.

And, researchers say, this is already making nones’ attitudes and opinions less predictably liberal on social issues.

Protestant Pastors Support Immigration Reform, According to Survey

Courtesy Lifeway Research

Courtesy Lifeway Research

The news that immigration reform may be dead—at least for this year—isn’t likely to sit well in many of America’s churches.

A new poll from Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds nearly six in 10 senior pastors of Protestant churches support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

Many of those pastors hope reform will help them minister to more Hispanic Americans. But few say the current immigration system hurts current members of their flocks.

The poll of 1,007 senior pastors of Protestant churches, conducted Sept. 4-19, comes as immigration reform has stalled on Capitol Hill.

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