Barna Researches How Race and Religion Relate

Jenni Parker | Agape Press | Monday, August 16, 2004

Barna Researches How Race and Religion Relate

August 16, 2004

A new study has revealed substantial differences between the beliefs and practices of various ethnic groups in the United States.

Just as the 2004 presidential race is highlighting how differently the four major ethnic groups in the nation view and respond to life, the Barna Research Group, a Christian research organization based in Ventura, California, has done research that reveals how significantly these groups differ on matters of faith.

Nationwide Barna surveys of more than 2,600 American adults revealed marked differences between the African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and white populations of the U.S. in the areas of their religious beliefs, religious practices, and faith-influenced attitudes. The researchers interviewed randomly selected adults, asking about eight specific religious behaviors and a dozen belief-oriented issues.

Ranking religious activity

The survey showed that whites tended to fall consistently in the middle of the religious behavior scale, scoring neither highest nor lowest on any of the eight behaviors. Blacks, however, tended to score high in several of these areas. Of all the ethnic groups in the survey, blacks were "notably less likely than others to be unchurched." They also ranked highest on the religious activity scale for half of the behaviors studied (reading the Bible, praying to God, giving money to churches, and watching Christian television).

The group that was the least likely to be active in Christian activity was Asians, who scored lowest for all eight activities measured. The study found this group to be the least involved in attending church, attending Sunday school, praying to God, reading the Bible, participating in a small group for religious purposes, or watching Christian television. This group also gave the least amount of money to churches and was the most likely to be unchurched.

While Hispanics were generally below-average on most of the religious behaviors studied, and they ranked particularly low in giving money to churches, they were found to be the most likely of all the groups to share their faith in Jesus with non-Christians.

Religious beliefs compared

In terms of beliefs, once again, black Americans emerged as the ethnic group most likely to have beliefs that line up with Christian or biblical teachings. This population segment is the most likely to have an orthodox view of God and to contend that the Bible is accurate, that Christ lived a holy life, that faith is important to them, that they have a personal responsibility to evangelize, and that divorce -- except in cases of adultery -- is a sin.

Asians turned out to be the least likely to hold tradition Christian beliefs. The survey found this group was the most likely to be atheist, agnostic, or practicing a non-Christian faith; two-thirds of Asians fall into one of these categories. Whites were very similar to Asians on two matters in particular -- rejecting the accuracy of the Bible and possessing an unorthodox or non-biblical understanding of the nature of God.

While the religious views of Hispanics tended to be similar to those of whites, Hispanics were found to be more likely than either whites or blacks to reject belief in the Holy Spirit as a living, present being. Also, although 85 percent of Hispanics identified themselves as Christian, this group tends to be fairly intolerant of faith influences on culture. Hispanics were less likely than either whites or blacks to support the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, or retaining religious references such as "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency or "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The group most likely to describe themselves as "deeply spiritual" and absolutely committed to their faith was black Americans. Interestingly, however, although blacks were determined to be the group most likely to be "born again," they are only half as likely as whites to fit the description of evangelical, as defined by the study. Evangelicals are a subset of born-again Christians in Barna surveys, and they must meet seven additional criteria. Those include believing they have a personal responsibility to share their Christian faith with non-believers, and contending that Satan exists, that salvation is through grace alone -- not works, and that the Bible is accurate in all its teachings.

Lessons from the African-American experience

In analyzing the survey results, author and researcher George Barna found the outcomes consistent with the findings of a multi-year project he recently completed on the relationship between black churches and the lives of blacks. Through these studies, he says his group has "discovered that their faith in Christ has empowered millions of blacks to overcome challenges that might otherwise have been debilitating."

The founder of The Barna Research Group and author of more than 30 books on faith and culture trends finds study of the black faith experience instructive, both for the Church and the culture as a whole. When asked why, he replies that blacks are distinguished from other racial groups in America by "their more overt need for -- and openness to -- Jesus in the midst of a culture that until recently has been comparatively unsympathetic to their needs."

"As the nation's culture becomes more challenging for people of faith, and as the economic and demographic balance of the nation shifts," Barna explains, "the lessons and victories won by black churches will likely serve as a beacon for all ministries in a time of increasing spiritual confusion and searching."

The relationship between black faith and experience is further explored in the recently released High Impact African-American Churches (Regal Books, 2004).  George Barna co-authored the book with Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., an African American pastor of a large multicultural congregation in the Washington D.C. area. 

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