Religion and America in 2009

Someone once said that statisticians are the worst form of liars. In fact, that someone said it in a way much too colorful for a family publication!

Nonetheless, demographics and surveys sometimes give us a glimpse into the life of the body politic, and 2009 provided no shortage of such glimpses. Here are a few of them:

Paint It Black
As part of Black History Month, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new analysis that paints a detailed religious portrait of African-Americans. The analysis finds that African-Americans are markedly more religious than the U.S. population as a whole, on a variety of measures, including reporting on a religious affiliation, attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer, and the importance of religion in people’s lives. Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, African-Americans are among the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation, with fully 87 percent of African-Americans describing themselves as belonging to one religious group or another. The analysis also finds that nearly eight in ten African-Americans (79 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent among all U.S. adults.

Got God?
An analysis of more than 350,000 interviews conducted by Gallup in 2008 found Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas to be the most religious states in the nation. Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts were the least religious states. The United States is generally a religious nation, although the degree of this religiosity varies across states and regions of the country. A robust 65 percent of all Americans (across the entire U.S. population) reported in 2008 that religion was important in their daily lives.

Religion’s Revolving Door
Survey findings released in January by Ellison Research show that seven out of 10 regular churchgoers would be at least somewhat open to switching denominations, with dramatic differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Respondents who attended worship services once a month or more were asked what denomination they attended most often. Then they were asked what role that denomination would play if they could no longer attend their current church. Three out of 10 churchgoers said they would only consider attending one denomination – they would be open to nothing else. Another 44 percent reported having one preferred denomination, but they would also consider others. Eleven percent had a small number of denominations they would consider, with no particular favorite among them. Six percent didn’t have any particular denomination that they preferred, but they did have certain ones they would not consider. Finally, nine percent said that denomination did not factor into their decision of what church to attend.

Role Models
Just over half of U.S. teens say their parents are their role models. That’s according to a poll conducted by Junior Achievement Worldwide and Deloitte. The telephone survey asked 750 12- to 17-year-olds to choose one role model. Friends were chosen by 13 percent of the teens, while teachers or coaches finished third, with six percent of the votes. Stephanie Bell, director of marketing and media relations at Junior Achievement Worldwide, said it’s critical for children see their parents as role models. “Your kids are always watching what you’re doing and saying,” she said, “so it becomes more incumbent upon parents to model appropriate behavior.”

AIDS Up in America

Nearly 3,000 of every 100,000 residents in Washington, D.C. over age 12 have HIV or AIDS. A recent report from the George Washington University School of Health and Health Services said it only takes one percent to reach a “generalized and severe” epidemic. The report shows the leading method of transmitting HIV/AIDS remains men having sex with men, followed by heterosexual sex and injection drug use. Shannon Hader, director of D.C.’s HIV/AIDS Administration, told The Washington Post that the district’s rates are higher than West Africa’s. The report also admits that the actual number of people currently infected and living with HIV is unknown, and is certainly higher than what the report indicates.

Friends with Benefits

Sixty percent of college students in a recent survey have been in a “friends with benefits” relationship, a no-commitment sexual arrangement. The study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior and featured on, supports previous research on why students have these relationships. Researchers interviewed 125 students at Wayne State University and Michigan State University. The main “advantage” of such a relationship was “no commitment” (59.7 percent of participants). Melissa A. Bisson and Timothy R. Levine, the study’s lead researchers, write that the relationships “were perceived as providing a relatively safe and convenient environment for recreational sex.”

Left and Right

One-third of U.S. adults consider themselves to be “mostly conservative” on social and political matters, while about half as many (17 percent) say they are “mostly liberal” on such matters. That’s according to a new study conducted by The Barna Group, which tracks the substantially different spiritual beliefs, behaviors and alignments of the two groups. Among the differences: Liberals are less than half as likely as conservatives are to firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches. Liberals are also far less likely than conservatives are to strongly believe that their religious faith is very important in their life (54 percent vs. 82 percent). Liberals are also much less likely than conservatives to believe that “God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.” Only about half of liberals adopt that view of God, compared to more than four out of five conservatives.

No Place like Home
The number of home-schooled students has nearly doubled in the last eight years, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education. An estimated 1.5 million students, nearly three percent of the country’s school-age population, were home-schooled in the spring of 2007. In 1999, about 850,000 children were home-schooled. That number was 1.1 million in 2003. More than 80 percent of parents said they home-school their children to provide religious or moral instruction, up from 72 percent in 2003. About 36 percent said that was the most important reason they home-school their children, followed by concern about the school environment (21 percent) and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools (17 percent).

Left and Right, Redux

A new Gallup poll shows that the number of Americans who identify themselves as conservatives is nearly double the number that calls themselves liberal. The survey found that 40 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and 21 percent as liberal. The research shows that when compared with 1992-1994, the percentage of moderates declined from 42 percent to 35 percent, while there was a slight increase in the number of conservatives and liberals, from 38 to 40 percent for conservatives, and from 17 to 21 percent for liberals.

Addicted to Facebook
When they’re not sending text messages or “tweets,” today’s Christian college students are spending time on Facebook. A lot of it. One in every three says he or she is spending one to two hours a day on the site. Twelve percent report using it two to four hours each day, and 2.8 percent report using it four to seven hours a day. That’s in addition to other forms of social media and electronic usage, such as video games, blogs, e-mail and Internet browsing. Over half (54 percent) reported that they were “neglecting important areas of their life” due to spending too much time on these sites. And when asked if one were to define addiction as “any behavior you cannot stop, regardless of the consequences,” 12.7 percent affirmed that they believe they are addicted to some form of electronic activity. Another 8.7 percent report that they are unsure. For small campuses, that translates into large numbers. And 21 percent felt that their level of engagement with electronic activities at times caused a conflict with their Christian values.

One Man, One Woman, One Marriage

Most Americans marry just once, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey of three million households shows 76 percent of those who have ever been married have married only once. Nearly 20 percent have been married twice, and five percent have been married three or more times. The Census also reported that the average U.S. marriage lasts 18.2 years.

Charter Milestone
What began as an experiment in 1992 has become 5,043 charter schools in 39 states and the District of Columbia, providing nearly two million American families with opportunities not previously available in the public school system. Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, said parent demand has fueled the rise. “No other form of school choice has provided such a dramatic impact on the lives of so many students,” she said, “and no other reform has had the teeth to push conventional public schools to be better like charters have.”

Warren Cole Smith is the editor of the Evangelical Press News Service.

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