African Americans 'Most Christian' in Lifestyle and Beliefs

A new Barna study separated Americans to four major ethnic categories to find which groups are ''in-tune with Christian perspectives''
( [email protected] ) Aug 12, 2004 02:11 PM EDT

According to a new study released by the Barna Group, African Americans are most likely to be “in-tune” with Christian Perspectives. The study, based on two surveys conducted on some 2,600 Americans, separated the population into four ethnic groups, Caucasian (68%), Hispanic (14%), Asian (4%) and Black (13%), to show how differently the four major ethnic groups live their lives.

In finding out the groups’ way of life, the Barna group asked questions pertaining to “eight elements of religious behavior.”

Ultimately, African Americans were found to live with the most traditional Christian beliefs and practices. On average, African Americans partook in half of the eight elements, namely reading the Bible, praying to God, giving money to churches and watching Christian television. Blacks were also less likely than others to be ‘unchurched’.

At the other end of the spectrum was Asian Americans; the study showed that Asians generated the lowest scores for all eight religious activities measured by the Barna Group - attending church, reading the Bible, praying to God, attending Sunday school, participating in a small group for religious purposes, watching Christian television and offering to churches – and were most likely to be ‘unchurched.’

Hispanics varied in their answers to the eight questions. While they were highly likely to share their faith with non-Christians, they were “especially low” on offering to churches. Caucasians were at the average range for all eight religious behaviors tested by the surveys.

In relation to religious beliefs, Black Americans were again most likely to “parallel Christian or biblical teachings.” Among the four groups, African Americans were most likely to “contend that the Bible is accurate in its teachings, that religious faith is very important in their life, that they have a personal responsibility to evangelize, that Jesus Christ lived a holy life, that divorce except in cases of adultery is sin, and to possess an orthodox biblical view of God.”

Asians were again the group least likely to hold many of the traditional Christian perspectives tested by the Barna group. The last two groups, Hispanics and Whiles were similar with the exception of their views on the Holy Spirit; Hispanics were more likely than whites to reject the idea of the Holy Spirit as a living presence. To a lesser degree, Whites were more likely to reject the accuracy of the Bible and possess an unorthodox or non-biblical understanding nature of God, than were Hispanics.

In terms of adherence to a specific category of Christianity, blacks were the most likely to be born again at 47%, then whites at 41%, Hispanics at 29% and only 12% of Asians. Nine percent of whites considered themselves evangelicals while 4% of blacks viewed themselves the same. Asians stood out as the group most likely to be atheist or agnostic (20%) or aligned with a non-Christian faith group (45%); the national average of non-Christian populations is around 11 percent.

Accordingly, Asians were likely to be at a distance from traditional Christian thought and behavior. Blacks were also the group most likely to say they were “deeply spiritual” and absolutely committed to their faith.

Oddly, although 85% of Hispanics were Christian, they were similar to Asians in their “reluctance to accept faith influences in cultural experiences.” They were less likely than both whites and blacks to support posting the Ten Commandments in public view, retaining “In God We Trust” on currency, keeping the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and committing absolutely to Christianity.

George Barna, the head researcher at the Barna group, said these outcomes are “consistence with a multi-year research project” on the interaction between black churches and black people that he recently completed.

“Upon dissecting the role of faith in the lives of black Americans, we discovered that their faith in Christ has empowered millions of blacks to overcome challenges that might otherwise have been debilitating. The local church has been a major source of strength and directive leadership for the black community,” said Barna.

Barna added that black churches bring Christian values to black congregants, allowing them to live differently from the popular culture.

“As a result, millions of blacks have found the inner strength to withstand hardships. Our study identified significant links between black people’s ability to remain spiritually and emotionally strong despite cultural challenges and the kinds of leadership, discipleship development, and extended community provided by effective churches,” said Barna.

Meanwhile, Barna explained the correlations between the study and his recent book entitled, “High Impact African-American Churches.” In the book, which Barna wrote jointly with an African American bishop Harry Jackson Jr., the researchers tie the history of blacks in America to their spiritual journey. The book concludes that the power they gained from these spiritual journeys enabled the black population to make ‘significant strides over the past century.’

“The lessons we learned from studying black churches where people’s lives are being transformed are transferable to any church, in any sector of our culture,” according to Barna. “For instance, we found that the black church emphasis upon and facilitation of authentic worship is something that most people yearn for, but relatively few American churches successfully provide for their people. The ways in which the most effective black churches consistently lead their people into God’s presence are not methods limited to use in the black community, but speak to the desires and responsiveness of all Americans. Similarly, what the great black churches in the U.S. have learned about discipleship, serving the needy, evangelism and stewardship is germane to every church, regardless of its congregation’s make-up.”

Barna also concluded that ‘people are people’ no matter what the skin color.

“After conducting research for more than two decades, it has become clear to us that people are people. They are created by the same God, possess the same basic and inherent needs, and struggle with the same cultural and spiritual forces. For the most part, there are not distinct white, black, Hispanic or Asian, or Native American solutions to the human dilemma,” said Barna. “There are simply biblical solutions to human need and longing. Language and programs may differ, but the basic challenges and responses are amazingly universal. Jesus is Jesus, regardless of your skin color or country of origin.”

Barna also said the black population will ‘serve as a beacon’ for all ministries in the future of America.

“What distinguishes blacks in this nation from other racial groups is 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,” said Barna. “As the nation’s culture becomes more challenging for people of faith, and as the economic and demographic balance of the nation shifts, 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 two studies were conducted in January and May of 2004 on 2,632 randomly selected adults.

The Barna Group, Ltd., and its research division (The Barna Research Group), is an independent cultural analysis and strategic consulting firm located in Ventura, California. Since 1984, it has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.