How "Christianized" Do Americans Want Their Country To Be?

altJuly 26, 2004 – America’s ties to the Christian faith have been challenged in recent years through court cases, public policies, political campaigns, educational policies and media content.

At the same time, numerous bestselling Christian books and hit movies, combined with the widespread attendance at Christian churches and billions of dollars donated to Christian ministry, suggests that the Christian faith is far from dead in the U.S. despite increases in secularism and postmodernism.

A new nationwide survey by The Barna Group explored the boundaries of how far adults are willing to inject the Christian faith into the nation’s culture. Examining six possible changes in public policy or social activity, the survey reveals that there are tens of millions of Americans who would go as far as supporting a constitutional amendment to declare Christianity the official faith of the United States. At the same time, the survey shows there are also millions who would support a policy permitting the use of the "f-word" on broadcast television. On balance, though, the research shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans want traditional Christian values and symbols to prevail, although most people would stop short of declaring the U.S. to be a Christian society.

Removing the Ten Commandments

Less than one out of every five adults (18%) supports "removing signs that list the Ten Commandments from government buildings." In contrast, 79% of all adults rejected this policy - including 60% of adults who were “strongly opposed” to removing the Commandments.

The demographic groups most favorable toward this action included Hispanics (21%), men (23%), college graduates (25%) and adults under 35 (25%). The sole subgroup among which more than one out of every four individuals supported such a shift was Asians: 48% of them favored this policy.

The response of faith segments varied more substantially. Less than one-half of one percent of evangelicals favored the elimination of the Ten Commandments from government buildings and just 6% of non-evangelical born again adults and one-sixth of notional Christians (16%) supported such a policy. Catholics and Protestants agree that this policy makes little sense: only 6% of Protestants and 18% of Catholics favor the removal policy. Even a minority (32%) of the Americans aligned with non-Christian faith groups indicated their support. The only faith group among which a majority gave its support was atheists and agnostics: 55% said this was a good idea.

Removing "In God We Trust"

A recent call to remove the phrase "In God We Trust" from the nation’s currency also has very limited public support, even from people who are not Christian in orientation. Overall, only 13% favored eliminating the phrase from currency, while 84% oppose the idea. Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) are "strongly opposed" to making this change.

Demographically, the greatest support for this change comes from immigrant populations (21% of Hispanics and 37% of Asians) and the non-Christian faith segments (28% of those associated with a non-Christian faith and 37% of atheists and agnostics).

Again, few evangelicals (1%) and non-evangelical born again Christians (4%) supported the idea. Catholics were four times more likely than Protestants to hail the concept (15% versus 4%), but even so only one-seventh of Catholics like the notion.

Removing “One Nation Under God”

When asked to describe their reaction to the possibility of "removing the phrase ‘one nation, under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance," this proposal also was widely rejected. Only 15% of adults said they would support the change, compared to 84% who dismissed it.

The only two demographic segments for which even one-fourth sided with this change were the atheists and agnostics (40%) and Asians (38%).

Only 4% of evangelicals and 6% of non-evangelical born again Christians supported this change, with one-eighth of notional Christians (13%) in favor of it. Almost one-quarter of the non-Christian faith adherents (24%) liked the idea. A mere 7% of Protestants and 13% of Catholics bought into this concept.

Creationism in Public Schools

Thousands of public schools around the country do not allow the biblical perspective on the creation process to be taught in their classrooms. The survey shows that most Americans are dismayed by that point-of-view. About six out of every ten adults (59%) favor teaching creationism while less than four out of ten (38%) do not want it added to the public school curriculum content.

Asians were the only subgroup among which a majority opposed teaching creationism. (It is helpful to realize that among the Asians living in the U.S., six out of ten are atheist, agnostic or associated with a non-Christian faith - a combination that is more than double proportion found among other ethnic segments.)

Almost nine out of ten evangelicals (86%) support teaching creationism, along with 70% of non-evangelical born agains and 60% of notional Christians. Most Protestants (69%) and Catholics (59%) support this approach to explaining the genesis of the universe.

Using the "F-word" on Television

Asked how they felt about "allowing the use of the ‘F-word’ on broadcast television," very few adults supported such permission. Only one out of seven adults (15%) felt allowing the word on broadcast TV was acceptable, while 83% dismissed this as inappropriate.

The largest discrepancies of opinion on this matter related to gender (men were twice as likely as women to approve of using the word on broadcast TV) and age (people under 55 were twice as likely as older adults to favor the use of the word). Asians were twice as likely as other ethnic groups to support this activity (29% versus 14%).

Theolographically, the research showed that less than one-tenth of evangelicals (6%) and non-evangelical born again adults (8%) favored using the word. In contrast, more than twice as many adults associated with non-Christian faiths (21%) and up to six times as many atheists and agnostics (35%) were comfortable with the word being used on broadcast channels. Following the established patterns, Catholics were twice as likely as Protestants (19% versus 9%, respectively) to favor using the term.

 
Support For Changes in Public Policy, According to
Seven Key Faith Groups
 
 
All Adults
Evan- gelicals
Non-evan-
gelical born again
Notio-nal
Non-Christ-ian faith
Athe-ist/ Agnos-tic
Prot-
estant
Cath-olic  
Remove 10 Commandments
18%
*%
6%
16%
32%
55%
6%
18% 
Remove “In God We Trust”
13%
1%
4%
12%
28%
37%
4%
15%
Remove “One nation under God”
15%
4%
6%
13%
24%
40%
7%
13%
Teach creationism
59%
86%
70%
60%
42%
29%
69%
59%
Allow the “F-word” on broadcast TV
15%
6%
8%
17%
21%
35%
9%
19%
Make Christianity the official religion of U.S.
32%
66%
44%
25%
21%
8%
43%
24%
 
(Base: 1024 adults)
(* indicates less than one-half of one percent.)


Christianity: America’s "Official" Religion

Americans are opposed to "a constitutional amendment to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United State" by a two-to-one margin (66% oppose, 32% in favor). People with a college degree were only half as likely to support this idea as were those who do not have a college degree (19% vs. 37%, respectively).

In fact, the only population segment that was generally supportive of this proposal was evangelicals, who were twice as likely as other adults to support the idea (66%). A slim majority of non-evangelical born again adults (53%) rejected this idea, while large majorities of notional Christians (72%), people of other faiths (77%) and atheists and agnostics (91%) opposed such an amendment.

Reflections on the Findings

The study points out several interesting patterns of belief and behavior, according to George Barna, the Directing Leader of The Barna Group.

“Most Americans are on the same wavelength when it comes to faith and matters of public policy," the California-based researcher noted. "Most subgroups of the population lean the same way on each of the matters examined, with the exceptions being Asian-Americans and atheists and agnostics.

“Evangelicals, however, also emerged as the group most fervently desirous of integrating a Christian perspective into the basic fabric of American life. The intensity of their commitment to their faith makes them a cultural lightning rod and an easy target for the media. Their depth of commitment often earns them the label ‘extremist’ related to anything pertaining to faith and morality."

Barna also pointed out the surprisingly large number of people who are supportive of an amendment to declare Christianity the official national faith. "Almost 70 million adults favor such an amendment. That is a huge vote of confidence in the Christian faith - and a tacit statement about people’ concerns regarding the direction and lukewarm spirituality of the nation. If nothing else, this certainly indicates that given effective leadership, American Christianity could play a larger role in shaping the norms of our culture in the future."

Research Methods

The data in this report are based on a nationwide survey conducted by The Barna Group among 1,618 randomly selected adults during the last week of May. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±2.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

People in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of those individuals coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. The data were subjected to minimal statistical weighting to calibrate the survey base to national demographic proportions. The survey data were collected through a combination of telephone and online surveys. Households selected for inclusion in the telephone sample received multiple callbacks to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.

“Evangelicals" are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; contending that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not determined by church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church they attend. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical."

“Born again Christians" were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today" and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "born again." Being classified as "born again" is not dependent upon any church or denominational affiliation or involvement.

“Notional Christians" are individuals who say that they are "Christian" but do not meet the born again criteria described above.

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984, it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. If you would like to receive regular e-mailings of a brief overview of each new bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna Research web site (www.barna.org).

© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.

Copyright Disclaimer: All the information contained on the barna.org website is copyrighted by The Barna Group, Ltd., 2368 Eastman Ave. Unit 12, Ventura, California 93003. No portion of this website (articles, graphs, charts, reviews, pictures, video clips, quotes, statistics, etc.) may be reproduced, retransmitted, disseminated, sold, distributed, published, edited, altered, changed, broadcast, circulated, or commercially exploited without the prior written permission from The Barna Group, Ltd.

Click here to obtain reprint permission