June 8, 2005
Who Are America's Evangelicals?
Evangelicals seem to have new
power since the 2004 elections. They were credited with the
re-election of George Bush, though the switch of Catholic voters
to Bush deserves equal billing. Evangelicals led the successful
battle in a third of America's states to limit marriage to one
man and one woman. And an evangelical telecast, "Justice
Sunday," protesting the filibustering of Bush's judicial
nominees, broke the back of the Democratic filibuster.
Who are America's Evangelicals?
What do they believe? How do they live their faith?
A new Gallup Poll reveals that
the answers are not obvious. When asked, "Do you consider
yourself born-again or evangelical?"- fully 42 percent of
Americans answered Yes.
However, when asked three
questions that most evangelical leaders would say are core
evangelical doctrine, only "22 percent of Americans fit the
description," Gallup reports.
"Central to core evangelical
beliefs is the responsibility to share one's faith with others.
To `evangelize' means to share the `evangel' - literally the
`good news.'" writes Dr. Albert Winseman, Gallup's Religion
For evangelicals, a person's
eternal salvation rests on accepting Jesus Christ as one's Lord
and Savior. His death and resurrection are viewed as atonement
for sin and a promise of eternal life, given freely to those who
accept this Good News. Evangelicals feel a responsibility to
share this belief with others. More than half of Americans (52
percent) have "tried to encourage someone to believe in Jesus
Christ, or to accept him as their Savior," Gallup reported.
A second core belief is that the
Bible is "the actual word of God." However, the percentage who
agree has fallen from 38 to 32 percent since 1976-1982.
A third evangelical central
conviction is one should have had a "born-again" experience. The
percentage of Americans who said yes in the 1976-84 period was
37 percent but has grown to 48 percent, nearly half of all
However, only a fifth of all
Americans say yes to all three items.
Belief is one thing. However,
acting upon one's faith is quite another.
Are evangelicals more likely to
love their neighbor more than others? There is little evidence
of it. Most people's closest neighbor is their spouse. Catholics
do a much better job loving their spouse for life and have a
much lower divorce rate than evangelicals, for example.
A poll by George Barna last fall
reported that 37 percent of unbelievers had divorced, which is
not a surprise. So have 39 percent of all Protestants (including
42 percent of all Pentecostals). A remarkable 35 percent of all
born-again Evangelicals have divorced, which is identical to the
35% of divorced adults who are not born again.
What's more, 23 percent of
Evangelicals have had TWO divorces.
When did Evangelicals accept
Jesus as their Savior? "Relatively few Christians experienced
their divorce before accepting Christ as their savior," Barna
said. "If we eliminate those who became Christians after their
divorce, the divorce figure among born again adults drops to 34
percent - statistically identical to the figure among
What good is an evangelical faith
if it does not enable people to live up to their vows on the
altar of God?
By contrast only 25 percent of
Catholics have divorced. That's about the same percentage as
Evangelicals who have had two failed marriages.
George Barna, an evangelical
pollster, comments: "You can understand why atheists and
agnostics might have a high rate of divorce since they are less
likely to believe in such concepts as sin, absolute moral truth
and judgment. Yet the survey found that the percentage of
atheists and agnostics who have been married and divorced is 37
percent very similar to the numbers for the born-again
Jesus taught that divorce was a
sin unless adultery was involved. He said, "I tell you that
anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness,
and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matt.19:9). Jesus's
quote is also in Mark and Luke.
Only one out of every seven
adults strongly agree with Jesus, 15 percent.
Among Evangelicals, only 24
That is the Evangelical
commitment to absolute moral truth, Scripture and Jesus.
And this lack of belief is lived
out in everyday life.
The divorce rate of Baptist
Arkansas is nearly triple that of Catholic Massachusetts. Close
behind Arkansas is the divorce rate of Baptist Kentucky,
Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, all of which are
more than double that of Massachusetts.
A sad commentary on Evangelical
commitment - but a compliment to Catholic faith.