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June 8, 2005

Column #1,241


                          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 Editor.


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 Americans.


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 non-Christians."


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 population."


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 percent agree.


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.

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