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In this data essay, we analyzed the national and state-level shifts in racial and ethnic makeup of the United States electorate from 2000 to 2018.
In battleground states, Hispanics grew more than other racial or ethnic groups as a share of eligible voters.
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By Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than half of Americans say religious beliefs are a matter of personal opinion, not objective facts. And that’s made clear by examining the varying, and sometimes contradictory, theological doctrines they hold.
The biennial State of Theology study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research explores the religious and cultural beliefs of U.S. adults.
For 54% of Americans, theological beliefs are not a matter of objective truth, but rather belong in the category of subjective personal opinion.
“Many Americans treat theology like a choose-your-own adventure book,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “It’s clear from certain beliefs that some people feel truth is something people are free to define on their own, and in doing so they possess seemingly incompatible beliefs.”
A clear majority of Americans (72%) say they believe in the classic Christian doctrine of the Trinity—one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet most also believe Jesus was merely a great human teacher and the Holy Spirit is a force.
“Christianity has historically started with an understanding of God as the Creator and source of reality itself,” said McConnell. “While many Americans repeat with agreement a definition of this one Triune God, a further look at their beliefs reveals a majority do not believe in each Person of the Trinity as described in the Bible.”
Most Americans have no problem asserting divine perfection, as 65% say God is a perfect being and cannot make a mistake.
Half of Americans (52%) agree Jesus was a great teacher, but not God. Slightly more than half (55%) believe Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, which runs contrary to the historical Christian belief that Jesus is eternal as God the Son.
While many reject His deity, most Americans say Jesus physically rose from the dead. Two-thirds (66%) believe the biblical accounts of Jesus’ bodily resurrection are completely accurate.
Three in 5 Americans (59%) agree the Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being. For 1 in 5 (19%), the Holy Spirit can tell them to do something that is forbidden in the Bible.
Two-thirds of the U.S. (64%) say God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Few Americans believe learning about theology is only for pastors and scholars (15%).
Sin and salvation
When it comes to sin, most Americans say just a little doesn’t hurt, but a growing number believe even the smallest sins warrant an everlasting punishment, according to the 2020 State of Theology study.
Two-thirds of Americans (65%) agree everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. Still 26% say even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation, the highest percentage in the history of the study.
“There has been a slow but steady increase in the portion of Americans believing that the deserving punishment for any sin is eternal damnation,” said McConnell. “While the number believing in hell has been steady, those who believe God doesn’t give any free passes for small sins has increased from 18% in 2014 to 26% today.”
A majority of Americans (56%) say hell is a real place where certain people will be punished forever.
More than half (56%) believe God counts a person as righteous not because of that person’s good works but because of their faith in Christ.
Most Americans believe they can only find salvation through Jesus. Three in 5 (60%) believe only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
A quarter of U.S. adults believe salvation was determined long ago, as 26% agree God chose the people He would save before He created the world, a doctrine known as predestination.
Three in 5 (62%) believe there will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all the people who have lived.
For some Americans, they believe the rewards don’t have to wait. A third of Americans (36%) believe God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life, a doctrine associated with what has been called the prosperity gospel.
The 2020 State of Theology study found a third of U.S. adults (34%) believe modern science disproves the Bible.
Close to half (48%) believe the Bible is 100% accurate in all it teaches. The same percentage (48%) say the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true. This number has grown from 41% in 2014.
Around half (51%) say the Bible has authority to tell us what to do.
A quarter of U.S. adults (25%) believe God is unconcerned with their day-to-day decisions.
For half of Americans (51%), sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin. By contrast, 2 in 5 (40%)
believe the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.
Half (51%) say abortion is a sin. More than a third (38%) believe gender identity is a matter of choice.
View of the pews
Most Americans (58%) agree worshipping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. Respondents were asked these questions in March at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which drastically blurred the lines between worshipping at home and attending church.
“Those answering had no idea what COVID-19 would do to normal patterns of worship in America. March 15 (64%) was the last week that the majority of Protestant churches met in person until June 7 (55%),” said McConnell citing LifeWay Research surveys of Protestant pastors conducted in March and July.
“While the pandemic suspended the ability to gather as a local church for worship, a large minority of Americans recognize there is something more to this assembly that a family can’t accomplish on their own.”
For a third of U.S. adults (36%), churches must provide entertaining worship services if they want to be effective.
Previous LifeWay Research studies have found little support among Americans and Protestant pastors themselves for political endorsements from pastors and churches. For a quarter of Americans (24%) in the latest State of Theology study that doesn’t go far enough. They believe Christians should be silent on issues of politics.
“The theological beliefs of an individual are far-reaching. They impact views of God and the Bible, but also morality, justice, authority and how to treat others,” said McConnell. “A previous LifeWay Research survey found 80% of evangelicals say the Bible informs their political views.
“During this election year, however, Christians should be aware that not only will there be people who disagree with their perspectives, but 1 in 4 Americans will disapprove of a Christian speaking about political matters at all.”
Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.
A demographically balanced online panel was used for interviewing American adults for the 2020 State of Theology study sponsored by Ligonier Ministries. A total of 3,002 surveys were completed from March 10-18, 2020. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error from the online panel does not exceed plus or minus 2.0%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Slight weights were used to balance gender, age, ethnicity, income, region and religion.
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We have been on a three-year journey asking the question: Is it possible to change the world, stay in love and raise a healthy family? We were curious and wanted to ask other dual-career families if it was at all possible. When we researched historical heroes who are shining examples of creating societal change, we noticed that the mission was the primary focus, even at the cost of the family unit. Could purposeful work be done in a different way?
Weekend by weekend, we interviewed couples. Another story, another interview, another point of view. The stories added up, and we saw common threads in the responses to our questions. Similar concepts bubbled to the surface, about how to build a healthy life where love and work were possible. There was a story that needed to be shared.
We conducted 100 interviews. As we rambled along from interview to interview, in the back of our scientific brains, we kept thinking, “This is not enough information to make an accurate assessment.” (One of us is a closet nerd!) Humor us, and our geekiness: 100 subjective stories are helpful, but what if we surveyed a much larger group of people to understand more deeply this navigation of love and work? Enter: Barna Group.
We instantly connected with Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research at Barna and a working mom with two young children. “I want to do this,” she said. “This is exactly the tension I feel on a daily basis, and I am so interested in the data we could uncover.”
Together, we surveyed 1,501 committed couples. So, what did the research reveal?
83% of couples say that work has made them better parents.
Record scratch. Wait. What?
That was the last thing we expected to uncover with this survey. We imagined that working made everything more difficult in the home. That working plus managing kids’ schedules, practices, activities, homework and general chaos made parents crazier, not better. Yet, when reflecting on our own lives, we see that work has given us purpose, a place (away from home) to use our gifts to contribute to a community beyond our bubble. Work tethers us back to our true selves, the individual person who was there even before kids and the unique identity we always will be. Work is a part of us, but not all of us. Mothering and fathering is a part of us, but not all of us. They both have their significance in different ways, and they both matter.
Another interesting statistic uncovered:
Only 3 in 10 people feel encouraged by their partner to pursue their work and dreams.
This statistic hurts our hearts, as a couple on the same team. Only about 30 percent feel encouraged by their partner to go after their dreams! This number needs to be higher. We believe that learning to love the purpose of your partner is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give. But this is a learning process. As individuals, we may be drawn to very different work (in our case, a first responder and a non-profit founder), but we can still be drawn toward each other. It is in loving each other, loving what we do and loving each other’s purpose that a lifetime of true partnership is created. A lifetime of partnership means that as you progress together—through highs and lows, paychecks and gaps, moments of courage and moments of fear, changing seasons of opportunities and losses—you will support, celebrate and fight for your partner in their journey of finding their purpose.
25% of men say their spouse has sacrificed their work / interests for their job, compared to 13% of women who say their spouse has sacrificed for them.
This statistic stirred up a lot of questions in our partnership. Why are women perceived as sacrificing their work more than are men? Are marriages still following gender norms in regard to work, even though the workplace itself has changed? Whether we’re looking at the 25 percent or 13 percent … aren these low percentages for what should be a shared endeavor? Something has to give, but who is actually giving?
During this COVID-19 season, there has been a lot of talk about how this pandemic may force working moms out of the workforce. Couples need to pause and take inventory. Are you stopping and listening to your partner and helping them pursue their dreams as much as your own? Are you encouraging each other to dream and pursue passions? How are you deciding who should sacrifice? How do you learn to make tradeoffs without forfeiting the health of your family or home life?
In the time of COVID-19, we are all learning that we need to sacrifice. Many of our kids are home and in virtual school, many of us have virtual jobs now, many of us have lost jobs. There is a lot of sacrifice and strain that is happening within marriages and families right now. May we hold onto the “same team” mentality—that as working couples living out our purpose, we are in this together, as partners that love each other, and we can encourage each other and sacrifice for each other.
Both. And. Together.
This exclusive national research study is featured in a compelling new book entitled: Love or Work: Is it Possible to Change the World, Stay in Love & Raise a Healthy Family by André and Jeff Shinabarger. Purchase your book today.
Jeff Shinabarger is the co-author of Love or Work: Is it Possible to Change the World, Stay in Love & Raise a Healthy Family? and founder of Plywood People, a non-profit in Atlanta leading a community of startups doing good. His work has been featured by Forbes, Inc., CNN, USA Weekend and Huffington Post. He is the co-founder of Q, has mentored over 600 start-ups and created the largest social entrepreneur event in the South called Plywood Presents.
André Shinabarger is an adventurer who loves seeing the world. Born in Bolivia, she has a deep passion for building community with marginalized people groups. She works for Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta as a Physician Assistant and is an adjunct professor for Emory University. She is an Advisor to Plywood People, host of the Love or Work Podcast and co-author of the Love or Work book.
By Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When a pastor commits adultery, most of their fellow pastors believe they should withdraw from public ministry for at least some time.
A new survey of U.S. Protestant pastors by Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds 2% of pastors believe a fellow pastor who has an affair does not need to take any time away.
“Scripture doesn’t mince words about adultery,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “From the Ten Commandments, to the Apostle Paul’s lists of wicked things, to the qualifications for elders listed in 1 Timothy, adultery is not appropriate for a follower of Christ nor a leader of a local church.”
Few believe less than a year is a sufficient period of withdrawal from public ministry: 3% say for at least three months, and another 3% say at least six months.
Around 1 in 6 pastors (16%) believe an offending pastor should stay gone for at least a year.
Other pastors want them to be away from public ministry for a longer period of time: 10% say at least two years, 7% say at least five years, and 1% say at least 10 years.
For more than a quarter of pastors (27%), a pastor who commits adultery should withdraw from public ministry permanently.
Three in 10 pastors (31%) say they aren’t sure what the appropriate time frame would be.
“While the Bible is clear that this behavior does not fit a pastor or elder of a church,” said McConnell, “there is much debate over how long this act would disqualify someone from pastoral ministry.”
Changes since 2016
Pastors’ responses are similar to though not unchanged from a 2016 LifeWay Research survey.
Pastors today are less likely than those four years ago to say shorter time frames are appropriate periods of withdrawal from public ministry.
Compared to 2016, pastors now are less likely to say less than a year (6% to 10%) or at least a year (16% to 21%) is the right amount of time away.
“There has been much attention given to calling American leaders to account for sexual misconduct since 2016,” said McConnell. “It is not surprising that fewer pastors believe public ministry should be restored in a year.”
Overall, there is more uncertainty among pastors now. Current pastors are more likely to say they are not sure of the appropriate time away from public ministry today (31%) than in 2016 (25%).
Differences among pastors
The ethnicity, education and denomination of a pastor influenced the likelihood of their response.
African American pastors are the least likely to say one who commits adultery should withdraw from the ministry permanently (8%).
Denominationally, Pentecostal pastors are the least likely to advocate for a permanent withdrawal (6%) and most likely to support staying away for at least a year (35%).
Methodists (7%) are more likely to say the pastor does not need to withdraw at all than Baptists (1%), Lutherans (1%), Pentecostals (less than 1%), and pastors in the Restorationist movement (less than 1%).
Pastors with a bachelor’s degree (34%) are more likely to support a permanent withdrawal than those with additional education: master’s (27%) or doctoral degree (22%).
Smaller church pastors, those with churches of attendance between 50 to 99, are also more likely to say pastors who commit adultery should withdraw from ministry permanently than pastors of churches with 100 to 249 in attendance (31% to 23%).
“Pastors’ opinions on the subject are a good barometer for opinions across churches,” said McConnell. “There is widespread disagreement from pastors across denominations, church size, age, race and education levels to quickly restoring pastors who commit adultery to public ministry positions.”
Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends and a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.
The phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Aug. 30 – Sept. 24, 2019. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called.
Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.3%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Comparisons are made to a study with the same methodology conducted March 9-24, 2016.