Practicing Christians vs. Self-Identified Christians
When political scientists and pollsters discuss faith and politics, one of their biggest challenges is separating true believers from those who just say they are believers.
It’s a bit like distinguishing between “football fans” and “FOOTBALL FANS,” said John C. Green of Akron University, who for decades pioneered football studies. politics, chairs and benches.
“A lot of people say they are football fans and like to watch the games on TV,” Green said. “Then there are the people who buy shirts and wear their team colors. They never miss a home game and everything that goes with it. You can just watch them and know that they are really FANS. OF FOOTBALL.”
In terms of faith and politics, oceans of ink have been spilled outlining the beliefs and goals of evangelical Protestants, Catholics and members of other religious groups, he said. The problem is, there are “self-identified” evangelicals and then there are truly faithful evangelical Christians. There are a lot of people who tell pollsters that they attend church services every week and that their faith shapes their lives. Then there are those who really walk this speech.
“All faith communities have a lot of very committed people, and all faith communities have their share of fringe members whose faith is not that active,” Green said. For pollsters, the challenge is to ask questions that help draw lines between “self-identified believers and those who are really active” in their faith groups, he added.
The American Bible Society, in its “State of the Bible” surveys, has attempted to document the ways in which beliefs about the Bible and personal interactions with the Scriptures separate “practicing Christians” from “self-identified Christians” . This is important, in part, because religious groups with a high percentage of committed believers typically maintain their members, or even make converts, while other groups struggle to survive.
The society began to study these kinds of questions as early as 1812. The most recent American Bible Society survey was completed in January, with data collected from 3,354 online interviews with adults in all 50 states. and the District of Columbia.
In this survey, a “practicing Christian” was defined as someone who “identifies as a Christian, attends a church service at least once a month” and declares that “faith is very important” in their life. Thus, according to the report, the practice of the faith affected their lives “in a transformative way.” Meanwhile, “self-identified Christians” were those who “just say they believe”. According to this study, in America:
• Evangelical churches include 58% of “practicing Christians” and 42% who have “self-identified”.
• Historically, black churches – Evangelical, Pentecostal and “mainstream” combined – have 31% “practicing” Christians and 69% “self-identified” Christians.
• America’s more liberal “mainstream” churches – many of which still contain significant numbers of evangelicals – include 28% “practicing” Christians and 72% “self-identified” Christians.
• American Catholic parishes are made up of 22% “practicing” Christians and 78% “self-identified” Christians.
This survey found that 67% of “practicing Christians” were what researchers called “scripture-engaged” believers – those who were most likely “to interact regularly with the Bible” while seeking to leave principles behind. Biblicals “influence their relationship with God and others.” The religious groups with the highest number of weekly Bible readings were Evangelicals (93%), historically Black Protestants (87%) and Major Protestants (80%).
“Practicing Christians” were very likely, according to the study, to say that they believe the Bible is the “true word of God and should be taken literally, word for word” or the “inspired word of God and does not include no error although some verses are meant to be symbolic rather than literal. Those who are less active in religious groups tend to say that the Bible is “not inspired by God but tells how the writers of the Bible understood the ways and principles of God” or that it is “right. another teaching book written by people with stories and advice. “
Defining “religious engagement” in strictly Biblical terms is a “very Protestant way of looking at these issues,” Green said, and may miss the importance of worship and the sacraments in ancient Christian liturgical traditions. However, it is true that commitment to the scriptures and doctrines is almost always linked to the practice of a faith.
“It’s quite logical,” he added. “If you really believe something, then you tend to show up on a bench.”
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.