Snowflake alert: New survey research on Americans’ religious identities provokes tweet mini-storm

Snowflake alert: New survey research on Americans’ religious identities provokes tweet mini-storm

The Religion Guy has often lauded the Pew Research Center for its valuable survey research on the state of religion in the United States and worldwide, for instance its new (July 26) report on attitudes of U.S. Muslims, a matter of keen interest for journalists.

But a younger think tank also based in Washington, D.C., the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is also an important source.

It grabbed headlines this week with its report “America’s Changing Religious Identity.” PRRI proclaims its 2016 telephone poll in English and Spanish of 101,438 respondents  is the largest survey of U.S. religious identity ever. The margin of error is minuscule.

There's lots of news here, some of it old news. But it's still important material.

Key findings underscore the already well-documented rise of religiously unaffiliated “nones” alongside a decline in the preponderance of white Christians. (Protestants as a whole had ceased to be a majority of Americans back around the time of the Barack Obama-John McCain campaign.)

Though evangelical Protestantism long expanded or held steady as white “mainline” Protestant churches declined, evangelicals are beginning a delayed but similar slide, from 23 percent of Americans a decade ago to 17 percent currently. Meanwhile, African-American Protestantism is  largely stable.

A breaking news article on this by the carefully non-ideological Rachel Zoll (disclosure: The Religion Guy’s former beat colleague at The AP) provoked a tweet storm, featuring some snowflakes. One outraged tweeter charged that Zoll was “attempting to pass that off as journalism” and said her copy felt like “the type of garbage that fuels racism. Why do we need to know how many Christians are white?”

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Sex, religion and rock 'n' roll — oh wait, this time let's forget about the rock 'n' roll

Sex, religion and rock 'n' roll — oh wait, this time let's forget about the rock 'n' roll

What a difference a question makes!

Hang with me for a moment, and we'll delve into the latest national poll tied to gay rights vs. religious liberty.

But first, some crucial background: As you may recall, we highlighted a Religion News Service report last week on PRRI survey findings indicating that "no major U.S. religious group opposes refusing service to gays."

In that post, we noted that this was the question asked by PRRI:

Do you favor or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs?

In response, I said:

Here's what I wonder: Is that the right question for the pollster to ask?
Moreover, would defenders of religious freedom propose an alternate wording? If so, might those voices be helpful in a story reporting on the poll results?

Earlier this week, the issue became even more timely with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding to take up the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. 

Fast-forward to today, and RNS (for which I write occasionally freelance) has a different story on a different survey that asked a different question. And the results of that LifeWay Research survey are fascinating, especially when placed side by side with last week's numbers. Godbeat veteran Bob Smietana, who writes for LifeWay, has the full details.


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Weekend thinker: Yes, turns out we did need another study, more news on 'Nones'

Weekend thinker: Yes, turns out we did need another study, more news on 'Nones'

GetReligion readers: Please raise your hand if you have read a news report that discusses the "Nones."

OK, I imagine that this is 100 percent of you. I would think that 90-plus percent of you have read a piece in the past week or so that references, in some way, the Pew Forum's famous "Nones on the Rise" research. I would be hard pressed to name a religion-news related survey, during the past quarter century or more, that has received more coverage.

"Nones," of course, fits better in a headline than the term "religiously unaffiliated," meaning the rising number of Americans -- especially the young -- who say that they no longer affiliate with any particular religious organization, tradition or even heritage.

One of the big problems with that blast of data in 2012 is that many people see the term "None" and immediately think that it means "none," in terms of people having no religious beliefs at all or interest in their own solo, improvised, evolving version of spirituality. Yes, think Sheila and her tribe.

Personally, I think the religiously unaffiliated numbers are tremendously important and I've been following that trend -- reading scholar John C. Green and others -- for more than a decade.

We need more research on this, especially in terms of how it affects (1) marriage and family demographics and (2) which religious traditions rise and which ones fall. The bottom line: Demographics is destiny.

This brings me to a recent Religion News Service feature that I think needs to stand on its own as a weekend think piece, pointing readers toward a new study building on all of those Pew numbers. Yes, the political spin is justified. Here's how this piece opens:

(RNS) A quarter of U.S. adults do not affiliate with any religion, a new study shows — an all-time high in a nation where large swaths of Americans are losing faith.

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Who's not with the program? White evangelicals, according to RNS

Who's not with the program? White evangelicals, according to RNS

Who is out of step with the country? Oh, you know. It's the white evangelicals.

That’s the apparent upshot of a story by the Religion News Service on a new survey.  The study, by the Public Religion Research Institute, highlights anxieties among Americans about immigration, terrorism, discrimination and cultural change.

But for RNS, it seems to come down to a single social-racial-religious class: white evangelical Protestants.

Americans also are split on whether American culture and the country’s way of life have mostly changed for the better (49 percent) or worse (50 percent) since the 1950s.
And, the PRRI/Brookings report said, "no group of Americans is more nostalgic about the 1950s than white evangelical Protestants," with 70 percent saying the country has changed for the worse. Americans also split politically on the question: 68 percent of Republicans agree things have gotten worse, while nearly the same share of Democrats (66 percent) say times are better.

This despite the next paragraph, which says that overall, 72 percent of Americans agree that "the country is moving in the wrong direction" -- up from 65 percent in 2011. "And most (57 percent) believe they should fight for their values, even if they are at odds with the law and changing culture," the article adds.

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