Most Americans don’t feel the Christian faith positively impacts racism and sexuality in

society; the perceived impact of the Christian faith on American society is explored

(Original release date:  April 6, 2012)  What impact does the Christian faith really have on American society?  That question was posed to over 1,000 Americans as part of a study conducted by Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, Arizona).

 

The survey asked a demographically representative sample of American adults whether they feel the Christian faith generally has a positive impact, a negative impact, or no real impact on 16 different areas of society, including sexuality, poverty, business ethics, crime, the role of women in society, and how people treat the environment.

 

Two areas stand out from the other 14 in terms of highly positive views of the Christian faith:  children being raised with good morals, and the less fortunate being helped.  Among all Americans, 72% believe the Christian faith has a positive impact on children being raised with good morals, while 19% feel the faith has no real impact, and 8% believe it has a negative impact in this area.  As for the less fortunate being helped, 72% see the Christian faith as having a positive impact, 20% perceive no real impact, and 8% feel there is a negative impact.

 

However, those are the only two of the tested areas for which a clear majority of Americans perceive a positive impact coming from the Christian faith.  Two other areas show around half of all Americans perceiving a positive impact.  Fifty-two percent believe the Christian faith positively impacts keeping the United States as a strong nation (36% see no real impact, while 11% believe the faith has a negative impact).  Forty-nine percent see a positive impact on the role of women in society, while 33% perceive no real impact, and 19% see a negative impact in this area.

 

A number of other areas show more people seeing a positive impact than a negative impact on society, but still less than half of all Americans perceiving a positive impact:

 

· The amount of crime in society:  45% positive, 33% no impact, 22% negative

· The amount of poverty in society:  41% positive, 36% no impact, 23% negative

· The amount of violence in society:  39% positive, 34% no impact, 27% negative

· Differences of opinion being discussed in a civil manner:  38% positive, 42% no impact, 20% negative

· Ethics in the business world:  34% positive, 44% no impact, 22% negative

· Participation in politics and voting:  33% positive, 44% no impact, 23% negative

· The amount of substance abuse in society:  33% positive, 43% no impact, 23% negative

· How people treat the environment:  30% positive, 54% no impact, 15% negative

 

Four areas show a real split on how Christianity is viewed, with about as many Americans believing it affects society negatively as positively.  One of these is the amount of racism in society.  33% believe the Christian faith positively impacts this, 35% see no real impact, and 32% think there is a negative impact on the amount of racism in society.

 

While 36% feel the Christian faith has a positive impact on how people view others with different beliefs and perspectives, 31% see the faith as having no real impact, and 33% feel it has a negative impact on this aspect of society.

 

Just 27% believe the Christian faith positively impacts how the U.S. is viewed by other nations, while 43% believe the faith has no real impact in this area, and 30% feel there is a negative effect.

 

The most negative perception is how the Christian faith impacts sexuality in society.  Just 26% feel the faith has a positive impact in this area, while 37% see no real impact, and 37% believe it has a negative impact.

 

If the 16 different areas are averaged together, the typical perception of the Christian faith is that 13% of all Americans believe it has a strongly positive impact, 29% see a somewhat positive impact, 37% see no impact, 15% perceive a somewhat negative impact, and 7% believe the faith has a strongly negative impact on American society.

 

Consistently, Christianity is viewed very differently by different types of Americans.  As might be expected, the biggest differences are by religious belief and participation.  Yet Christians are not as positive toward the impact of the Christian faith – nor non-Christians as negative –as might be assumed.

 

Among people who either attend a Christian church (broadly defined to include Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, LDS, etc.) or who claim their religious identity as Christian, when all of the individual ratings are combined, the average is that 15% rate the impact of Christianity as strongly positive, 33% as somewhat positive, 35% as neutral, 13% as somewhat negative, and 4% as strongly negative.  These numbers are very similar to the average rating by the total population, because seven out of ten Americans identify with the Christian faith.

 

The average rating is a bit more positive for people who actually attend worship services, and much more positive for those who read the Bible at least once a month.  For the 16 different areas of society evaluated in this study, the average for churchgoing Christians is that 19% see a strongly positive impact, while 33% see a somewhat positive impact, and 31% see no real impact.  Among self-identified Christians who do not attend worship services, the average is that 11% see a strong positive impact, while 33% see some positive impact, and 40% perceive no real impact.

 

When all the individual areas of impact are averaged together, 19% of Bible-reading Christians feel the Christian faith has a strong positive impact on society, 32% perceive some positive impact, and 29% say there is no impact.  Among self-identified Christians who do not read the Bible at all, just 9% on average perceive the faith as having a strong positive impact on society, while 31% see just some positive impact, and 41% believe it has no impact.

 

One of the strongest differences within the Christian community is according to whether respondents are evangelical or not.  On average, 32% of evangelicals see the Christian faith as making a strongly positive impact on American society, while another 29% feel it has a somewhat positive impact, and 23% see no real impact.  Among non-evangelical Christians, 13% see a strongly positive impact, while 33% see a somewhat positive impact, and 37% feel there is no real impact.

 

Non-Christians are far less complimentary toward Christianity than is the broadly Christian population, but praise for the faith still exists.  For example, among people who identify with a religion other than Christianity (e.g. Islam, Buddhism, Judaism), 49% still believe the Christian faith positively impacts the less fortunate being helped, 53% believe the faith has a positive impact on children being raised with good morals, and 37% even believe the faith has a positive effect on keeping the U.S. as a strong nation.  In only one of the 16 areas do a majority of adherents to a non-Christian religion feel the Christian faith has a negative impact, and that’s in the amount of racism in society.

 

Among people who are atheist or agnostic, 67% still believe the Christian faith positively impacts the less fortunate being helped, and 40% say there is a positive effect on children being raised with good morals.  For nine of the 16 areas, a minority of atheists and agnostics believe the Christian faith has a negative impact on American society.

 

There are also political differences on how the faith is perceived.  Democrats and self-described political liberals are generally much less likely than Republicans and political conservatives to believe the Christian faith has a positive impact on American society, and more likely to feel it has a negative impact.  However, Republicans and conservatives are more likely to identify with the Christian faith, attend worship services, and read the Bible, which are the driving factors in how people feel about Christianity more so than are political perspectives.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that people who identify with Christianity often are still critical of the impact the Christian faith has on society.  “People who are Christian don’t just view their faith through rose-colored glasses,” Sellers said.  “Even among those who actively attend church and read the Bible, there are frequent criticisms that the Christian faith is not having a strongly positive impact on society, and in fact sometimes that the faith is impacting things negatively.  Of course, at the same time, many non-Christians give credit to the Christian faith for making positive contributions to society in some areas.  It’s not quite as black-or-white as some might think.”

 

Sellers also noted a few surprises in the findings.  He observed, “Various Christian groups take a lot of flak for their views on gender issues.  Many denominations don’t ordain women, there are accusations that pro-life views or opposition to contraception are views which subjugate women, conservative groups are criticized for espousing more traditional gender roles, etc.  Therefore it will probably surprise a lot of people that one of the areas for which the Christian faith receives the most praise is its positive impact on the role of women in society.”

 

Finally, Sellers pointed out that to Christian leaders, it may be far more worrisome that so many Americans feel the Christian faith has no impact in many areas than any perceptions of negative impact.  “The old saying is that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  It’s not surprising that some people feel the Christian faith has a negative impact in areas such as sexuality or how the U.S. is viewed in other countries.  For instance, if a Christian group puts forth a message that is strongly pro-life, or advocates for freedom of Christian worship in a Muslim country, people with opposing viewpoints can easily perceive a negative impact in those areas.  What should be really concerning for faith leaders is how many Americans see the Christian faith as not really having an impact at all,” Sellers said.  He observed that more than four out of ten Americans see no real impact from the Christian faith in how people treat the environment, differences of opinion being discussed in a civil manner, participation in politics and voting, how the U.S. is viewed by other countries, the amount of substance abuse in society, and ethics in the business world.

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research, a market research and consumer insights firm located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 1,011 adults is accurate to within ±3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states.  Respondents’ age, education, household income, geography, racial/ethnic background, and gender were carefully tracked and weighted to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

How many observe Christ's birthday!  How few, his precepts!

O! 'tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.

Benjamin Franklin

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RESEARCH THAT

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Overall, do you feel the Christian faith tends to have a positive or negative effect in each area below?

Note:  “Christian” is broadly defined and includes all beliefs with a Christian background:  Protestant, Catholic, LDS, Orthodox, etc.  “Non-Christian” belongs to or identifies with a non-Christian religion (e.g. paganism, Judaism, Buddhism).  “Atheist/agnostic” is self-identified.  “No preference” is people who express no religious preference or identification at all.

Overall, do you feel the Christian faith tends to have a positive or negative effect in each area below? (By political viewpoint and whether or not they attend a Christian church regularly)…

Overall, do you feel the Christian faith tends to have a positive or negative effect in each area below?                                                         (By religious preference)…

Access a copy of the full report here.

 

Area of Society

Strongly

Positive

Somewhat

Positive

Neither/

Neutral

Somewhat

Negative

Strongly

Negative

The amount of crime in society

12%

33%

33%

15%

7%

The amount of racism in society

9

24

35

21

11

Participation in politics and voting

10

23

44

15

8

Differences of opinion being discussed in a civil manner

8

30

42

14

6

Children being raised with good morals

32

40

19

7

1

Ethics in the business world

10

24

44

16

6

The less fortunate being helped

30

42

20

6

2

The amount of violence in society

10

29

34

17

10

The amount of substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) in society

7

26

43

13

10

The role of women in society

13

36

33

14

5

The amount of poverty in society

10

31

36

14

9

How the U.S. is viewed by other countries

8

19

43

23

7

How people view others with different beliefs and perspectives

7

29

31

25

8

Sexuality in society

8

18

37

24

13

How people treat the environment

5

25

54

9

6

Keeping the U.S. as a strong nation

22

30

36

7

4

 

Area of Society/Perceived Impact

Conservative

Politics

Moderate

Politics

Liberal

Politics

Attend a

Christian Church

Don’t Attend a

Christian Church

The amount of crime in society:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

55%

43%

37%

57%

37%

  -- neither

23

39

38

22

40

  -- negative impact

22

19

25

21

22

The amount of racism in society:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

39

32

26

42

27

  -- neither

37

41

26

34

36

  -- negative impact

24

27

48

25

36

Participation in politics and voting:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

38

30

33

39

30

  -- neither

44

49

37

45

43

  -- negative impact

18

21

31

16

27

Differences of opinion being

   discussed in a civil manner:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

44

35

34

44

34

  -- neither

43

51

30

42

42

  -- negative impact

14

14

35

14

24

Children being raised with good morals:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

72

73

72

82

66

  -- neither

18

21

19

10

26

  -- negative impact

10

6

9

8

8

Ethics in the business world:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

46

29

26

46

26

  -- neither

32

54

46

37

49

  -- negative impact

22

17

28

17

25

The less fortunate being helped:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

74

72

69

80

66

  -- neither

18

21

23

14

24

  -- negative impact

8

7

7

6

9

The amount of violence in society:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

44

40

33

46

34

  -- neither

32

38

32

31

37

  -- negative impact

24

22

35

23

29

The amount of substance abuse

   (drugs and alcohol) in society:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

41

29

30

46

25

  -- neither

36

49

45

31

51

  -- negative impact

22

23

25

23

24

The role of women in society:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

56

46

42

61

40

  -- neither

32

41

26

28

37

  -- negative impact

13

12

32

10

24

The amount of poverty in society:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

47

44

31

54

33

  -- neither

31

36

41

28

41

  -- negative impact

22

20

28

18

26

How the U.S. is viewed by other countries:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

32

25

23

37

20

  -- neither

41

50

35

39

45

  -- negative impact

27

24

41

24

34

How people view others with

   different beliefs and perspectives:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

37

37

31

42

31

  -- neither

38

33

22

33

30

  -- negative impact

25

30

47

24

39

Sexuality in society:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

30

27

20

34

20

  -- neither

42

40

27

36

38

  -- negative impact

28

33

53

30

42

How people treat the environment:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

41

28

21

42

23

  -- neither

47

62

55

47

60

  -- negative impact

12

10

24

12

17

Keeping the U.S. as a strong nation:

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

64

49

42

67

42

  -- neither

26

44

38

26

43

  -- negative impact

10

7

20

8

14

 

Area of Society/Perceived Impact

 

Christian

Non-

Christian

Atheist/

Agnostic

No

Preference

 

Protestant

 

Catholic

The amount of crime in society:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

54%

16%

27%

28%

58%

47%

  -- neither

29

43

38

40

26

33

  -- negative impact

17

41

35

32

17

21

The amount of racism in society:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

39

14

15

22

45

31

  -- neither

37

34

23

28

33

39

  -- negative impact

24

52

62

50

22

30

Participation in politics and voting:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

36

39

13

29

41

35

  -- neither

46

32

30

48

43

52

  -- negative impact

17

29

56

23

16

14

Differences of opinion being discussed in a civil manner:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

44

35

12

37

47

38

  -- neither

43

35

33

36

40

45

  -- negative impact

14

30

55

27

13

17

Children being raised with good morals:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

82

53

40

62

82

81

  -- neither

11

44

43

30

10

11

  -- negative impact

8

3

16

9

8

8

Ethics in the business world:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

39

15

26

30

47

32

  -- neither

44

54

41

47

36

49

  -- negative impact

17

32

33

23

17

19

The less fortunate being helped:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

79

49

67

46

79

78

  -- neither

15

35

19

43

15

16

  -- negative impact

6

16

14

11

6

6

The amount of violence in society:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

45

20

20

29

51

36

  -- neither

34

32

36

29

30

39

  -- negative impact

21

48

44

42

19

25

The amount of substance abuse

   (drugs and alcohol) in society:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

41

11

22

12

52

31

  -- neither

39

50

57

45

29

47

  -- negative impact

20

40

22

43

19

23

The role of women in society:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

56

26

13

41

55

58

  -- neither

32

46

28

35

35

30

  -- negative impact

11

28

59

24

10

11

The amount of poverty in society:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

52

19

21

12

51

51

  -- neither

32

40

35

52

34

30

  -- negative impact

17

41

44

36

15

19

How the U.S. is viewed by other countries:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

32

17

19

15

34

32

  -- neither

44

50

16

47

39

47

  -- negative impact

24

33

65

38

27

21

How people view others with

   different beliefs and perspectives:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

43

13

12

29

44

42

  -- neither

32

44

20

35

30

34

  -- negative impact

25

44

68

36

25

25

Sexuality in society:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

31

16

16

9

34

24

  -- neither

37

50

20

50

39

35

  -- negative impact

32

33

65

42

27

41

How people treat the environment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

37

15

22

13

39

33

  -- neither

53

52

53

58

51

56

  -- negative impact

10

32

24

29

10

12

Keeping the U.S. as a strong nation:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  -- positive impact

60

37

26

42

66

53

  -- neither

34

42

38

39

26

40

  -- negative impact

7

21

36

19

8

7