MATTINGLY | Americans Think High of Jesus and Reject His Followers | faith and values

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Terry Mattingly | On religion


When it comes to exploring what Americans think of Jesus, a new study offers Christian leaders both good news and bad news.

The good news is that 76% of Americans affirm the “historical existence” of “Jesus of Nazareth”, although it’s also worth noting that while 89% of self-identified Christians embrace this claim, that implies that 11 % are not sure. .

Meanwhile, 84% of participants in a new ‘Jesus in America’ study – conducted by global research firm Ipsos for the Episcopal Church – agreed that “Jesus was an important spiritual figure”.

The bad news? While 50% of “non-religious” Americans accepted this “significant spiritual figure” language, they were far less impressed with believers who represent Jesus.

When asked, “What characteristics do you associate with Christians in general?” Non-religious people chose these words from the poll’s options — “hypocritical” (55%), “critical” (54%) and “self-righteous” (50%). Then: “arrogant”, “ruthless” and “disrespectful”.

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It seems that one of the purposes of this poll – with questions about racism, social justice and last year’s attack on the United States Capitol – was to see if non-believers have attitudes different toward liberal and conservative Christians, said political scientist Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University. , author of the new book “20 Myths About Religion and Politics in America.” He is co-founder of the Religion in Public website and contributor to GetReligion.orgwhich I have been leading since 2004.

“That’s the million dollar question,” said Burge, who is also a pastor of the Progressive American Baptist Church. “If non-religious people are put off by what they see as the stricter faith of many Christians, Evangelicals in particular, then wouldn’t it make sense for them to look for more flexible alternatives?

“If there are all kinds of seats in the mainline Protestant churches these days, to put it mildly, then why aren’t those kinds of people filling some of those pews?”

In a statement supporting the investigation, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said it was encouraging that “Americans still find Jesus compelling.” However, it is evident that “the behavior of many of his followers is a problem, and it’s not just some Christians: it’s all Christians.” So, he added, Episcopalians are “refocusing our efforts on being a church that looks and acts like Jesus.”

One of the most provocative findings of “Jesus in America,” Burge said, was the study’s claim that only 38 percent of Americans believe “religion makes the country stronger,” with 28 percent considering religion as a divisive force and 6% saying that religion “makes the country weaker”.

In a 2021 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 62% of Americans believe the impact of churches and religious organizations is positive, compared to 35% who said negative. In political terms, 76% of Republicans expressed positive opinions, with 22% negative, compared to those of Democrats, who were 52% positive, with 46% negative.

“There’s a big gap between those numbers,” Burge said. This is unusual, since the surveys were spaced only a year apart.

On a burning political question, Ipsos asked, “Do you believe the events at the US Capitol on January 6 are associated with organized religion? Overall, only 11% said yes. Of those who answered “yes”, 63% associated the attack with evangelical Protestants, including 76% of “non-Christians” in this group.

When asked if Americans who “talk about their conservative beliefs are often looked down upon,” 41% of participants agreed, including 45% evangelicals, 40% non-evangelical Christians, and 33% non-religious. Republicans were more likely to agree with this statement than Democrats.

There were striking accords and contrasts between mainstream and evangelical Protestants when pollsters asked, “What values ​​and lessons do you believe Jesus is teaching?”

“Love your neighbour” was the highest response overall, including 70% of majors and 80% of evangelicals. “Love your enemies” was affirmed by 54% of principals and 70% of evangelicals. For “feeding the hungry”, it was 55% of the main and 60% of the evangelicals.

“Repent and Believe” was chosen by 48% of majority Protestants, compared to 73% of Evangelicals.

If the purpose of this study was to shed light on “a Jesus who comforts the afflicted, but not one who afflicts the comfortable, then there is a problem,” said Fr. Kendall Harmon, a popular Anglican blogger and theological curator.

“The Bible gives us a Jesus who is both.”

Terry Mattingly directs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

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