UPDATE: Atheists most distrusted. Scroll for update.
Is it possible that polls stating 90% of Americans are Christians are misleading? Probably. The first place a reasonable person would look is the strictness of criteria in these polls. That’s precisely what David Kinnaman at the Barna Group has done in a new poll, conducted from 2004 to this year, sampling 440 non-Christians (and a similar number of Christians) aged 16 to 29, and found that 38% had a “bad impression” of present-day Christianity. Now that’s a bit more reflective of modern-day America isn’t it?
Kinnaman says non-Christians’ biggest complaints about the faith are not immediately theological: Jesus and the Bible get relatively good marks. Rather, he sees resentment as focused on perceived Christian attitudes. Nine out of ten outsiders found Christians too “anti-homosexual,” and nearly as many perceived it as “hypocritical” and “judgmental.” Seventy-five percent found it “too involved in politics.”
Churchgoers of the same age share several of the non-Christians’ complaints about Christianity. For instance, 80% of the Christians polled picked “anti-homosexual” as a negative adjective describing Christianity today. And the view of 85% of non-Christians aged 16-29 that present day Christianity is “hypocritical — saying one thing doing another,” was, in fact, shared by 52% of Christians of the same age. Fifty percent found their own faith “too involved in politics.”
The most significant concern here is that these three issues are shared, almost equally, by both Christians and non-Christians alike. The “hypocritical” concern is high most likely as a result of humans being humans and bad experiences among people. Of course, this does not excuse many Christians saying they believe one way, while behaving in a way inconsistent with that belief. Neither will it let non-Christians off the hook of being able to make their own choice of whether to follow Christ.
According to Barna’s summary of the poll, “one of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.” I would certainly agree with the latter, but the former is something that has been the result of same-sex marriage proponents slapping that label on Christians.
With involvement in politics, the spread is 25%, with the higher number obviously coming from non-Christians. Personally, I don’t think political involvement is high enough among Christians. Additionally, had that been an option on the poll, I don’t doubt the numbers would be different. Especially when one considers the development and success of organizations such as Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council Action, and others, it’s easy to see that there is plenty of room to grow political involvement. Were political involvement truly too high, the Republican party would not have won the White House the past two elections. I can’t help but think that this statistic is skewed more by media attacks than actual understanding. What would the poll results have been 200 years ago in 1807? This poll screams between the lines that Christians have not taught the Christian worldview as a set of truth claims that God created and has spoken on. Chuck Colson said, “The Church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.” Of course, all of the blame cannot rest on the church. Each individual Christian is responsible for their own study to show themselves approved. The poll definitely reveals Christians have a lot of work to do, both inwardly, and outwardly.
UPDATE: Atheists are the most distrusted group in America.
Today, some 5 million Americans claim to be atheists. Throw in agnostics and you have 20 million. Five books making the case for atheism have become bestsellers. The 9/11 attacks have sparked a backlash against “fundamentalism” of every sort, painting conservative Christians with the same brush as Islamofascists. Atheists would seem to be poised for growth, but they have a public-relations problem.
A University of Minnesota poll last year found that atheists were America’s most distrusted group. According to a recent Newsweek poll, 62 percent of Americans would refuse to vote for an atheist running for president. As a result, atheists allege a whole host of slights, hostility, and civil-rights violations.
Painting Christians with as broad a brush as jihadists couldn’t be more demonstrably wrong. It certainly makes for an easy straw man target for atheists and will provide them with fuel for a few years, a decade at most. The greatest example of atheism in action was Hitler. What is laughable is that atheists always want to shove him to the Christian side. But the vast majority of people, not including atheists of course, can see that if Hitler was a Christian, he was the biggest hypocrite that ever lived. Since we aren’t hearing that, we know that truly reasonable people understand that Hitler was far more in the atheist camp than Christian. Is it any wonder most people don’t trust an atheist for president?