Most Americans Think Christianity Has Positive Impact on Society

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

In an era when Christian-bashing is the norm in certain quarters of American society, a new poll has found that the majority of Americans believe Christianity has made many positive contributions to society.

According to The Barna Group, when responding to an open-ended question – meaning respondents were not prompted with a list of possibilities but were asked to provide answers off the top of their head – one in five respondents said helping the poor or underprivileged to have a better life was the number one positive accomplishment of Christians in American society.

Advancing belief in God was cited by one out of every six respondents (16%). Fourteen percent listed the third most common contribution of Christianity as shaping or protecting the values of morals of the nation.

On the other hand, the largest number of responses (25%) came from people who could not name a single positive contribution made by Christians in recent years. People with skeptical attitudes about religion (34%), unchurched adults (33%) and Independent voters (29%) were the most likely to respond in this way. Only six percent of respondents said Christians are making positive contributions in issues related to marriage, and only five percent thought they were making any difference in stopping abortions.

When asked to identify what they thought were the negative contributions of Christians to American society in recent years, the most frequent response was violence or hatred incited in the name of Jesus Christ, the report said. “One out of five Americans mentioned such vitriolic attitudes. This was most likely to be mentioned by people associated with non-Christian faiths (35%) and by evangelicals (31%).”

Thirteen percent of respondents –  mostly people under the age of 25 –  said the opposition of Christians to gay marriage was the largest negative contribution.

Twelve percent cited churches being too involved in politics as a major negative and another 12 percent named the sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests as the biggest black-eye for the Christian faith. Those revelations were particularly disturbing to young adults and Hispanics.

The report lists several other interesting patterns and connections found in the survey:

? Although many churches are worried about offending people by sharing the gospel, less than 1% of the population complained that Christians are too aggressive in their evangelistic efforts. This corresponds with recent Barna studies that have shown that relatively few Christians discuss their faith with non-Christians in ways intended to encourage non-believers to adopt the Christian faith.

? The people who seemed least aware of either the positive or negative contributions of Christians were the largest segment of Christians: Notionals. [Notionals are people who describe themselves as Christians but whose religious convictions are not based on a belief in salvation through Jesus Christ.] Along with the unchurched, Notional Christians were the segment most likely to not be able to identify either a positive or negative contribution of American Christians. Notionals currently represent about half of all Christians in the U.S.

? Overall, there was a more extensive and diverse list of complaints about Christians and their churches than there was of examples of the benefits they have provided to society.

? It is ironic that Baby Boomers – the generation famous for Woodstock, sexual liberation, the rise of recreational drug use, introducing the culture of narcissism, and the explosion in the number of divorces – was also the generation most likely to applaud the morals and values that Christians have stood for in the U.S.

George Barna, who conducted the study Aug. 16-22 among 1,000 adults age 18 and older, advises readers that because the questions were asked in an open-ended format, the percentages of people providing many of the responses is substantially smaller than would have been the case had respondents been asked directly if they felt the items listed were significant contributions. The company plans to conduct additional research in this area in the future.

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