As it is Holy Week and we’re looking at the approaching liturgical seasons of Easter and Pentecost, I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk a bit about religion, more particularly Christianity and the state of it in America.
Back in January 2017, a Gallup poll circulated with a most interesting finding. According to this poll, conservatives outnumber liberals by about 9 percentage points. To those of us who had lived through the 2016 primary season, this seemed incredible (see my colleague Kimberly Ross’s thoughts on that poll). Not incredible, “wow, that is amazing,” but incredible, “that is just not based on reality.” We’d just seen the most conservative field of candidates in my lifetime get its collective ass handed to it by a decidedly un-conservative Donald Trump. If there was anywhere where this alleged 9-point preference for conservatives should have made a difference it was the 2016 GOP primary where a 36% plurality of the electorate would have translated into an 80%-or-so GOP primary electorate composed of conservatives.
My response was that self-identification doesn’t measure anything. As an example I pointed to a Barna Group survey which showed that over 70% of the United States self-identified as Christian but the meaning of that might not be what you thought:
Now, I don’t care what you call yourself, but if you don’t believe Christ was God and if you believe while Christ, i.e. God, was on Earth he sinned, you actually aren’t a small ‘o’ orthodox Christian.
Barna has released another poll. This one is on the Great Commission.
The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28 where the Resurrected Christ gives his final instructions to the eleven remaining apostles:
Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
This, of course, is the foundation of Christian witness. We aren’t called, as the man said, to hide our light under a basket. We are called to proselytize. So this is a pretty key concept in orthodox Christianity.
This is the question Barna asked and, given the last poll, the rather unsurprising answer:
Then they asked people to identify which of several Biblical verses was the Great Commission:
The good news was that 94% of people who said they knew what the Great Commission was could actually pick it out of a lineup. The bad news is that clearly, a majority of self-identified Christians were clueless about one of the fundamental concepts of Christianity.
America is a post-Christian society. While most Americans profess to be Christian, they are actually about as knowledgeable on the subject as your typical border collie. If you keep that in mind the next time you’re puzzling over…well, a lot of things and how they can exist in a predominantly Christian nation…a helluva lot of those mysteries begin to make sense.