Black Churches Are Still a Force in US as Younger Generations Pull Away

In a deep dive into faith in America, a Pew study finds that Black Americans are more religious than the general U.S. public.

(Pew report image via Courthouse News)

(CN) — Black Americans are not only more religious than non-Black Americans, but they are also more likely to believe that opposing racism is essential to faith, the Pew Research Center said in a study out Tuesday.

The findings show that 97% of Black adults believe in a higher power, compared with 90% of non-Black adults. Further 75% of Black adults said one has to be against racism to be a religious or moral person, compared with only 68% of non-Black adults.

Between November 19, 2019, and June 3, 2020, Pew surveyed 8,660 Black adults who are either U.S. born, African born or Caribbean born. It also surveyed 4,574 adults who do not identify as Black.

For Black Americans who go to church, be it a few times a year or every week, 60% of them go to a Black congregation. About one-third say they go to church weekly.

Still, 61% say that historically Black churches should diversify, and 63% say that, when looking for a new congregation, they do not place too much importance on finding one where most people are Black.

Speaking during a presentation of the study’s findings Tuesday, the Rev. Franklyn Richardson said, in an ideal world, the Black church would put itself out of business as inclusivity grows.

“I think the potential for the church to be inclusive is there, but it will be retarded by the rising of white supremacy and white privilege,” said Richardson, who is chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches.

Two-thirds of Black Americans are Protestant (66%), far more than any other affiliation, with Catholic being the next most popular at only 6%.

Om the other side of the spectrum, 1 in 5 Black Americans said they identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”

The study shows a religious gap that stretches across generations, with the findings showing that 3 in 10 Black Gen Zers (28%) and Millennials (33%) said they have no religious affiliation. 

Those in the older generations are less likely to fall into this category, with only 11% of Baby Boomers and 5% of the Silent Generation not having a religious affiliation.

Similarly, Gen Z and Millennials are less likely than Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation (66%) to attend a Black congregation (53%).

Sermons about race relations, voting and criminal justice reform are more likely to be heard in Black Protestant churches than in white Protestant churches.

As compared with Black adults at white Protestant churches, nearly half (47%) of Black Americans heard sermons on race and voting at their Black Protestant church, 35% and 25%, respectively.

The atmosphere tends to differ in mostly Black churches as well, with almost all, 99%, of Black adults saying members of their Protestant churches call out “amen” during service. Further, 76% said there is dancing and jumping as well. Only 37% of Black adults who attend a mostly white Protestant church report jumping and dancing.

About half of all Black Protestant churchgoers, 52%, say sometimes their church service includes speaking in tongues. 

Among Black Americans, those born in the U.S., 63%, are more likely to say homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with only 38% of those born in Africa.

African-born Black Americans are more religious than those who are U.S. and Caribbean-born, with 72% of those born in Africa saying religion is important to them, compared with 59% of U.S. and Caribbean-born.

Though most Black Americans (84%) are Democrats, religion is just as important to them as to the 10% of Republican Black Americans, with about 60% of Black adults from both parties expressing this.

They do, however, differ on their abortion views: 72% of Black Democrats say it should be legal in most or all cases, compared with 42% of Black Republicans.

Anthea Butler, an African Studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in Tuesday’s presentation of the Pew study that she hopes the research will show a new perspective of the Black church.

“I think that the ways in which we speak about Black church, I hope, changes with this survey,” Butler said. “I hope this survey will help people find the nuisances of the Black church they might not have noticed before.”

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