Friday, August 10, 2007

Difference between evangelicals and church-going evangelicals

Wish the pollsters would change their research methodologies. It would make a difference. Not all evangelicals attend church, for instance.

My recent research for the Russell Sage Foundation indicates that evangelicals who attend religious services weekly, when compared with average Americans, are less likely to cohabit as young adults (1% vs. 10% of other young adults), to bear a child outside of wedlock (12% vs. 33% of other moms) and to divorce (7% vs. 9% of other married adults divorced from 1988 to 1993). So churchgoing evangelicals, who are also the ones most likely to be involved in political and pastoral efforts to strengthen the family, are actually achieving some success in their efforts to focus on the family.

But their nominal brethren--that is, evangelicals who attend church rarely or never--are a different story. According to my research, nominal evangelicals have sex before other teens, cohabit and have children outside of wedlock at rates that are no different than the population at large, and are much more likely to divorce than average Americans. One reason that nominal evangelicals have been particularly vulnerable to the family revolution of the past 40 years is that they are much more likely to be poor and uneducated than other Americans.

But even after controlling for class, I find that nominal evangelicals do worse than other Americans. Why? I suspect that many nominal evangelicals are products of a Scotch-Irish "redneck" culture, still found in parts of Appalachia and the South, that Thomas Sowell and the late Southern historian Grady McWhiney argue has historically been marked by higher levels of promiscuity, violence and impulsive behavior. This cultural inheritance, and not their Protestantism, probably helps to account for the poor family performance of nominal evangelicals.

So the next time one hears about evangelicals trying to impose their family values on the rest of us, remember that they are probably more concerned about the families of their nominally Protestant brothers, cousins, neighbors and friends in the Bible Belt than they are about folks in Massachusetts.



At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Jason Bridges said...

Did you post an entry about the One News Now Aug. 9th article about "Why are young adults leaving church?" What are your thoughts? This subject has been on my mind since I came across Barna's survey showing that only 20% of 20 somethings stay as active in the church as they were during their youth years.


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