One out of every six regular churchgoers in the United States have had, paid for or encouraged an abortion, while 20% doesn’t believe the Bible identifies when life begins. The Family Research Council’s Centre for Biblical Worldview released the new study last week. Based on 1,009 interviews of American adults who attend church at least once a month, the study was conducted in June 2023 by pollster George Barna. The survey found that 16% of respondents “admitted to having paid for, encouraged, or chosen to have an abortion.” While 65% of those surveyed stated that the Bible identifies when human life begins, 21% disagreed, while 14% did not know. Fifty-two percent of those who believe the Bible identifies when life begins pointed to the fertilization of the female egg as said point, followed by 7% who thought the Bible teaches life begins when the unborn baby reaches viability and 6% who believed Scripture identifies 6 weeks into pregnancy as the point when life begins.
When asked what the Bible teaches about abortion, 35% said that abortion is not acceptable under any circumstances. 19% contended that the Bible teaches that abortion is only acceptable when the mother’s life is endangered, while 10% thought the Bible leaves decisions about abortion up to the couple involved. Seven percent believe it permits abortions if the baby is determined to have physical or mental disabilities, and 6% think it allows abortions under all circumstances. David Closson, director of FRC’s Centre for Biblical Worldview, wrote in an op-ed this week that the survey’s findings on churchgoers’ views on abortion merit attention and show an “ongoing need for instruction in a biblical worldview, particularly on abortion and the value of human life.” “Christians might be surprised to learn that around 17% of female churchgoers have had an abortion, and 15% of male churchgoers have paid for or actively encouraged someone to get an abortion,” Closson wrote.
“However, Family Research Council’s findings track with similar studies, including one by Lifeway Research in 2015 that showed 16% percent of all women who have had an abortion identified as evangelical Christian.” “To put these percentages into perspective, consider the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. In 2023, the total membership across 47,198 SBC churches was 13.2 million. If we were to apply the 16% figure from the FRC and Lifeway surveys, approximately 2.1 million Southern Baptists have, at some point, actively participated in an abortion,” he continued. “In other words, we can conclude that millions of theologically conservative Christians have a personal history with abortion, even if they do not talk about it.” 36% described themselves as “pro-life, with some exceptions or limitations” on the issue of abortion while an additional 27% characterized themselves as “pro-life, without exceptions or limitations.”
The remaining churchgoers surveyed classified themselves as either “pro-choice, with some exceptions or limitations” (14%), “pro-choice, without exceptions or limitations” (8%), leaning pro-life “but could be convinced otherwise” (5%) and leaning pro-choice “but could be convinced otherwise” (5%). “The data clearly demonstrates that churchgoers hold a variety of views,” Closson stated. “Although most regular church attendees identify as ‘pro-life,’ 37% do not hold firm pro-life commitments. Furthermore, among the 63% of respondents who identify as pro-life, there are differences in what they think the Bible teaches about abortion and whether their religious beliefs are the greatest influence on their opinions.” The overwhelming majority of respondents (71%) cited their moral and religious beliefs as what informs their position on abortion, while 11% pointed to political and policy considerations, and 11% formed their position based on public preferences and opinions.
Overall, 44% of churchgoers surveyed recalled hearing a sermon or teaching about abortion at church in the previous 12 months, with a majority of Catholics (54%) reporting that abortion was addressed at church in the past year and much smaller percentages of Pentecostals (45%), Evangelicals (41%), mainline Protestants (36%) and those who attend independent churches (32%) saying the same. Roughly one-third of adults (31%) expressed a desire to hear about abortion at church more frequently while 14% wanted the topic addressed less frequently. In addition to abortion, the survey examined churchgoers’ views related to church teaching about seven other social issues. Three-fourths (75%) of respondents insisted that the Bible “clearly and decisively” addressed the definition of a legitimate marriage. Sixty-nine percent maintained that the Bible had clear and decisive teachings about religious liberty, while 66% said the same about divorce.
Regarding whether the Bible has clear and decisive teachings about the moral acceptability of homosexuality, 63% answered in the affirmative. Smaller shares of respondents agreed that the Bible has clear and decisive teachings on how to know a person’s gender (59%) and the moral acceptability of transgenderism (52%). Less than half of those surveyed (44%) thought that the Bible provided clear instructions to help Christians determine what candidates to vote for. The survey also measured the degree to which respondents subscribe to seven cornerstones that Barna views as essential to forming a “consistently biblical life of thought and action.” Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed view God as “the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and just creator of the universe who rules that universe today,” a belief that aligns with “an orthodox, biblical understanding of God.”
A smaller share of respondents agreed that “when you die, you will go to Heaven only because you have confessed your sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as your saviour” (47%) and that “people are born into sin and can only be saved from its consequences by Jesus” (41%). When asked what they considered the “best indicator of a successful life,” 39% responded with “constant obedience to God.” Churchgoers were much more divided on their view of the Bible, with 33% seeing it as “the true word of God that should be taken literally, word for word” and another 33% thinking of it as “the inspired word of God that has no errors, although some verses are meant to be symbolic rather than literal.” 48% agreed that “there are no moral absolutes that apply to everyone, all the time; moral truth is up to each individual.” This idea runs contrary to a biblical worldview.
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