I have often heard it said that 85% of America is Christian, an assertion I've always considered it to be bogus.
To be sure, what defines a "Christian" directly influences that percentage. For example, many Muslims consider themselves (by Islamic doctrine) to also be Christian, so who's to say they're wrong? Thus, when someone describes so much of the American population as being Christian it would do well for the reader to very carefully consider the writer's bias.
George Barna, a Christian pollster, compiled some interesting statistics regarding Christianity in America:
- 9% of US adults classify as evangelicals (2006)
- 36% of US adults classify as born again, but not evangelical. (2006)
- Atheists and agnostics comprise 10% of adults nationwide. (2006)
- 10% of the US population identify with a faith other than Christianity (2006)
To quote the website,
In Barna Research Group studies, born again Christians are not defined on the basis of characterizing themselves as "born again" but based upon their answers to two questions. The first is "have you ever made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today?" If the respondent says "yes," then they are asked a follow-up question about life after death. One of the seven perspectives a respondent may choose is "when I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my savior." Individuals who answer "yes" to the first question and select this statement as their belief about their own salvation are then categorized as "born again."Since only 36% of Americans would classify themselves as "born-again", the statement that "85% of Americans are Christian" is clearly false. Truly, if one is to call himself or herself Christian, acceptance of Jesus' death on the cross as a substitute for our sin (made possible by his resurrection) is the qualifying belief that defines one as a Christian. To deny this doctrine is to deny what makes Christianity what it is. Also, Barna's definition of "Evangelical" is a sub-classification of a "Born-Again", that is, an Evangelical meets seven further criteria in addition to the two laid out for a Born-Again.
So where's the rest of the supposed 85%?
Barna classifies more of the U.S. population as being "Notional Christians". Such people may claim to be Christian, but do not believe that they will go to Heaven on the basis of Christ's death and resurrection (because they simply don't believe it happened). 39% of the U.S. population can be classified as Notional Christians, bringing the total "Christian" population to about 75%.
Often, the "85% Christian" statistic is quoted for politial purposes. Politically speaking, however, a profession of faith hardly equates to an alliegance to any one political party. The political breakdowns of the Notional and Born-Again Christians (including Evangelical) shows that 40% of non-Evangelical Born-Agains align themselves with the Democratic Party along with 42% of the Notional Christians.
Thus, for political purposes, if we take 75% (not 85%) of the culture to be "Christian", fully 30% of the American "Christian" population is Democrat. Another 27% may be considered Republican, leaving 43% in the lurch.
Looking at the numbers, it would seem that while religious views have created polarizations in American politics, it hardly divides Americans on public policy like some would claim. Rather, from the religious sphere, we see that the split between Republican and Democrat is nearly equal and the majority of "religious" (again, not necessarily "Christian") people claim no aliegance, though they may have conservative or liberal leanings.