American Baptists Not Predominantly White, Leaders Argue

American Baptists have challenged a widely reported survey for labeling the mainline Protestant group as predominantly white in its ethnic makeup.

The Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) says the recent Religious Landscape Survey that was released earlier this year by the Pew Forum is "fundamentally flawed in its methodology."

The extensive survey, which was based on interviews with more than 35,000 adults, documented details of religious affiliation of the American public. Survey results showed that mainline Protestant churches - of which ABCUSA is a part - had membership that was 91 percent white (non-Hispanic).

It further documented ABCUSA as being 81 percent white.

"Only 406 American Baptists were respondents to the question of ethnic affiliation when interviewed for this survey," said Dr. C. Jeff Woods, associate general secretary for Regional Ministries, according to American Baptist News Service.

"While 91 percent of those interviewed may very well have been white, there was no method in place to verify that these results were indicative of the whole of ABC diversity," he continued. "That is unfortunate in that it paints a very different picture from our reality."

He further noted that in their own survey work, they have discovered that "not all ethnic groups respond equally to inquiries and surveys."

American Baptists celebrated their centennial in 2007 and have often praised their diverse ethnic composition, especially when compared to other mainline Protestant denominations. ABCUSA has become one of the most multicultural denominations in the country and it claims there is no one racial-ethnic group that is a majority.

According to 2006 data reported from local churches to the American Baptist Churches Information Systems, the largest "minority" is African American with close to 47 percent of the denomination's total membership, according to the news service. European Americans follow at 45.5 percent and 7-8 percent of total membership is comprised of Hispanic, multi-ethnic, Asian, Haitian and Native American members.

"While the Pew Forum's Survey results say that ABCUSA is predominantly white, the truth is that the denomination is not predominantly anything," the news service reported.

"This intentional strand of diversity used to be considered the 'best kept secret' of the American Baptist Churches, but it was never intended to be a secret," said Medley. "Instead, we rejoice in our blessed diversity and uniqueness among denominations while we keep looking for opportunities to share it with our brothers and sisters in Christ across the country and around the world. We believe that the richness of an ethnically diverse membership is a gift from God and we are truly blessed to experience it."

ABCUSA is a 1.5 million-member denomination with about 5,200 congregations in the United States. American Baptists make up 1.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to the Pew survey.