A new survey has found that less than half of Americans who identify as evangelicals actually "strongly agree" with core evangelical beliefs, while nearly one-third of Americans who hold evangelical beliefs don't identify as "evangelical."
LifeWay Research released a representative survey on "evangelical beliefs and identity" on Wednesday that featured responses from over 1,000 U.S. adults 18 or older that were collected between Nov. 10–12 with a +/- 3.1 percentage-point margin of error.
Among those surveyed, only 24 percent considered themselves to be an evangelical Christian, while 12 percent were unsure and 64 percent said they were not evangelical. Meanwhile, 29 percent considered themselves to be a "born-again" Christian.
Although 24 percent of respondents claimed to be evangelical Christians and 29 percent claimed to be born again, the survey found that only 15 percent of respondents actually agreed with evangelical beliefs defined by LifeWay.
As previously reported, LifeWay, with the help of the National Association of Evangelicals, defines true evangelicals as those who believe in four basic thoughts:
- The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
- It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
- Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
- Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation.
Each respondent was asked to which degree they agree with the four thoughts highlighted above. Only respondents who said they "strongly agree" with all four ideas were categorized as having "evangelical beliefs."
The survey found that among respondents who self-identify as evangelical and born again, only 45 percent of them were categorized as having evangelical beliefs.
Among respondents who said that they would identify as evangelical if it were not for the current political connotation of the word, only 43 percent of them were categorized as having evangelical beliefs.
The survey also found that only about 69 percent of respondents who actually hold core evangelical beliefs actually identify as evangelical, meaning that about three in 10 people who hold evangelical beliefs don't identify as "evangelical."
"There's a gap between who evangelicals say they are and what they believe," LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a statement.
The research also found that those who said they hold core evangelical beliefs are more diverse than those who self-identified as evangelical.
About 70 percent of those who self-identify as evangelicals are Caucasian, while Caucasians account for just 58 percent of those who hold evangelical beliefs. Additionally, only 14 percent of those who self-identify as evangelical are black, while black respondents made up 23 percent of those who hold evangelical views.
Seventy-three percent of those who hold evangelical beliefs say they attend church once or more per week. Only 61 percent of self-identifying evangelicals said that same.
The survey found very little difference in political affiliation between those who self-identify as evangelical and those who actually hold evangelical views.
Sixty-five percent of respondents who hold evangelical views said they are Republicans or lean Republican, while 64 percent of self-identifying evangelicals said the same.
Thirty percent of respondents who hold evangelical beliefs said they were Democrats or lean Democrat, while 33 percent of self-identifying evangelicals said the same.
McConnell admitted that he expected to see a greater difference in the two subgroups' data on political affiliation.
"The political differences between them turn out to be very small," McConnell said.
"Evangelical religious beliefs by themselves do not explain political behavior," he added. "Ethnic group is a better predictor of political behavior, but the best predictor of voting patterns is one's political party identification."
According to LifeWay, 55 percent of those who "strongly agree" with evangelical beliefs live in the South, while 22 percent live in the Midwest, 16 percent live in the West and 6 percent in the Northeast.
Since the release of the survey some prominent Christian commentators have taken to social media to issue their thoughts on the data.
"So you call yourself an #Evangelical. What do you mean by that?" radio host and author Carmen Fowler LeBerge asked in a tweet linking to the survey. "This is THE essential conversation of the day for evangelical Christians."