Most black congregants say faith has grown even as coronavirus ravages community, study shows

Members of the community pray during Sunday morning worship at New Shiloh Baptist Church, where Freddie Gray's April 27 funeral service was held in Baltimore, May 3, 2015. The city of Baltimore was on Sunday to observe a day of prayer two weeks after Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died of injuries suffered in police custody in a case that has led to criminal charges against six officers. | (Photo: Reuters/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

Despite the shuttering of many churches across America and the disproportionate impact the new coronavirus pandemic has been having on the black community, a majority of adults affiliated with historically black churches say their faith has strengthened, a new study shows.

The study, a survey of a nationally representative panel of 11,022 randomly selected U.S. adults, was conducted by the Pew Research Center. Data in the study was collected from April 20 to April 26 and reflects responses from 10,139 members of the panel.

While 47% of survey respondents reported that their faith hadn’t changed much and 26% said they weren’t religious to begin with, 24% of them said their faith had become stronger in the pandemic.

When the numbers were further broken down by religious tradition, a pattern of increased faith emerged in 56% of Protestants affiliated with historically black churches. This was the highest pattern of increased faith of all groups in the study. This group of believers was closely followed by evangelicals, 42% of whom reported that their faith had grown during the pandemic. Some 27% of Catholics reported increased faith while 22% of mainline Protestants said they experienced a surge in their faith as a result of the pandemic.

Pew Research Center

The study comes as a confluence of factors, including age, poorer health, and access to healthcare, has resulted in the black community being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.

Reports of the deaths of dozens of pastors and members of predominantly black churches have not been uncommon during the pandemic. Just over a week ago, the Rev. Johnnie Green of Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, told The Christian Post that at his church alone, 13 members died in approximately 30 days and all but two of them died due to complications from the virus.

A recent report in The New York Times with preliminary data released by New York City showed how the coronavirus is killing black and Latino people at twice the rate that it is killing white people. Nationwide data also reflect a similar trend.

And churches and researchers have continued to press the White House to address the disparity.

“We have gathered as pastors, as faith leaders around this country to simply state that last week’s headlines reminded all of us that racism is a public health issue," the Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor of the 12,000-member Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, lamented during a recent press conference, discussing the impact of the virus on the black community.

"It has long been a matter of life and death. Sadly and immorally, we live in a country where skin color is hazardous to one’s health and mortality is not determined by ones genetic code but instead by one’s zip code.

“As pastors who serve in communities that are most impacted by the coronavirus crisis we have come together to issue a moral appeal to the conscience of the nation in a state of emergency in the tradition of the biblical prophets who address nations in crises and prophets in this nation such as … Martin Luther King Jr and many others who fought to redeem the soul of America. We appeal to those in power on behalf of communities in pain and in grief. We appeal to you to channel treatment and resources to those areas in our body politic that have suffered the most from this national infection that has allowed this virus to spread disproportionately.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, recent reports by The Christian Post showed how many Americans were increasingly disengaging with their religion as churches grappled to respond. Blacks, as a racial group, meanwhile, maintained the highest percentage of members with “absolutely certain” belief in God at 83%; Asians showed the lowest at 44%. Among whites, the percentage was 61%, while Latinos stood at 59%.

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