Study: Latinos Esteem Bible but Don't Study It Often

A study of Hispanic Americans by Barna Group shows that they have a high degree of respect for the Bible but do not spend a lot of time engaging with Scripture.

Only eight percent of Latinos qualify as "engaged with the Bible," compared to 21 percent for all Americans, explained David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, in a Tuesday conference call with reporters. Barna Group defines "engaged with the Bible" as someone who believes the Bible is the inspired Word of God and reads it at least four days in a given week.

Latinos also have a strong cultural heritage of faith but do not see their faith as a practical every day influence in their lives, according to the study, which Barna Group conducted in partnership with American Bible Society, National Hispanic Leadership Conference and OneHope. Kinnaman described this as the "biggest gap between what Latinos say of themselves and how they actually think and behave."

Latinos' low levels of engagement with Scripture is mostly, but not entirely, explained by their Catholicism, Kinnaman believes. Compared to Protestants, Catholics score lower on Barna Group's "engagement with Scripture" measure in the general population. The study found that a strong majority, 68 percent, of Latinos are Catholic. Only 16 percent are Protestant and another 16 percent belong to some other religion or have no religious affiliation.

Two other reasons that Latinos do not spend much time reading the Bible are not having the time and having difficulty reading the Bible translations available to them, explained the Rev. Emilio Reyes, vice president for Multi-Language Ministries at American Bible Society, who was also on the conference call.

Many Latinos who immigrated to the United States did so for work and, as such, work often takes priority over religion, Reyes said. When asked why they do not read the Bible, 31 percent said they do not have enough time.

Additionally, 12 percent of respondents said they found no excitement in reading the Bible. Reyes attributes that, in part, to the translation most often used in Hispanic churches.

Most Hispanic churches in the United States continue to use the 1960 Reina Valera Bible translation. Reyes explained that the Reina Valera Bible is difficult to understand. He compared it to the King James translation for those who speak English. One would need at least a high school reading level in Spanish to be able to understand the Reina Valera translation, Reyes said.

Kinnaman believes that one of the most important contributions that Latinos can make to American culture at this time is their high view of the value of work.

"The Hispanic community can show the way toward a deeper, more meaningful view of jobs, of employment, of work. I think there's some real story of hope related to that in the Hispanic community today," Kinnaman said.