NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- African Americans are more likely to exhibit evidence of being Christian when compared to three other race categories and to the general population, according to a new study by The Barna Group.
The study, released July 27, found that faith continues to be important in the lives of African Americans, an ethnic group that comprises about 15 percent of the national population.
Based on telephone interviews with more than 1,200 adults who described themselves as African American, Barna found that 66 percent of them agreed with the statement that "the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches," compared to 46 percent of whites and 49 percent of the general population.
Blacks were more likely to be considered by Barna to be born-again Christians (59 percent, compared to a national average of 46 percent). (Barna defined "born again" as people who said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ "that was still important in their life today" and "who also indicated they believed that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior." People in the survey were not asked if they considered themselves to be born again.)
Among the same respondents, 46 percent of blacks, 32 percent of whites and 34 percent of the general population agreed that they have a personal responsibility to tell others their religious beliefs, Barna said.
Eighty-six percent of blacks, 70 percent of whites and 72 percent of the general population agreed that their religious faith is very important in their lives. However, only 18 percent of blacks, 11 percent of whites and 11 percent of the general population said "faith" was the highest priority in their lives.
"The only faith statement for which the African American response was similar to that of the U.S. average was 'If a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their life, they will earn a place in heaven,'" Barna reported.
Barna said 92 percent of African Americans surveyed identified themselves as Christian, compared to 85 percent of the general population, though blacks were no more likely than average to qualify as evangelical Christians based on Barna's criteria.
Compared to the other three ethnic groups, blacks were most likely in a typical week to attend church services, participate in a small group, attend a Sunday School class, pray or read the Bible, Barna said.
African Americans also were most likely to have an "active faith," which means attending church services, praying to God and reading the Bible during the week, according to the survey.
Blacks also had the lowest proportion of unchurched adults and were the ethnic group least likely to be Catholic, Barna said.
To monitor changes in the religious involvement of African Americans, Barna compared the current statistics to those of 15 years ago and found that six of seven measures of belief had changed significantly.
"Blacks today are more likely than they were in the early 1990s to believe that the principles taught in the Bible are totally accurate; to say that their religious faith is very important in their life; to have a biblically orthodox understanding of the nature of God; and to be born again," Barna said. "They are also less likely to strongly affirm that Satan is symbolic, not real; and to contend that a good person can earn his/her way into heaven."
The measure that had not changed, Barna said, was the responsibility people feel to share their beliefs with others.
Compared to 15 years ago, Barna noted an increase in the proportion of African Americans who have made a personally important commitment to Christ, church attendance and Bible reading.
Other research conducted by Barna has indicated that spirituality generally is a more central element in the lives of blacks than in the lives of people from other ethnic groups, the news release said.
"While the beliefs and behaviors of America's white population have changed little since the early 1990s, the new research underscored that the faith of African Americans is dynamic, generally moving in a direction that is more aligned with conservative biblical teachings," Barna said.