Sunday, 18 April 2021

Faith News - Going Down in Black America

Trends in the Black Church: More Faithful, But Not Immune to Decline - Barna Group

Despite the traditional attachment to the Church, especially the fundamentalist, evangelical, historically black churches, the decline in religious affiliation seen in all Americans is no less so in African-Americans, according to a running survey conducted by the Barna Group.

The proportion of Black Americans who think church involvement is "very" or "somewhat desirable" has fallen significantly in the last 23 years from 90% in 1996 (71% "very", 19% "somewhat") to 74% in 2019 (44% "very", 30% "somewhat"). The interesting thing here is the relative change in perceived importance. Only 44% now think church involvement is "very desirable" against 71% in 1996; a 27-percentage point fall! Meanwhile the proportion who think it is "somewhat desirable" has risen from 19% to 30%; a 21-percentage point increase. Clearly, the perceived importance of church invlvement is weakening but not being lost entirely, or maybe peer-pressure to declare unequivocal support for the church has lessened.

Despite this relatively high level of perceived desirability of involvement with the church, the decline in overall affiliation to the churches has continued to follow a similar trend in Black Americans to the general population. Although still higher than average for Americans, there has been a rapid decline from 2011 (89%) to 74% in 2020 in affiliation to any particular church. From the peak of 93% in 2007, this fall represents a loss of one in five affiliates to 'Nones'. 15% of Black Americans now self-identify as 'Nones'; more than double its 2007 level.

Maybe it's me, but the self-identification of religious/spiritual chart seems to reflect muddled thinking. For example, I can't imagine how someone could describe themselves as religious but not spiritual, yet 11% of Black Americans do so. The rest of this chart shows the trend common to all American demographic groups of the younger generations being increasingly neither religious nor spiritual. From a low of 7% for the Baby Boomers, through 13% for Generation X, to 16% and 17% respectively for Millennials and Generation Z. This augers well for the future since people tend to retain their affiliation once established, and affiliation is largely inherited from the parent generation, so the tendency will be for affliliation to decline and 'Nones' to increase as time goes on.

Church attendance remains relatively high amongst Black Americans at 40% attending within the last week. However, in line with other demographics, this has been falling steadily from a peak in 2009, falling 16-percentage points and more than reversing the 11-percentage point gain in the years 2001 to 2009. The average for all American demographics is just 31%, an 18-percentage point fall since 2009.

This figure would probably be significantly lower had it not been for the small rally staged by Hispanic Americans (mostly Catholic) which had declined more sharply than the average (22-percentage points) over the years 2009 - 2020 during the years of scandal in the Catholic Church.

Overall, while the grip of the church remains stronger amongst Black Americans than amongst other American demographics, they are showing very much the same trend of declining religiosity as all Americans and the same generational differences that should ensure this promising trend continues.

However it remains an enduring mystery in American religion, why the religion that was used to enslave Africans and destroy their culture to make them easier to control by the Christian slavers, quoting the Bible as justification for their racism, should be followed so fervently by the descendants of those whom it enslaved and who still endure the racism inherent in evangelical Christian white supremacism.

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