A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Survey Shows How Liberals and Conservatives Differ on Matters of Faith

Barna has published the results of a recent survey on how those who identify themselves as liberals and conservatives differ on the beliefs, practices, and politics. I am only going to list, though not exhaustively, the results without commentary. Anyone is welcome to offer their insights and comment, but I ask you to read the entire report before doing so.

The religious beliefs of liberals and conservatives:

-Religious faith is very important in life (liberals 54%, conservatives 82%)

-Faith is an increasingly important moral guide in life (liberals 38%, conservatives 70%)

-The church they currently attend is very important in helping them find direction and fulfillment in life (liberals 37%, conservatives 62%)

-Their primary purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength, and soul (liberals 37%, conservatives 76%)

The religious practices of liberals and conservatives:

-Read the Bible, other than at church events, during the past week (liberals 33%, conservatives 57%)

-Attend a religious service during the past week (liberals 35%, conservatives 62%)

-Pray to God, other than at a religious service, during the past week (liberals 76%, conservatives 91%)

-Have ever participated in a short-term mission trip, either within the U.S. or in another country (liberals 6%, conservatives 12%)

-Those who categorize themselves as "unchurched" (liberals 40%, conservatives 19%)

I have not enumerated the results of the faith alignment of liberals and conservatives, nor the political impact of their faith choices. That information is also available in the report.

Barna concludes: "Every person's central choices in life are driven by their worldview, and everyone's worldview is greatly influenced by their spiritual inclinations. The social and political preferences of people are closely tied to their spiritual beliefs and practices. One of the great challenges to our nation's leaders is to help people of different spiritual and ideological perspectives maintain dialogue and an appreciation of each other's innate value despite those divergent points of view."

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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Jim Jensen Jr. said...


The one problem with this kind of report is that the labels are not always helpful and sometimes misleading. I'm not even sure how I would catagorize myself! On theological issues, I think I am relatively conservative (although there are some in my congregation who would disagree), but on social issues, I would say I lean liberal, though not on all issues. And yet to talk about social and religious trends on a large scale, we are almost required to use labels. Is there a way to be more accuate within and/or move beyond this?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Your concern over labels is understandable, so care is always in order in interpreting what these kinds of surveys mean. As you rightly say, most people do not fit neatly into the categories we construct.

What I would say in defense of these kinds of analyses is that while we must be careful not to use "labels" to stereotype people, nevertheless, such "labels" can pinpoint general tendencies of certain groups of people. There will always be exceptions, of course, and we must never make these kinds of surveys say more than the can, but they can also be instructive.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'm not a liberal, but I don't find myself a conservative either. I mean the religious conservatives may hold to giving the Bible a high value, but I am not all that taken by how they read it, just a general statement, but I mean it.

Though we do need people in our country that will take a stand for speaking truth in the public square. But we need to heed well the wisdom found in Os Guinness's book, "The Case for Civility," in which he points out that both the religious right and the secular left have utterly failed to understand the real meaning of the First Amendment, and what our founders really envisioned for this nation.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Yes, we do need more civility, and more than a few people on the left and the right have not embraced that context in their debate.

I think what is important to note here is that persons in this survey identified themselves as liberal or conservative, so this survey is based on a self-designation, not a designation based on certain applied criteria. So, the definition is in the eye of the beholder, but I do find it interesting that those who identified themselves in these two respected categories, had the same general tendencies for the most part. That is where I find Barna's work to be helpful.

And, yes, by way of reminder, there are always exceptions.

Country Parson said...

I follow Barna because he gives me some insight into the conservative evangelical mindset, or at least his version of it. It often appears that, to him, if you are not a conservative born again then you must be a liberal. Although he takes pains to describe what he means by born again, it doesn't come off that way in the survey reports. So, if they can be used to make broad generalizations, then i would like to know why those who broadly define themselves as conservatives who also profess a deep faith can be broadly said to have so many political positions antithetical to the well being of the least of these in society.