Which racial group in America claims the highest percentage of Christians and by pretty much any measure is the most religious?
Most Africans weren’t Christian when brought to America as slaves. However, many of them and their descendants embraced Christianity, according to a set of data recently released by Pew Research. The Christianity’s message of perseverance, grace, and hope took hold during slavery and would ultimately prove powerful in pushing past Jim Crow laws and segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.
Pew Research, for Black History Month, provided five facts about the lives of African Americans.
Eight in ten identify as a Christian
In Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape study 70 percent of whites and 77 percent of Latinos identified as Christians. African Americans, meanwhile, did so at a 79 percent rate. Over half of them (53 percent) associate with historical black Protestant churches.
Black denominations formed in the late 18th century
Toward the end of the 18th century predominately black churches first began to take shape, some of them founded by free black people. Today, the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Inc. exists as the largest historically black church. Others include the Church of God in Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), National Baptist Convention of America, and Progressive National Baptist Association, Inc.
African Americans are more religious than whites and Latinos
When it comes to saying religion is important, church attendance, and praying regularly, black Americans lead the way. Fully three-quarters of African Americans say religion is very important compared to 59 percent among Hispanics and 49 percent of whites. That statement is lived out by nearly half (47 percent) attending religious services at least once a week.
Seventy-three percent of black Americans pray daily while 58 percent of Hispanics and 52 percent of whites say they did so. In addition, 83 percent of African Americans say they believe in God “with absolute certainty.”
More African Americans becoming religiously unaffiliated
While religion remains a strong part among the lives of blacks, the number of those stepping away from the faith has increased as well. In the first Religious Landscape Study by Pew in 2007, 12 percent of African Americans said they were atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” That number grew to 18 percent by the time of the 2014 study.
Age trends in those positions reflected that of the general population, as younger respondees described themselves as unaffiliated. Among African Americans age 18-29, for example, 29 percent identified in that manner. Only seven percent of black adults 65 and over reflected that position.
Older African Americans associate with traditional black Protestant churches
Forty-one percent of black Millennials identify with historically black denominations. Among African Americans born between 1928-1945, also known as the Silent Generation, that number rises to 63 percent. The 2007 Pew Religion Study said 85 percent of the Southern Baptist Convention was white with eight percent black members.
By 2014 the percentage of white Southern Baptists remained the same while the number of black Southern Baptists had dropped to six percent. Meanwhile, the 2014 Pew study showed a slight increase for Southern Baptists among Latinos (2 percent to 3 percent) and “Other” (3 percent to 5 percent).