How Valid Are Christian Stereotypes?

The facts about 5 Christian stereotypes.

Ask a random person their perception of Christians and you’ll probably hear a few common themes.

Christians are white southerners who hate Obama and refuse to believe in science. They’re judgmental and hypocritical. They act like they’re better than everyone else but have the same divorce rate as non-Christians.

Even within the Church, we often perpetuate these stereotypes even as we fight them. But how true are these commonly accepted statements? Not all of them are easily quantifiable, but a look at some numbers may surprise us—and show us where we need to work for change.

Christians are Republican

In many American churches, especially in the South, it’s assumed: If you’re a born again, Bible-believing Christian, you vote Republican.

After all, if you really love Jesus you must vote for the party that opposes abortion and gay marriage, right?

A look at some numbers may surprise us—and show us where we need to work for change.


And yes, there are more Christian Republicans than Democrats, but the gap may not be as wide as we’re led to believe. A 2008 Barna study found 51 percent of Republicans have spiritual beliefs that qualify them as “born again” Christians. Significantly fewer Democrats hold the same beliefs, but it’s still a pretty high amount: 38 percent.

Furthermore, Pew Research Center found 81 percent of Republicans agree with three religious value statements (“Prayer is an important part of my daily life,” “we will all be called before God at Judgement Day” and “I never doubt the existence of God”), but 62 percent of Democrats also agree with the statements.

Really it comes down to preference and which issues individual voters view as most important. Each party has stances that line up with the “Christian” worldview and stances that don’t.

So while a larger percentage of Christians tend to be Republican, it may not be as polarized as we think.

And of course, this stereotype leaves out Christians who live outside of the U.S. Which brings us to ...

Christianity is Mainly an American Thing

“God Bless America!” American Christians often say, sing, tweet or slap on bumper stickers. America is a “Christian nation” we say, and within the Church we often act like America is the epicenter of modern Christianity.

The U.S. still has the largest number of Christians of any country, with over 246 million people who identify as Christians—almost 80 percent of the U.S. population. But there are 2.18 billion Christians around the world. And only 11.3 percent of those live in the U.S.

Percentage-wise, there are several countries that outrank the U.S. in numbers, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where almost 96 percent of the population is Christian.

“Christians are ... so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity,” Pew Research Center reports. So while the idea of America being a "Christian nation" may have some historical veracity, it leaves out the global nature of the faith.

Christians Think They’re Better Than Everyone Else / Are Hypocritical

It’s easy to dismiss extreme examples such as Westboro Baptist Church, but the reality is that the Gospel is easy to express, but hard to live out. As much as Christians want to deny this claim, there's some sadly ample evidence to back it up.

While it’s impossible to truly know people’s hearts, a Barna Group study sheds some light on the average Christian’s motivations. The group did a study to see if Christians were more like Jesus or like Pharisees, asking Christians 10 questions that showed Christ-like actions and attitudes (“I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith,” “I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition”), and 10 questions that showed Pharisaical attitudes and actions (“I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God,” “I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws”).

The results are discouraging. 51 percent showed Pharisaical attitudes and actions while just 14 percent showed Christ-like attitudes and actions. 21 percent showed Christ-like attitudes but Pharisaical actions.

It’s high time we stopped denying it (“I’m not like those Christians!”) and owned up to the fact that we, like everyone else, are broken and sinful human beings desperately in need of a savior. The truth of the message shouldn't be in how perfect Christians are—it should be in how reliant they are on their Savior.

Christians Don’t Care About Science

You may have heard the 7 percent statistic thrown around when it comes to the number of scientists who believe in a personal god.

That number comes from a 1998 survey sent out to 517 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences from the biological and physical sciences (and received back from roughly half of them).

The fact that this number is based off 300 or so of America’s “leading” scientists begs the question of causation or correlation. In other words, are the best scientists less likely to believe, or are the scientists who do believe less likely to be a part of the NAS?

While we as individuals may not be able to change perceptions of the whole, we can certainly seek to live a life that defies stereotype.

A 2009 Pew survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found 33 percent of scientists believe in God and 18 percent more don’t believe in God but do believe in some sort of "higher power."

This is better than the 7 percent statistic, but it still shows that scientists are much less likely than the wider population to believe in God. It’s something worth looking into—and working to change. Science isn't faith's enemy.

Christians Have The Same Divorce Rates As Those Outside the Church

Another statistic that’s often thrown around inside and outside the Church is that those within the Church have the same divorce rate as non-Christians.

A study in the Journal of Religion and Society found that Christians have a slightly lower divorce rate (37 percent) than non-Christians (44 percent). The rates varied between traditions and were significantly lower among those with frequent church attendance.

For example, the divorce rate among non-active mainline protestants was 39 percent between 1980 and 2009, but among those who attended services regularly, it was 26 percent. Regularly attending Catholics had the lowest rate of 21 percent (which may have to do with the strict rules about divorce in the Catholic Church). And those with no religion had a rate of 50 percent.

The numbers are lower than is generally perceived, but they should still give us pause before we get to judgmental of our culture's view of marriage.

Just like with any group, stereotypes of Christians often exist for a reason, and while we as individuals may not be able to change perceptions of the whole, we can certainly seek to live a life that defies stereotypes—a life given wholly to a God who defies every stereotype.

16 Comments

Christina Potter

7

Christina Potter commented…

There's stereotypes all over the world, many are started by Christian political activists, and many are just accepted by church people. I am not pro-gay, but I have had friends who are. Two of them should have been a guy or girl but the doctor knows best and turned them into opposite sex. many doctors in Colorado have been sued for that evil practice. So I have nothing to say to gays but try to win them by my own faith in not preaching Christian rhetoric to her that has nothing to do with evangelism. There is one stereotype I don't mind having, that is being anti-Obama, many people Christian or not, see him for what he is, but most Christians single him out as if we've never had a corrupt president before, aka George Bush, who is just better at his cover ups, but come on now, I mean the patriot act? and 911. whats up with that? Why is the phrase "Jesus take the wheel" such an acceptable phrase? because gods children would rather sleep and dream, than wake up and get involved. would rather judge the poor, drift on as if nothing will ever hinder them (pre-trib rapture theory) and not research what is really going on, not to mention reading more about obamacare then just the tax parts and raised premiums. Ever hear of the mark of the beast? like prego; "its in there!"

Mark P. Collett

2

Mark P. Collett commented…

Excellent article Dargan T.! It's so true that I can defy stereotypes by how I live and respond. Amazingly, the Scripture says, "And these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).
Sadly, many of us who profess Christ largely miss that. Opinions are pushed, rather than humble submission to Christ. I've been there. It's an easy place to go. I can locate and pull a scripture verse out of context to support virtually any opinion... I'm reminded how Native Americans warn not to judge another until you walk a mile in their moccasins. We only think we know about an issue, until we or a loved one experiences HIV, cancer, abortion, abuse, prison, gender issues, etc. And even then, our nature can push us to one-sidedness. Oh that we would wake up and let God be God. After the hell of a life I've walked through, much of it self-inflicted, today I realize that faith means nothing, unless motivated by love. Not my own, but God's.

Michael Phillips

2

Michael Phillips commented…

Great article. My ministry - ALL IN - was created to address the common stereotypes, fears, and misconceptions that exist about Christianity. We have lots of great videos and other resources to discuss these stereotypes at LivingWithPower.com.

Jim van Ommen

11

Jim van Ommen commented…

I felt highly motivated to give a fairly detailed reply to this article, but was stopped in my tracks by the astounding statement that “ Christians are Republicans “
Could somebody tell me in as few words as possible how any Christian party can possibly oppose President Obama to care for the poor and underprivileged ?
If it is opposed because people believe there is a better way, is that a relevant, honest answer if thus far the Church and the government have not responded to that better way?
An honest answer please, on what basis do Republicans oppose President Obama’s changes to the gun laws. Do you need to protect yourselves from fellow Americans,or is your hobby more important than the thousands of lives destroyed every year?

What is the symbolism or the message that is portrayed by the Statue of Liberty at the very front door to your nation? Until now I had not given much thought to the significance of this statue or what it symbolises. Wikipedia tells me that she represents the Goddess of Liberty. Liberty for who ? How does all this fit in with a nation
that considers itself to be Christian?

Throwing up smokescreens such as " How valid are Christian stereotypes" is not really addressing the above issues and it would be rather childish to try and hide behind hypotheticals of that nature.

Benjamin Spurlock

3

Benjamin Spurlock replied to Jim van Ommen's comment

Jim, I'm happy to address some of your concerns, primarily in your first point, since I'm apparently on the opposite side of some of those issues. Let me start out by saying that it is very easy to over-emotionalize and -simplify issues, as one commenter mentioned, and doing so generally doesn't help understand the other side.

Helping the poor is a great example. You state that the Republicans oppose Obama in helping the poor and underprivileged, but that's not entirely correct. The opposition usually centers on the issue of welfare, where there are several key components. Usually, people like myself view welfare as a 'last resort'- we want those who truly need help to get it, but we also believe that Paul was onto something when he insisted that the one who didn't work shouldn't eat, and that those who refused to provide for their families should be considered as worse than a nonbeliever. While several different paths are proposed for that, the unifying theme is that we want to lift people out of poverty and make the best use of the talents and abilities that God has blessed them with, eventually to use those gifts and the proceeds thereof to be a blessing to others. To make that happen, we believe that people need to have a higher proportion of their income and reasonable opportunities in the business world- which we generally see as running counter to the tax revenues that a welfare state needs to survive.

I do believe that this is a relevant, honest answer, and generally the reason that the church and state haven't accepted it is, well... the church by and large has, at least around here, hence such a high proportion of republicans as church-goers. In terms of governance... my personal theory is that most politicians face two strong incentives to not do this. The first we see whenever the issue comes up- anything coming close to curtailing welfare is treated as you yourself said it, as not wanting to help the poor, which is political suicide. On the other hand, each politician wants to have 'kiss the baby' moments, where they're shown as caring and compassionate. One can't have those moments when the people are capable of taking care of themselves, so the incentive is to become the provider in turn.

Likewise on gun control, the issue is emotionally charged, but I would implore you to think of it rationally. We, as Christians, believe that all people are fallen, that all people have the potential for evil within them. We also recognize that the police are a finite resource, and in some parts of the country, it can take minutes to hours for help to arrive. When a horrific crime can happen in seconds, that's too long. Thus, we hold that it is the right, of every person, to be able to protect themselves and their families. We also note that gun violence tends to be strongest in areas with strict gun control laws- Chicago and Washington D.C. immediately come to mind- and we come to the conclusion that most criminals are predators in the naturalistic sense- they tend to go after the vulnerable and helpless. Thus, the logic goes, those who can protect themselves are less likely to need to, whereas those who can't are more likely to wish that they could.

On a personal note, I tend to compare any attempt at gun control to Prohibition- when something is banned, it disproportionately weakens the law-abiding citizen, and disproportionately aids those with the desire to break the law. In the end, there is no 'good' solution to the problem of violence, not on this side of eternity, but given that, allowing individuals the right to protect themselves seems to be a better solution than centralizing such protection.

As for Lady Liberty, it is exactly the same situation as the embodiment of Justice you sometimes see in courthouses. Or, for that matter, my state has a statue of Ceres surmounting its capitol building. In these cases, it is not used in the sense of worship, but rather personifying concepts that we wish to elevate in those situations. In my state, agriculture is key, so we embody the idea of agriculture with that statue. Justice embodies not a pagan ideal of a goddess who punishes evil, but rather what we wish justice to be- fair, 'blind' in the sense that there is no favor of persons, and effectual. Lady Liberty, similarly, is shown as an embodiment of what we hold dear- liberty and freedom. Her torch was meant as a harkening back to Aquinas's city on a hill- the first thing that immigrants were to really see was freedom's light, and that was what we wished for them to know was waiting. In that sense, then, while the French who made the statue used the old model of the goddess of liberty, it's not an idol, but rather a monument.

I'm glad that you raised those questions, Jim, and I hope my answers are of some help to you. As the article says, there are believers on both sides of the issues, and I hope that no amount of disagreement will ever make us forget that we are not each other's enemies, nor that we aren't, in our own ways, trying to make this world as good as we can. God bless, and I echo what you said- there is only One who can bless America and all nations, and we should be on our knees to call upon Him, in this time especially.

Jim van Ommen

11

Jim van Ommen replied to Benjamin Spurlock's comment

Hi Benjamin, thank you for your comments. Undoubtedly you being closer to the situation of Obama Care and the gun control issues that are dividing the country politically as well as spiritually, you have become more involved in the pros and the cons. Being closer no doubt you hear it first hand from people on both sides of the fence, coloured to suit each individual’s thinking and biased by their political and church backgrounds.
Sometimes however I think we need to distance ourselves from these backgrounds in order to get a better perspective. Distance ourselves not only physically but also time wise and reflect on base values and ask ourselves if we as Christians are living the life that Christ has taught us. I wonder have we found reasons to update and modify the gospel message to suit the times in which we are living ? Could there ever be an excuse not to care for the poor and the underprivileged ? Are we assuming that they may make a welter of it and even work less? Where is our faith ? Seek and ye will find works both ways in my opinion. Look for the worst in people and you will find it. However in the context of the Bible it is a message full of hope, faith, purpose and direction. Many people are not working simply because there isn’t any work and the nation therefore needs to address this issue first and foremost. Does it need to spend trillions on waging war in areas thousands of miles away from its borders? Ten or more years ago the opinion was; yes we must for “humanitarian reasons”. Now in retrospect we can see it quite plainly that we have achieved nothing after destroying thousands of lives at home and abroad. The US is still the wealthiest nation in the world and capable of achieving great things for its people if only they find an equitable way of distributing that wealth, put it to work and create job opportunities.
I do think there is a fast difference between caring for the poor and underprivileged and the concept of welfare. Welfare as in hand-outs, I don’t think that many people would expect that, it is against all known principles of the Bible as you said, but I also believe that most people would be too proud to live on hand-outs, it is soul destroying. I look upon caring as in giving people equal opportunities in areas of health, education and employment and yes, certainly to look after the disabled and elderly, that is any nation’s responsibility.

As for the gun control issue, the answer is only complicated for those who place their trust in arms instead of in God. Even from a purely rational viewpoint, do Americans really think that they need to arm themselves for a civil war and do they really think that it will give them any protection ? Already thousands have died and you haven't even got a civil war as yet.
I strongly believe Benjamin that there is a better way and you and I know that as well as ¾ of the nation. And that better way is something we all need to pursue.
No doubt we need to be understanding and realise where people are coming from, but once understanding develops into condoning to the extent that we have no absolutes, yes...alarm bells start ringing.
( Now, I just hope this time the words will NOT join up )

Paul C

9

Paul C commented…

Great article! I have found that many American seem to assume I am (or should be) an American because I am a christian and sometimes treat me different when they realize I am Canadian. It really isn't fair how they often exclude the other 90% of the world's christians in their prayers. Paul the apostle was a Roman citizen but not even once did he write "God bless the empire" (or "God save Caesar"). What he says is found in Philippians 3:20 "But our citizenship is in heaven.."

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