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American Christians seen as ‘hypocritical’ and ‘judgemental’, study suggests

18 March 2022

Findings a wake-up call, says US Presiding Bishop


An evangelistic poster in New York

An evangelistic poster in New York

A NEW survey carried out in the United States suggests that non-believers think that Christians are hypocritical and judgemental — in stark contrast to Christians, who describe themselves as compassionate and loving.

In a survey of 3119 Americans aged over 18, carried out by Ipsos for the Episcopal Church in the United States, half of those who described themselves as non-religious considered American Christians to be “self-righteous”, 55 per cent “hypocritical”, and 54 per cent “judgemental”.

There was a “fundamental disconnect” between the ways in which Christians saw themselves and how non-Christians viewed them, the Jesus in America study found. The Christians surveyed overwhelmingly associated positive characteristics with being a Christian, including being compassionate, giving, loving, and respectful. But those from other faiths and those of no faith were more likely to say that Christians were judgemental, hypocritical, self-righteous, and arrogant.

Christians were also more likely to say that fellow Christians represented the values and teachings of Jesus. Few of those of other faiths or no faith believed that.

The vast majority of those surveyed, however (84 per cent), said that they believed Jesus to be an important spiritual figure. Among those who described themselves as non-religious, this was 50 per cent.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, described the findings as a “wake-up call” for the Church.

“We are encouraged that the research shows Americans still find Jesus compelling, but we also see that the behavior of many of his followers is a problem, and it’s not just certain Christians: it’s all Christians,” he said in a press release.

“This is a wake-up call for us, and based on what we have learned, we are refocusing our efforts on being a church that looks and acts like Jesus and models its behaviour on his teachings. In this process, we hope to ignite a revival of love that encourages all Americans to do a better job of loving their neighbours.”

Bishop Curry said that the survey was “an attempt on our church’s part to actually listen to what others were saying about Jesus, about us. We dared to ask, ‘How are we perceived?’”

Of the Christians polled, 95 per cent of Evangelicals were most likely to say that Jesus was an important figure in their life. This was compared with 83 per cent of Episcopalians.

Thirty-eight per cent of those surveyed said that religion made the country stronger, but half of those who described themselves as non-religious said that religion “divides the country”.

Just one in ten said they associated the storming of the Capitol building last year (News, 15 January 2021) with “organised religion”, but 63 per cent of those who did associated it with most with “Evangelical or Protestant Christian” denominations, such as Baptists, Methodists, and Episcopalians.

The survey also asked participants about the effect of Covid on their spiritual lives, and found that the pandemic had led to decreased participation in services or other religious activities, in line with similar findings in the UK.

Before the pandemic, 47 per cent of Christians surveyed said they went to a service at least once a month, but the proportion who now attended regularly was 37 per cent.

Almost half of those surveyed said they now found being outside in nature to be the most spiritually fulfilling activity, followed by prayer and giving to charity.

Bishop Curry called on Christians to use Lent to reflect on the challenge to model Jesus. “Lent is a time of intentional reflection and action, and we are especially mindful of our resolve to continue building meaningful and inclusive communities in our post-pandemic world that encourage all Americans to listen without judgment and celebrate differences,” he said.



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