Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pew Survey and COB Survey

Much has been said about the Pew Forum survey on religion in America. James McGrath provides numerous links here. He also comments on the good news that the majority of religious adherents in the country, including evangelicals, believe there is more than one way to get to heaven. It appears that our increasing religious diversity is making us more comfortable with a diversity of religious beliefs. Hallelujah.

But I am reading the Pew survey side by side with a newly published survey of beliefs in my denomination, Portrait of a People: The Church of the Brethren at 300. It appears that this growing spirit of tolerance is not touching the COB. In the Brethren survey the question is: Which best expresses your view of the uniqueness of Jesus? 64% agreed with "Jesus is the only way to God and those without faith in Jesus will not be saved." 22% said that "Jesus is the clearest revelation of God, but God may save people who don't know Jesus." 11% checked "Jesus is one of many ways to God." 2% admitted that they believed "Jesus was a great teacher and prophet, but not more than that."

According to the survey, the COB has become more conservative in the last 25 years. In the new survey conservatives outnumber liberals by 4 to 1.

What really surprised me, though, was the geographical distribution of our denomination. 51% of the members live in just two states: Pennsylvania and Virginia. Maryland and West Virginia account for 12%. So nearly 2/3 of the denomination lives in these 4 states.

I wondered if this might account for the disparity between the Pew and COB results. But if you take a look at the state-by-state breakdown in the Pew study these states pretty much mirror the results found in the rest of the country. COB members are just less willing to entertain the idea that there is more than one way to salvation.

It is disappointing but not surprising.

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