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Young people are not abandoning church. Evangelical beliefs and practices get stronger with more education. Prayer, Bible reading, and evangelism are up. Perceptions about evangelicals have improved dramatically. The data are clear on these matters, says University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright, but evangelicals still want to believe the worst statistics about themselves. Christianity Today's Ted Olsen (who, among other things, compiles the Go Figure statistics in our Briefing section) talked to Wright about Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You've Been Told (Bethany House), which aims to change conventional wisdom.

There's a lot of good news in your book. What's the best news?

Not to be glib, but the good news is that most of the bad news is wrong. It isn't that there's one specific zinger that changes everything. But there's a large body of work that is mostly factually inaccurate.

Why? Are the survey questions bad? Is the math wrong? Is it how the survey subjects are chosen? Is it the analysis? Or is it the way the numbers get used post-publication?

All of the above, but especially the last two. Take the divorce rate. For years, studies have shown that Christians have lower divorce rates than others. But people aren't interested. If you want to motivate people to take their marriages seriously, you look for a negative, scary statistic. Meanwhile, there's so much good news in journals and academic books that isn't getting through to the public.

But are academic sources really better? I see plenty of weird conclusions in the journals.

Academics are under the same pressure as anyone else: You get brownie points for coming up with something new. So sometimes you push the newness so hard that ...

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September 2010

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