Segregated Surveys: How Politics Keeps Evangelicals White
Image: Courtesy of the Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God, one of America’s largest and fastest-growing denominations, celebrated its 100th birthday this year. Almost all of its growth has come from ethnic minorities, who compose more than 41 percent of its 3.1 million American adherents.

But on many national survey reports of religious Americans, those nearly 1.3 million evangelicals are invisible because they are not white.

Major survey organizations such as Pew Research Center, Gallup, and Public Religion Research Institute often split non-Catholic Christians into the historical categories of black Protestants, mainline Protestants, and white evangelicals.

“It’s not uninteresting or incorrect to look at evangelicals as a whole,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s director of U.S. religion surveys. After all, he notes, two-thirds of “black Protestants” identify as evangelicals. “It’s a pragmatic decision. If you don’t separate out black and white evangelicals, you will miss the link between race, religion, and politics. On many important social and political issues, these are just very different groups.”

The “black Protestants” category actually includes Christians of any ethnicity who attend historically black denominations. Such churches traditionally had radically different social missions than those in majority-white groups, and congregants typically engaged politics differently than their evangelical and mainline counterparts. Pew reported that in the 2012 presidential election, 95 percent of black Protestants voted for Obama, compared with 20 percent of white evangelicals.

When classifying religious groups, surveys focus on adherence to a set of beliefs, a set of behaviors, ...

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Segregated Surveys: How Politics Keeps Evangelicals White
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November 2014

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