Pew Survey Shows Adventist ‘Family’
Views Are Similar to U.S. Evangelicals’
Distinctive beliefs don’t always carry into politics, study finds
BY BONNIE MCLEAN, Adventist Review Intern and Mark A. Kellner, News Editor
ong considered a unique Christian movement because of doctrinal distinctives such as the Bible Sabbath, the state of the dead and the role of co-founder Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventists in the United States often hold similar political – and religious views – to those of evangelical Protestants and others, a new national survey revealed.
The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life released in late June 2008 a U.S. Religious Landscape Survey detailing the views of various religious denominations on religious, political, and current issues in their families and in the faith itself. While the Seventh-day Adventist Church does distinguish itself in key areas, it closely aligns with its Protestant cousins in several others, according to the survey data.
According to a news release, the new survey “examines the diversity of Americans' religious beliefs and practices as well as their social and political attitudes. It follows the first report of the Landscape Survey, which was published in February 2008 and detailed the size, internal changes and demographic characteristics of major religions in the United States. (See Adventist Review, February 28, 2008.)
“The fact that most Americans are not exclusive or dogmatic about their religion is a fascinating finding,” Luis Lugo, Pew Forum director, said in a statement released by the group. “Most people will be surprised that a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including a majority of evangelical Protestants, say that there isn't just one way to salvation or to interpret the teachings of their own faith.”
NON DOGMATIC: "The fact that most Americans are not exclusive or dogmatic about their religion is a fascinating finding," Luis Lugo, Pew Forum director, said. [Photo: Pew Forum]
As with the first study, the new survey is “based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with a nationally representative sample of more than 35,000 adults,” the organization said.
Of the adult population in the United States, 26.3 percent claim to be part of an evangelical Protestant Church. Of that percentage, 0.5 percent consider themselves Adventists, with 0.4 percent identifying more specifically as Seventh-day Adventists and less than 0.3 percent aligning with other Adventist groups in the evangelical tradition.
The survey presented answers from two categories: the Protestant “family” and Protestant denominations. The Pew survey listed specific churches and zeroed in on the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When identifying “families,” however, the concept of Adventist was expanded to include other self-identified Adventist groups: Advent Christians; Sacred Name Churches; the Worldwide Church of God; Church of God Abrahamic Faith; and Church of God 7th Day. Of the five groups, at least four can trace their origins to offshoots of the 19th Century Millerite movement whose principal survivor was the Seventh-day Adventist Church. (While once observant of the Bible Sabbath, the Worldwide Church of God has since repudiated that position; the Pew Forum, however, included the group in the “Adventist family.”)
In some areas, the Adventist faith set itself apart from other religions. One question, “Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?” asked believers to mark their level of certainty, from absolutely certain, fairly certain, unsure, or flat-out unbelief. The survey found that 93 percent of Adventist families responded they were “absolutely certain,” the highest percentage of Protestants surveyed, along with Nondenominational Evangelical Christians. Some 94 percent of Seventh-day Adventist church members surveyed proclaimed absolute certainty, behind only the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and Nondenominational Churches (both Evangelical and Fundamentalist).
The Adventist family also stood out as far as religion’s significance was concerned—87 percent marked the importance of religion in their life as very important, the highest percentage of families surveyed, with 86 percent of Seventh-day Adventist Church members agreeing. Adventist families also prayed extensively; 88 percent claimed to pray at least once a day or more, the highest among the families surveyed. The Adventist family affirmed that their prayers had been answered, with 49 percent claiming to receive an answer to prayer at least once a week, leaving an 8 percent margin of difference with other faiths. The Seventh-day Adventist Church itself claimed the highest number of answered prayers each week (48 percent, leaving a 7 percent margin of difference).
Yet, even with these remarkable numbers, Seventh-day Adventists responded similarly to people of other congregations. When asked if they believed their religion was the one, true faith leading to eternal life or if many religions can lead to eternal life, only one group affirmed the first position: the Nondenominational Charismatic, Evangelical, and Fundamentalist Christians. Only 28 percent of Seventh-day Adventist Church members agreed that their religion was the one way to eternal life, while 61 percent believe that many religions can lead to eternal life, echoing the sentiments of all other Protestant churches reported in the Pew survey. (Media reports about the Pew results indicated that among those Christians believing "many religions" are ways to eternal life, the belief may have been that other Christian denominations are valid.)
Church attendance by Seventh-day Adventists varied widely, with 24 percent attending more than once a week, 39 percent attending once a week, 11 percent visiting once or twice a month, 13 percent visiting a few times a year, 6 percent visiting seldom, and 6 percent declaring they never went to church. While more than the total population average, these numbers did not outrank any of the other churches.
In other areas, such as political party affiliation and ideological identity, Seventh-day Adventists correlated with other evangelical religions in that more members identified themselves as Democrats (33 percent over 24 percent who said they were Republicans; similar to the 34 percent of Episcopalians who claimed Democratic roots over the 32 percent Republicans), and more members consider themselves politically conservative—40 percent identified themselves as such, close to the 37 percent of the total population and 44 percent of Protestants in the United States. Of the Seventh-day Adventists surveyed, 52 percent wanted a bigger government that provided more services to its people, much like the American Baptist Churches in the USA, with 57 percent. Surveyed members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church also wanted the government to become more involved in protecting morality, with 48 percent surpassing the 39 percent who believed the government was becoming too involved.
Adventists varied on lifestyle issues, as well. Seventh-day Adventists in the survey were split on the issue of abortion, with 26 percent arguing that it was legal in most cases and 29 percent believing it illegal in most cases; the Protestant faith also disagreed, with 31 percent believing it legal in most cases and 30 percent declaring it illegal in most cases. On homosexuality, 67 percent of Seventh-day Adventists surveyed believed it should not be accepted, as opposed to only 23 percent who said that it should be accepted. And, survey results showed 57 percent of Seventh-day Adventists believed stricter environmental laws and regulations would be worth the cost of possible economic setbacks or jobs, overshadowing the 31 percent concerned that laws would hurt the economy or cost too many jobs.
In world affairs, 55 percent of the United States total population believed the country should pay less attention to overseas problems, while 36 percent thought the United States’ future would best be served by becoming active in world affairs. The Protestant faith in general produced the exact same percentages. The Seventh-day Adventists in the survey responded similarly, with only 33 percent wanting more activity in foreign affairs and 57 percent desiring less involvement with world affairs.
According to its Web site, the Pew Forum, which began in 2001, “seeks to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs.” The Forum says it is “a project of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan ‘fact tank’ that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world,” according to the Web site statement.