Growing, Diverse, Christian: New Demographic Profile of Adventists in the United States
From News Release, November 12: Because of interest in the religion of Dr. Ben Carson, a candidate for President of the United States, the Pew Research Center has released a new demographic profile of Adventists in America based on its surveys of the general public. It reveals an Adventist faith community that is both growing and diverse.
In its 2007 survey, Pew found that four-tenths of one percent of American adults indicated that they were an Adventist. By the time of the most recent survey last year, that had increased to one-half of one percent. That is a small number, but a significant rate of growth compared to the overall decline in the number of Christians of all denominations from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.8 percent in 2014.
The denomination is “among the most racially and ethnically diverse American religious groups,” the Pew report stated. It found that 37 percent of American Adventists are white, 32 percent are black, 15 percent are Hispanic, eight percent are Asian and eight percent are of other or mixed ethnicity.
There is also significant diversity in the views of Adventists on public issues. A total of 37 percent identify themselves as “conservative” on public policy, while 31 percent say they are “moderate” and 22 percent say they are “liberal.” In terms of political parties, 45 percent belong to the Democratic Party or lean toward it, while 35 percent belong to the Republican Party or lean toward it and 29 percent are independents.
“Known for its observance of the Sabbath on Saturdays and some other unique beliefs and practices,” Pew stated, “the church has transitioned from being seen as a cult by some Americans to a more mainstream evangelical Christian denomination.” Adventists are “extremely devout by traditional measures of religious observance.” Not a single respondent told interviewers that they did not believe in God and 89 percent expressed no doubt whatsoever. Only 63 percent of American adults took the same view.
Nine out of ten Adventists told Pew that they believe the Bible is the word of God and 48 percent said it should be taken literally. Two-thirds say they look to their faith as their primary source of guidance on questions of right and wrong, which is double the percentage for all American adults.
Two-thirds of the Adventists in the survey said that they usually attend church each week. This is a much higher percentage than most other Christian denominations, but it needs to be seen in the light of other research that shows that this particular question has a “halo effect” of about 20 percentage points. That is, about 20 percentage points out of the respondents do not actually attend that often, but say they do in order to be supportive of a value they believe in. This would get the actual level of attendance at about half which is what is generally reported on a weekly basis in terms of the head count in most Adventist churches in America.
But is wrong to conclude that “only half of Adventists go to church” because this is about “weekly.” Better data from internal studies show that about two-thirds of the members on the books in a typical Adventist church in the U.S. attend church at least once a month.
On variance that surprised the Pew researchers is the Adventist view of hell. Only half (52 percent) of Adventists indicated that they believe in hell, compared to 82 percent of evangelical Christians overall. Of course, this is a confusing question as it is normally asked in surveys because “do you believe in hell” does not address the nuances of what is meant by “hell” in Adventist theology and in Scripture.
“Adventists are divided over abortion,” the Pew report concluded. A total of 42 percent said that abortion should be legal in most cases, while 35 percent think it should be illegal in most cases and 19 percent that it should be illegal in all circumstances. In 2014, 63 percent of Adventists in the United States stated that they opposed allowing same-sex marriage.
It must be kept in mind that these data come from a relatively small sample of Adventists. The respondents were self-identified as Adventists from a very large sample of American adults. It is likely that some of them are not officially on the church membership list.