Pew Research Examines Adventist Beliefs, Adventist Office of Archives & Statistics Responds

First of all, we should get the pun out of the way at the outset: Isn't it wonderful that the organization providing polling data on Religion in America is called Pew?

Not long after Ben Carson's Adventist faith came to the fore in the Republican race for the White House, the Pew Research Center released data on Seventh-day Adventists in an article entitled "A Closer Look at Seventh-day Adventists in America." Pew's findings centered on Adventists' religious and political beliefs.

Three days after Pew released its data, David Trim, director of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, responded in the Adventist Review, pointing out areas of congruence and a few areas where Pew's numbers "raised a red flag," starting with Pew's sample size.

Trim noted that Pew surved 165 Adventists, meaning its margin of error was 9.2%, a number that would give statisticians pause. Adventists account for 0.5% of the adult population in the United States, up from 0.4% in 2007. This growth bucks the downward trend of Christianity as a percentage of adult population in America; Christianity as a "share of the population has dropped by nearly 8 percentage points (from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent) over that same period," Pew said.

The Adventist Church conducted a survey of 1,495 members in 2013 with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. That survey allowed Trim to compare numbers from the member survey with Pew's numbers. One clear discrepancy was in Church attendance. In the Pew polling data, weekly church attendance came out at 67%, but in the church's member survey 76% attended regularly. However, Pew's sample had a much higher rate of daily prayer 86% to the church's member survey's 55%.

Graphic from Pew Research Insitute on Adventist faith and practice.

The graphic above, included in the Pew article on Seventh-day Adventists, shows that a significant majority of surveyed Adventists identified as Democrat or leans Democrat (45%), with only 35% identifying as Republican or leans Republican. The remaining 19% identified as Independent or no leaning. Ideologically, slightly more Adventists self-identified as conservative (37%) than moderate (31%) with only 22% identifying as liberal. The Adventist Church's survey did not ask about political affiliation or ideological leanings.

Perhaps the biggest theological oddity from the Pew's data is the statistic that 52% of respondents believe in hell. That number is significantly lower than Evangelicals, 82% of whom believe in hell. The problem is that a core tenet of Adventist teaching, the so-called "State of the Dead," is that those who die remain in the grave at rest until the resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Christ. Adventists reject the notion of a literal hell, at least on paper. So either those who responded to Pew interpreted the question differently than Pew intended it, or Adventist teachings have not taken root among members.

42% of Pew's sample believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 54% believe it should be entirely or mostly illegal. 19% of surveyed Adventists shared Ben Carson’s view that abortion should be illegal in all cases. About six-in-ten Adventists (59%) surveyed said homosexuality should be discouraged by society, and 63% oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. Two thirds of Seventh-day Adventists (67%) reject evolution, saying that humans have always existed in their present form.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7184

42% Favorable to Abortion.
40% Favorable to GLs, etc.
What was the % who were in favor of Women at SA2015?
Are the “Church Fathers” listening to this group?

More Democrats than in the past.
Perhaps this has to do with Social Issues more than anything else.
If Republicans as a whole had some decent plans regarding Social Issues perhaps this would change.
37% are STILL Conservative. Only 22% are Liberal. 31% would go either way, depending on the Issue.
For the 31% it appears to be a Mixed Bag. Perhaps some of these are in the 42%, 40%, and voted at SA.

Yes, there are others who do as well. Seem to work for them, and 31% of Christians in the US that regularly attend church. And me. And the Pope:

3 Likes

it’s interesting that most american adventists are now dem’s…i can remember when it used to be GOP…

1 Like

On a research survey, I might have interpreted the “hell” question to be an acknowledgement of a judgement or a day of reckoning rather than an eternal pit of torture, so I can easily understand the survey showing skewed results for this question. Adventists have a different definition for the word, “hell” - they don’t abandon the use of the word entirely. I would say that, for a survey of Seventh-day Adventists, the question lacked key qualifiers.

This casual phrasing of questions and the small number of SDA’s surveyed should indeed raise red flags.

3 Likes

In honor of the forthcoming film, here’s Princess Leia to help explain.

6 Likes

This has to do with the question and they way it was worded I am sure. Adventists believe in hell, but not the everlasting burning kind of hell full of eternal torment for the damned.

3 Likes

The un-nuanced understanding of the Adventist position on hell would certainly skew the results of the survey. It would be interesting to see where the numbers would be if the question presupposed the Adventist notion of the State of the Dead instead of “hell.” One assumes the number would be higher than 52% assenting.

2 Likes

Since AAs vote overwhelmingly Democrat (90+%) and Hispanics, predominately so (65+%), the fact that they make up very close to half of the US SDA church population means there is going to be a racial/cultural part to those political findings.

I’m guessing that the white population of SDAs has become more Republican lately, but this is countered by the growing minority population in the church in the US. Even if that minority population skews more conservative politically than non-SDA cohorts, I still bet they are highly majority D.

That also might help explain the strange disparity between voting Democrat, but considering oneself a conservative. I would like to see how they asked about ideological spectrum, because those findings are interesting.

4 Likes

Some pretty sad statistics here. 1/3 of Adventists believe in evolution? That has some major implications. That means that at least that many reject the SOP as being divinely inspired. And how can one be an Adventist, or any kind of Christian, for that matter, and not believe in God with certainty? So, in the average church, one out of ten members aren’t sure that God exists? Very strange.

But only 19% refuse to align with the two corrupt political parties that control this country? Do the other 80% not know what the parties stand for? And how can 22% be liberal, but 45 % lean Democratic? Do they not realize that today’s Democratic party=liberal=socialism? At least those leaning Republican and claiming to be conservative are more in sync with their party’s alleged ideology. But they apparently didn’t get the memo that Republicans are opposed to separation of church and state.

I really question the 67% church attendance statistic. Ask just about any church clerk, and they’ll tell you that attendance is about half (or less) of the names on the church books.

1 Like

A Pew report about those who sit in pews. I hope I’m right :smile:

3 Likes

Yes. What Tony said.
Also, Princess Leia’s ray gun goes “pew-pew-pew.”

7 Likes

A sample of 165 and even a bit more than 1000 is not a very good sample size, and could be quite skewed. I would not put much faith in it as showing any trends.

I am holding my nose (Pew!) on the puns, just too too much… but, golly I always thought Princes Leia was so pretty…

1 Like

Depends what “sure” means. I don’t know too many people who have seen God.

2 Likes

You have made what I think is a correct observation. There is another even more interesting set of facts raised by the same 2014 religion in America survey: Adventists have lower education and income than the general population. But those are averages for the entire populations. I’m willing to bet that if binned by racial group, all Adventists groups would have higher educational levels than the same group in the general population. The fact that the SDA racial profile is way different than the general population makes comparing the entire church averages more or less meaningless, and can lead to results that effectively invert the actual facts. Are Adventists more or less educated than the general population, if every (or most) racial groups in the Church are more educated than the same racial group in the general population?

5 Likes

It is not brain surgery or rocket science to get a much larger sample size on surveys.

SurveyMonkey can be used. Surveys can be taken at local churches and the results forwarded to conference offices. What is the hold up to implementing this? Are leaders/pastors afraid to hear the results?

It is so easy to expand the questions to include issues on WO, quality of sermons/church services, why members don’t attend…etc.

This survey is indeed valuable in pointing out the Adventist identity crisis…When Graham Maxwell was asked if he was an Adventist, his reply was “Tell me what an Adventist is and I’ll tell you if I’m one!” If they’d asked such questions as; Do you believe that all other churches have been taken over by Satan?; or are we the last generation?; or have you encountered God in Church in the last year? I suspect the answers would be very different from just a couple of generations of “Adventists” ago.

A couple of years ago, the Washington Conference took a conference-wide (population in the thousands) survey about fundamental beliefs, funny, but they never published the results - apparently, the results were out of harmony with the official orthodoxy.

3 Likes

Immediately, the increased number of non-white Adventists was noted, but no percentages were given for a change, if any, between 2007 and 2014. Certainly, there has been a great change in 50 years. This is an interesting observation. Does it point to the future when whites will be decreasing while non-whites will continue to increase? The larger number of Adventists are in non-Caucasian populations currently. It is not a trend? What does it portend for the future of Adventism?

Ben Carson has pretty much admitted that he wouldn’t be Adventist if what you described is what it means to be one. Neither would many today.

This is what strikes me about traditional Adventist self identity. It is more sectarian than it is Christian. Even our typical greeting, “Happy Sabbath,” speaks volumes. The early church greeted one another with “Maranatha,” the Lord come; other Christian greetings today focus on praising the Lord, but our focus is on a day. It may seem like petty semantics, but I think it reveals much.

I realize this emphasis on peculiar, sectarian distinctives is not exclusive to Adventism, but it has certainly been a salient feature of our public face. And it bothers me. If we are Christian, our primary entry point and public focus should be the person and work of Christ…and the good news of his kingdom.

Thanks…

Frank

8 Likes

Doubt about God in some form is normal for the Christian, if only 10% are experiencing doubt at any moment. This would be a surprise only to those who have never wrestled with their own doubts.

2 Likes