State of Religious Intolerance in America

This week, Lifeway Research released results from a survey conducted in September 2015 titled “American Views on Tolerance and Religious Liberty in America”.

The survey finds that:

  • the number of Americans who believe that persecution is rising has increased in the past two years (50% in 2013 vs. 68% in 2015)
  • Americans believe Christians complain too much about how they are treated (34% in 2013 vs. 43% in 2015)
  • 60% of Americans believe that religious liberty is on the decline in America (vs. 54% in 2013


I have a problem with this survey, and it has nothing to do with whether or not I believe that American Christians are being persecuted more.

It has to do with the methodology of the survey.

I wasn’t sure if the survey size was enough to scientifically state what Americans believe about persecution. So, I checked the Sample Size Calculator to see if 1,000 completed surveys were enough.

For population, I placed the rough number of American Christians: 216,121,876.

I based this figure upon the fact that  Pew Research states that “roughly seven-in-ten” American adults identify with some form of Christianity. (70% of the estimated at time pop. of America= 323,305,192

The sample size I came up with was 741, so a thousand is great!

But here’s where I have two problems with the survey results.

The first, is that there are too many variables.

Slides 10- 16 list all of the variables to the survey that make me question the validity of the results. According to the survey, there are so many different factors that skew the data that makes me wonder if this survey tells us what we need to know about how we feel about persecution in America.

These variables show that we all believe something different, and I’m not sure that this one survey agrees with the data. Especially, if you start accounting for all of those variables in just a thousand responses.

Each of those last slides list all the ways that the information can be interpreted if one or more of those factors were true. I wanted to see where I would be placed in the survey.  By the time that I was done, I probably wouldn’t find myself, or someone like me represented in this survey at all.

And there lies the second problem.

In my experience, American Christians are completely divided on this issue and I highly doubt that 68% of us believe that persecution is rising or 60% of us believe that religious liberty is declining.  And I would estimate that the number of people who think Christians complain about persecution would be higher than 43%.

It’s been my experience that even among Christian circles, persecution is not something that most people want to talk about.

It’s been my experience that if that many American Christians thought that persecution was rising in America and that there were less religious liberties afforded to Christians, then there would be more support for mission organizations that help the persecuted and more advocacy on religious liberties.

It’s been my experience that most pastors don’t regularly teach us about persecution, tell stories on a regular basis about the persecuted, or encourage us all to pray daily for our fellow Christians who are persecuted.

Rather, I see more eye-rolling and less interest when persecution is brought up. I see more “Evangelicals” agreeing with politicians who want to ignore what is happening to religious minorities throughout the world or worse.

I know it’s not scientific, but it’s what I believe.

I know that it sounds hypocritical.  How can I say that I want a more scientific survey and then turn around and say that I believe something based solely on my own unscientific observations?  From studying, talking about persecution and reading about the persecuted, that’s how.

But don’t rely on my thoughts about the survey.  Try it for yourself.

  • Make a social media post about Christian persecution, and see what happens.
  • Talk about Christian persecution more in your churches, and see what happens.
  • Sign a petition on behalf of the persecuted, and encourage your friends, family, church family, co-workers to sign it, and see what happens.
  • Sign up for a newsletter from a mission organization that helps the persecuted and share one story from the newsletter each month, and see what happens.

My wish is that the figures you come up with would match those of the survey where more than half of our circles are concerned about persecution.  For when we are truly concerned about something, action is sure to follow.







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