Skip to site content

American Baptist Officials Say Pew Survey Paints False Picture of Denomination’s Ethnic Diversity

Leaders of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. said a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey plotting America’s religious landscape used flawed methodology in reporting the denomination as 81 percent white.

EthicsDaily.com reported in February on The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, focusing largely on diversity in the Baptist family in the United States. Based on interviews, the study estimated the Southern Baptist Convention to be 85 percent white and 8 percent black and the ABC/USA 81 percent white, 4 percent black, 2 percent Asian, 7 percent Latino and 6 percent other or mixed.

That’s a different picture from numbers reported by churches to ABC/USA’s headquarters in Valley Forge, Pa., according to a release by American Baptist News Service.

Asked to describe themselves from a list of demographic characteristics including Euro-American, African-American, Hispanic, multi-racial and others, 62 percent of American Baptist congregations self-report as predominantly white, compared to 21 percent African-American.

When total membership of those churches is broken down by race, however, the statistics fall out 46 percent African-American, 45 percent Euro-American, 3 percent Hispanic, 3 percent multi-racial and less than 1 percent each for Asian-Pacific, Haitian, American Native and other.

That is where American Baptists base their claim of being America’s only mainline Protestant denomination without an ethnic majority.

Roy Medley, general secretary of the ABC/USA, said the 81 percent white majority reported in the Pew study was “fundamentally flawed in its methodology.”

Jeff Woods, associate general secretary for regional ministries, said while 81 percent of American Baptists interviewed for the Pew study may indeed have been white, there were only 406 of them, out of a total sample from all religions of 35,000 Americans. Woods said there was apparently no method in place to verify that the responses from those 406 American Baptists were indicative of the denomination’s across-the-board racial makeup.

“That is unfortunate in that it paints a very different picture from our reality,” Woods said. Woods surmised the data might have been skewed because in the denomination’s own survey work leaders have discovered that not all ethnic groups respond equally to inquiries and surveys.

While still routinely described in media as predominantly white, leaders said the ABC/USA in reality “is not predominantly anything.” Medley said the “intentional strand of diversity” in the ABC/USA, used to be the “best kept secret” in American Baptist life, but it was never intended to be a secret.

“We rejoice in our blessed diversity and uniqueness among denominations, while we keep looking for opportunities to share it with our brothers and sisters in Christ across the country and around the world,” Medley said. “We believe that the richness of an ethnically diverse membership is a gift from God and we are truly blessed to experience it.”

American Baptist News Service said calls and e-mails to the Pew Forum to discuss how to correct figures that American Baptist leaders called misleading were not returned.

Bob Allen is an editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Previous story:

Study Says Baptists Losing Ground in America’s Religious Landscape