Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) issued its 2020 survey of American values earlier this week. There’s a lot to chew on, but three questions especially leap out at readers who have an interest in church-state issues.
PRRI asked respondents about their views on religious diversity. People taking part in the survey were asked to put themselves on a 10-point scale. At one end was the statement, “I would prefer the U.S. to be made up of people belonging to a wide variety of religions” and at the other end was the statement, “I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation primarily made up of people who follow the Christian faith.”
Most Americans backed pluralism, but the numbers are not as high as you might think. PRRI reports that 38% mostly agree with the statement backing diversity, while 25%would prefer that the nation be mostly Christian. The rest, 36%, fall somewhere in the middle.
PRRI also asked respondents if they believe the United States is a Christian nation. This is an interesting question because that term can be defined in different ways. Some people really do believe (incorrectly) that our Constitution singles out Christianity for special preference. Others just believe the nation is culturally Christian.
PRRI found that 36% say the country is a Christian nation. An additional 40% say America was once Christian but no longer is. Only 22% agree with the statement that the United States has never been a Christian nation. (The good news is that belief in America as a Christian nation is declining; in 2016, it stood at 41%.)
Finally, PRRI asked people if they believe God has granted America a special role in human history. This can be a dangerous belief because if one accepts that we are God’s favorite nation with a divine destiny, it becomes difficult to face up to our wrong-doings.
Nevertheless, 40% of Americans believe that God has granted our nation a special role in history, while 58% disagree. PRRI reports that this is the first time since it asked this question in 2011 that a majority has rejected the idea of a God-ordained special role for America. And the number of people who strongly disagree with that notion has doubled.
Polls like this are interesting, but public opinion can’t hold back the tide of change that is washing over the country. The nation is becoming more diverse, with growing numbers of Americans declaring that they have no formal religion. Nor can a belief, no matter how strongly held, rewrite our nation’s history.
The United States was never intended to be an officially Christian nation; rather, it was designed as a haven for people of all faiths and none. That is our proud heritage, and we should not hesitate to embrace it.