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Study: Black Catholics less religious than their Protestant counterparts

Survey was Pew’s first large-scale, nationally reprsentative study of Black Americans’ religious lives

WASHINGTON — A new study released Feb. 16 by the Pew Research Center on Black religiosity in the United States shows that Black Catholics are less religiously oriented than their Protestant counterparts.

However the study found that Black Americans are more religious than the American public as a whole.

Higher percentages of Blacks believe in God or a higher power, say evil spirits can do harm, hold that religion is very important to them, say that opposing racism is essential to their faith, and believe that Black Muslim organizations have contributed to help Blacks move toward racial equality.

“What’s interesting here is Black Catholics, compared to Black Protestants, by a whole host of measures, they’re less religious,” said Besheer Mohamed, a Pew senior researcher who helped guide the study from start to finish over nearly three years. “They’re less likely to say religion is important to them, less likely to attend religious services, for a whole host of (reasons) — with a couple of exceptions — Black Catholics look less religious than Black Protestants.”

Only 27% of Black Catholics said they go to church weekly or more often — less than half of Black Protestants who say they go to a Black church — while another 27% also said they go just a go a few times a year. Thirteen percent said they go one or twice a month, and 32% said they go seldom or never.

Among Blacks who identify with a religion, “Protestants (73%) are more likely than Catholics (49%) to say religion is very important to them,” said the study, titled “Faith Among Black Americans.”

About half again as many U.S. Blacks in general read Scripture regularly compared to Black Catholics, although the numbers narrow significantly when compared to churchgoing Black Catholics, defined as those going to church at least a few times a year. Pew said 26% of Black Catholics said they read Scripture at least weekly, while 18% said they do so a few times a month, with the remainder doing Scripture reading seldom or never.

Fifty-four percent of Black adults who were raised Catholic still identify as such today; the remainder are mostly Protestant, 24%, or religiously unaffiliated, 19%. By contrast, 81% of Black Protestants still identify as such; only 1% of them now identify as Catholic.

The Pew survey showed that 6% of U.S. Blacks identify as Catholic. However, determining precisely where that fits among all denominations proved frustrating for Pew, with many respondents giving unspecific denominations such as “Baptist” or “Protestant/Christian.”

Most of the survey was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the United States last March, forcing many religious services into an online-only mode.

Pew interviewed 8,660 Black adults, most online, but some were mailed surveys. The margin of error, according to Mohamed, for the entire survey cohort is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points; for Black Catholics, six percentage points; and for churchgoing Black Catholics, 7 percentage points.

Read the report at www.pewforum.org/2021/02/16/faith-among-black-americans/

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