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Blacks say Black churches have played role in struggle for racial equality, Pew finds

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WASHINGTON (BP) – Black Americans broadly believe Black churches have played at least some role in the struggle for racial equality in the U.S., but fewer look to the church for racial affirmation or pride, according to a large new study by Pew Research on the Black church in America.

About 75 percent of Black adults said the Black church has played at least “some” role in achieving racial equality for African Americans, with 30 percent quantifying the work as “a great deal.” But more than 70 percent ranked spiritual comfort and a sense of community above a focus on racial affirmation and pride, with only 43 percent saying the latter is more important.

In conjunction with its study of nearly 8,700 Black adults, Pew presented the same questions to nearly 4,600 American adults who do not identify as Black or African American. In doing so, Pew found that Black Americans are more likely than Americans in general to view “opposition to racism as essential to what it means to be a religiously faithful or moral person.”

Blacks are also more apt to credit Black Muslim groups such as the Nation of Islam with contributing to the success of moving Blacks towards equality in the U.S.

While two-thirds of Black Protestants say they attend churches where most members and senior clergy are Black, 61 percent of Black Americans say Black churches should become more racially diverse. Also, 63 percent of Blacks said if they were looking for a new church to attend, it would be either “not too important” or “not at all important” for the new church to be predominantly Black. Rather, they would search for a church that is welcoming and has inspirational sermons.

Blacks attend predominantly Black congregations for a variety of reasons, including to hear sermons that focus on certain topics including race relations and criminal justice, and the acceptance of an expressive worship atmosphere that allows saying amen, shouting, jumping and dancing. More than half of Black Protestants worship in churches that include practices associated with Pentecostalism, including speaking or praying in tongues.

The religion and spirituality study focused on topics including prayer, healing, worship style, the Holy Spirit, gender roles in the church and home, evil, sexism, political partisanship and generational differences.

Among other key findings:

  • Nearly 90 percent of Black Americans say the criminal justice system either needs major changes or needs to be completely rebuilt.
  • While 84 percent of Black Americans are Democrats, Black Protestants who attend churches that are majority white or another race are more likely to identify as Republican or GOP-leaning. Yet 74 percent of those who attend churches that aren’t majority Black still identify as Democrats.
  • Most Black Americans (78 percent) believe prayer can heal physical illness and injury, and 73 percent believe that evil spirits can cause problems in people’s lives.
  • Younger Black adults are less likely to attend majority Black congregations than older Black adults, with 53 percent of Generation Z and millennials attending such churches, compared to 66 percent of baby boomers and the silent generation.

Pew conducted its study before the COVID-19 pandemic and social outrage following the killing of George Floyd, but followed up with interviews with a panel of clergy in July 2020. The study was drawn from those 18 and older who identify as Black or African American, including those who say they are also partly Hispanic, white, Asian or another race. Results of the study conducted Nov. 19, 2019, to June 3, 2020, are available here.