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Even nonbelievers adhere to a few Bible-based values, research finds

PHILADELPHIA (BP) – Biblical values, especially those regarding pro-social behavior, influence the lifestyles of nonbelievers, researchers said in the latest release from the 2023 State of the Bible from the American Bible Society (ABS).

Nonbelievers scored higher than non-practicing Christians in most Bible-based behaviors studied, researchers found.

“Our research shows that even those Americans who are most hostile toward the Bible value biblical behaviors like loving your neighbor, caring for creation, and welcoming the stranger,” John Farquhar Plake, ABS’s chief ministry insights officer, said Sept. 14 in a press release.

Plake promotes the findings as helpful for churches engaging in community outreach.

“This shared passion for neighborly behavior is a new avenue for ministry leaders to start conversations about the values Americans share,” he said, “and their ultimate source in Jesus and his Word.”

In the Sixth chapter of the report released Sept. 14, the ABS explored the conjunction of Scripture, Christianity and behavior in such practices as welcoming immigrants, befriending people of other races and other religions, and advocating for the oppressed. The study considered behavior such as living a healthy lifestyle, caring for one’s mental health and practicing wise money management. How important is it to engage in the community, being aware of civic and government issues, personally participating in civic and government issues, and submitting to government leaders?

In addition, researchers specifically asked whether participants considered it important to be a good neighbor, to care for those in prison and to care for the environment.

“We know that when people engage with the Bible’s message, it transforms their hearts,” Plake said. “And, by looking more closely at pro-social behaviors that are directly inspired by the Bible’s teachings, we can see how Scripture influences the way we live our lives.”

Among the top findings regarding nonbelievers or non-Christians:

  • 51 percent advocate for the oppressed, compared to 46 percent of practicing Christians and 25 percent of non-practicing Christians.
  • 50 percent befriend other races, compared to 54 percent of practicing Christians and 31 percent of non-practicing Christians.
  • 46 percent welcome immigrants, compared to 40 percent of practicing Christians and 22 percent of non-practicing Christians.
  • 43 percent befriend people of other religions, compared to 45 percent of practicing Christians and 30 percent of non-practicing Christians.

Researchers looked at Scripture including the story of God’s creation in Genesis 1, the command to care for those in prison in Hebrews 13:3, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, and commandments to love your neighbor in Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39.

Researchers found:

  • 66 percent of nonbelievers think it’s important to care for the environment, compared to 54 percent of practicing Christians and 44 percent of non-practicing Christians.
  • In a category that all respondents scored high, 75 percent of practicing Christians think it’s important to be a good neighbor, compared to 63 percent of nonbelievers and 54 percent of non-practicing Christians.
  • And in a less favorable category, 36 percent of practicing Christians think it’s important to care for those in prison, 25 percent of non-Christians think so, and 13 percent of non-practicing Christians hold the belief.

The State of the Bible annually looks at the Bible, faith and the church in America. The ABS collaborated with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in designing the study conducted online and via telephone to NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel. The 18-minute survey, conducted Jan. 5-30, produced 2,761 responses from a representative sample of adults 18 and older within the 50 states and D.C.

The first six chapters of the study are available here.