Americans choose binge-watching TV over the Bible

  |  Source: Religion News Service

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WASHINGTON (RNS)—When it comes to coping with the stress and uncertainty of a pandemic, most Americans are turning to TV more than to God.

That’s just one of the findings of a Pew Research Center survey released Aug. 7 on how the novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted the worship habits of Americans. Pew surveyed 10,211 American adults online between July 13 and 19.

Here’s what the nonpartisan fact tank found:

  • TV is our best friend.

To help them cope with the pandemic, most Americans said they are staying home to watch streaming videos: 89 percent reported they are watching TV or movies daily or weekly. This includes 90 percent of all Christians, 87 percent of Jews and 88 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, according to Pew.

Many Americans (84 percent) also are spending time outdoors or talking by phone or video with family and friends (70 percent), the survey said.

  • Fewer are turning to their faith for support.

More than half (55 percent) reported praying at least weekly, followed by reading Scripture (29 percent), meditating (26 percent) and practicing yoga (8 percent, despite the popularity of YouTube’s “Yoga with Adriene” in quarantine).

Those most likely to seek comfort in spirituality at least once a week—prayer, Scripture reading and meditation—are members of historically Black Protestant churches, followed by evangelical Protestants.

  • Churches shouldn’t get exceptions.

Months into the pandemic, some houses of worship are reopening. Americans overwhelmingly (79 percent) think they should be following the same social distancing rules other businesses and organizations in their areas are, according to Pew.

That includes about three-quarters (74 percent) of all Christians.

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And among those who attend services online or in person at least monthly, most think their houses of worship should be open with precautions (57 percent) to keep from spreading COVID-19, including requiring social distancing (51 percent) and masks (44 percent), restricting attendance (41 percent) and limiting communal singing (29 percent). Those numbers closely mirror what attenders say their houses of worship actually are doing.

Evangelical Protestants (82 percent) and Catholics (70 percent) were most likely to say their churches were open, with or without precautions, the survey said.

Still, among those who regularly attend services, most reported they have watched services online or on TV (72 percent) instead of gathering in person (33 percent) in the past month.

  • Many are helping neighbors directly.

The pandemic has brought out the best in some Americans.

About four in 10 adults (39 percent) reported they have helped a friend or neighbor by delivering groceries, running errands or helping with childcare, according to Pew. About three in 10 (29 percent) said they had volunteered or made a donation through a nonreligious organization and 18 percent, through a religious organization.

Broken out by religious affiliation, Black Protestants (48 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (43 percent) were most likely to support someone directly. Jews (45 percent) and agnostics (41 percent) were most likely to support a nonreligious organization, and evangelical (32 percent) and Black (31 percent) Protestants were most likely to support a religious organization, according to survey data.

  • Clergy are speaking out on the pandemic and protests.

Between a pandemic, protests against systemic racism and police brutality and a looming presidential election, Americans have had plenty to talk about in the last month.

Most (76 percent) who have attended or watched a religious service in that time reported they have heard sermons about the importance of taking steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to Pew.

More have heard sermons expressing support (41 percent) for Black Lives Matter protests than opposition (25 percent) to the protests.

And while 40 percent have heard messages about the importance of voting, protesting and other forms of political engagement, few have heard President Donald Trump or his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, called out by name.

Just 9 percent heard sermons supporting Trump and 7 percent opposing him, while 6 percent heard sermons supporting Biden and 4 percent opposing him.

  • Overall giving is down.

More than half (54 percent) of Americans who regularly attend services say they are giving the same amount of money to their houses of worship.

About one in five (18 percent) are giving less, though, and just 8 percent said they are giving more, according to Pew data.

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