Race relations better, but still a long way to go, most Americans say

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Americans view racial diversity positively, and they believe relations in the United States are better than they used to be, but there’s still a long way to go, according to two new surveys from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

Researchers asked 1,000 American lay people and 1,000 Protestant pastors about their views on race relations. They found many Americans have mixed feelings about the state of racial diversity in the United States.

race sofar425Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, believes Americans still are adapting to the nation’s demographic shifts. In 1960, 89 percent of Americans were white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, America is much more diverse. Fewer than two-thirds of Americans—and just over half of schoolchildren—are Non-Hispanic whites. By 2050, no one group will be a majority.

That’s a big change, McConnell said, and Americans still are trying to sort through what it means. The fallout from the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York increased tension about racial relations.

“Recent high-profile cases highlight the lack of understanding, respect and trust that remain between races,” McConnell said.

Research showed eight in 10 Americans (82 percent) say racial diversity is good for the country. One in seven (14 percent) disagree.

race fartogo425Three-quarters of Americans (74 percent) agree with the statement, “We have come so far on racial relations.” About a quarter disagree (23 percent). Agreement cut across ethnic and racial lines. Three-fourths of whites (74 percent), African-Americans (74 percent) and Hispanic-Americans (73 percent) all agree.

However, some take issue with that statement. One in six (17 percent) African-Americans strongly disagree, compared to 11 percent of whites and 5 percent of Hispanics. 

Few are satisfied with the state of race relations. Eight in 10 (81 percent) agree with the statement, “We’ve got so far to go on racial relations.” One in six (16 percent) disagree.

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Fifty-seven percent of African-Americans strongly agree. That drops to 39 percent of whites and 42 percent of Hispanics.

“On the surface, most Americans agree that racial reconciliation matters,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But we’re divided about how important this issue is. For many white Americans, progress on issues of race is a good thing but not urgent. For many African-Americans, it’s front and center.”

race mandated425Younger Americans—age 18 to 24—are the most optimistic about race relations. Almost nine in 10 (88 percent) see diversity as good for the country. And an overwhelming majority (84 percent) agree with the statement, “We’ve come so far on racial relations.”

Older Americans are a bit more skeptical. About three-quarters (76 percent) of those over age 65 say diversity is good for the country. Seven out of 10 (71 percent) of those 45 to 54 say the nation has come far on racial relations.

Whites (85 percent) are more likely to agree diversity is good for the country than African-Americans (75 percent) or Hispanic-Americans (74 percent). Christians (80 percent) are somewhat less likely than the Nones (89 percent) to see diversity as a good thing.

Few see Obama as a factor

LifeWay Research found few Americans believe race relations have improved since the election of President Barack Obama. About half (49 percent) say race relations have stayed the same. Three in 10 (29 percent) believe relations are more strained. About one of seven (15 percent) say things have improved.

About a quarter of African-Americans (23 percent) say relations have improved since Obama’s election. That drops to one in seven (14 percent) for whites.

Christian pastors and other religious leaders took a leading role during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, and many Americans believe those leaders still fill an important role today.

“Christian leaders have the opportunity to influence millions of Americans to value each and every person, no matter their race,” McConnell said.

race diversitygood425Two-thirds (65 percent) of U.S. adults say religious leaders play a positive role in race relations in the United States. About three in 10 (30 percent) disagree, while 5 percent are not sure.

Evangelicals (74 percent) and Christians (71 percent) are most likely to say religious leaders have a positive role in race relations. Those of other faiths (56 percent) and the Nones (46 percent) are more skeptical.

Hispanic-Americans (57 percent) are less likely to agree than whites (67 percent) or African-Americans (72 percent).

For their part, Protestant senior pastors see a close connection between diversity and the central message of Christianity.

Nine of out 10 pastors  (90 percent) agree with the statement: “Racial reconciliation is mandated by the gospel.” Only 6 percent disagree.

Most evangelical (90 percent) and mainline (93 percent) pastors agree. Pastors of smaller churches (83 percent) and those from larger congregations (95 percent) also agree. About three out of four (76 percent) African-American pastors and nine in 10 (91 percent) white pastors say the gospel mandates racial reconciliation.

Many pastors have hands-on experience working on diversity. About three out of four (72 percent) say their church is “personally involved at the local level in addressing racial reconciliation.” A quarter disagree (23 percent). Four percent are not sure.

Pastors of larger congregations—those with more than 250 worshippers—are more likely to agree (79 percent) than pastors whose churches have fewer than 50 in attendance (66 percent).

African-American pastors (93 percent) are more likely to agree their church is involved in racial reconciliation than white pastors (71 percent).

Few pastors have diverse flocks

Previous LifeWay Research studies found most pastors say their congregations should reflect the racial makeup of their community. But few have diverse flocks. 

More than eight in 10 (86 percent) say their congregation is made up of one predominant racial or ethnic group, according to a LifeWay Research study released in January 2014. The latest wave of the National Congregations Study found similar results.

“If pastors want to lead a movement of racial reconciliation, they need to make sure their members are following,” McConnell said. “If church members are not inviting and welcoming people of other ethnic groups, their reconciliation efforts are not taking root.”

Researchers conducted the phone survey of Americans Sept. 19-28 using Random Digit Dialing. Sixty percent of completes were among landlines and 40 percent among cell phones. Researchers used maximum quotas and slight weights for gender, region, age, ethnicity and education to reflect the population more accurately. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

Those labeled evangelicals consider themselves “a born again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christian.” Those labeled Christian include those whose religious preference is Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or nondenominational Christian. Nones are those whose religious preference is atheist, agnostic or no preference.

Survey methodology

Researchers conducted the phone survey of Protestant pastors Sept. 11-18. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Researchers weighted responses by region to reflect the population more accurately. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

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