“Many of the statistics currently bandied about regarding the Christian faith in the United States are incomplete, inaccurate and otherwise prone to emphasize the negative,“ says sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright in the first chapter of his Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told. “Christians are exposed to many inaccurate statistics about our faith,” asserts Wright. “To understand why that happens we should look at how these statistics are produced and how they spread through the public” p. 18.
Wright proceeds to remedy that situation in the eight chapters that follow. Using what he describes as “the best available data,” he examines how Christians are doing in six areas: church growth; what we believe; our participation in church activities; family and sexual issues; how we treat others; and how others see us.
Chapters two through eight each begin with examples of what Wright considers myths. These are grandiose statements about the dire state of the church and Christianity. Some examples: “It is clear that we have all but lost our young people to a godless culture” — Josh McDowell (Chapter 3); “Only 9% of born-again Christians have a biblical worldview” — George Barna (Chapter 5); “I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians” — Shane Claiborne, Esquire Magazine (Chapter 8).
Wright delves into the origin of these and other statements, showing how the data on which they are based are faulty. Some common problems he unearths: survey size too small, words and terms not clearly defined, data misinterpreted when the technical language of the statisticians is not understood by lay people. He explains how such myths gain traction when they get spread around by people who select data that emphasize the severity of the problem in order to underline the urgency of their message.
In Chapter nine Wright assigns letter grades in report card fashion to Christianity, especially Evangelicalism, on a variety of issues. He then gives conclusions about his findings.
Throughout the book he illustrates his points with graphs. End-matter includes four appendices, end-notes and a list of references.
Wright’s prose is readable but dense. It required my close attention, but I admit that reading about statistics and their analysis isn’t something of which I do a lot. Although the graphs no doubt clarify issues for the savvy reader, to me they made the text look intimidating and technical.
Wright comes to some interesting conclusions. His analyses show how a survey can be manipulated to serve a purpose. He makes it clear that not all data are equal and not all surveys, polls etc. carry the same weight. He comes down especially hard on the Barna Group, picking apart their work and conclusions in at least four places (p.104, 126, 181, and 225).
He concludes that the church is doing better than one would expect from the tone of some Christian leaders and researchers. He further encourages readers to go against instincts to view statistics as sacrosanct and instead question their accuracy and the writers’ motives for writing. He assures readers there is nothing wrong with disagreeing when conclusions go against their experience.
Focused as it is on America, I’m not sure how relevant the conclusions of this book are to the evangelical Christian culture of other countries. However, if you want to get some encouragement to think for yourself and a more optimistic picture (than the usual sky-is-falling depiction) of how evangelical Christianity is doing in the U.S., Bradley Wright’s Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites is a book you’ll want to check out.