Not all statistical reports are created equally…

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Not all statistical reports are created equally…

Recently, the Pew Research Center issued a report on racial and ethnic diversity among Protestant denominations and other religious groups. In their analysis, “If a religious group had exactly equal shares of each of the five racial and ethnic groups (20% each), it would get a 10.0 on the index; a religious group made up entirely of one racial group would get a 0.0.” It is important to note that their index is a comparison of how well each religious group reflects an exact balance of five racial/ethnic categories, one of which is “mixed and other” and the other four being “white,” “black,” “Asian,” and “Latino.” It is not a comparison of how well that a religious group reflects the ethnic and racial diversity of adults in the U.S. By Pew Research Center calculations, U.S. adults would receive a score of 6.6 on their 10.0 scale.

In their analysis, American Baptist Churches USA received a score of 5.5, the highest diversity rating among Baptist groups as well as the seven U.S. Mainline denominations listed that includes Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Disciples of Christ was not listed); but not as high as other groups such as Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah Witnesses, and the Assemblies of God.

It is also important to note that the Pew Research Center report was based upon individual, self-reported data, rather than denominational data. As Scott Thumma, Sociology of Religion Professor and Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research points out, “Using individual level data to talk about organizational characteristics is somewhat suspect.  This is really the racial diversity of individuals who claim they belong to ____ denomination, not an actual measure of the diversity of that denomination – as based on the persons who actually affiliate and participate in that denomination.”

The Pew Research Center numbers do not include any dually aligned data. Thumma points out how this fact might have skewed the results, “All the African-Americans surveyed might have said National Baptist Convention even if they were NBC/ABC officially… or they could have said “Baptist” and be classified in NBC if they were black even if they were ABC or SBC.”

Thumma added, “A quick check of the Assemblies of God, PCUSA, ELCA, UMC, Episcopal and UCC all show that Pew has incorrect percentages for these denominations.” No one from the Pew Research Center contacted the ABC to confirm our racial and ethnic diversity numbers.

American Baptist Churches does not use the same reporting categories as the Pew Research Center and we do have our own local church reporting issues, but, a translation of our own best set of diversity statistics into the Pew Research Center categories, as reported by Gerianne Blier, Coordinator of American Baptist Churches Information Services, show the ABC as having the following racial/ethnic percentages of individuals:

  • Black – 45.92%
  • White – 44.94%
  • Asian – 1.45%
  • Mix/Other – 4.96%
  • Latino – 2.72%

These figures are percentages of individuals (as opposed to congregations) and are estimates at best, based on the current data of ABC reporting congregations. These percentages would seem to place American Baptist Churches near the top of the Pew Research Center diversity scale, but it is difficult to draw these conclusions without access to their calculation formulas and in light of the fact that the percentages for other groups probably reflect similar inaccuracies. Thumma concludes, “At the very least, this research note is somewhat suspect and misleading and, in fact, contradicts the racial breakdowns many of the denominations report themselves.”

Not all statistical reports are created equally.

Dr. C. Jeff Woods
Associate General Secretary
American Baptist Churches USA