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Christian laity & clergy: Beliefs about Jesus' resurrection

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Poll results:

The Gospels in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) describe how Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) died and either resurrected himself or was resurrected by God about a day and a half later. It has been argued that belief in the bodily resurrection of Yeshua is the defining creed of Christianity.

The "margin of error" value in the tables below means that, on average, if a poll were repeated many times, the results would be within the margin of error 19 times out of 20.

It is important to realize that there are many subtle factors in the way that a poll is set up which can drastically affect the results. WorldNetDaily suggests that some factors leading to inaccuracy of polls are:

bullet

Refusals to be interviewed (subjects non-response).

bullet

The precise wording of the questions.

bullet

The order in which questions were asked.

bullet

Bias on the part of the Interviewer.

bullet

Weighting by demographic control data.

bullet

Screening (e.g., selecting likely voters).

They commented that "It is impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors." 1

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Barna Research polls of American adults:

According to the ARIS study, "The proportion of the [American] population that can be classified as Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 77% in 2001." 2

Year 1997 & 2000 polls:

Item Year General American Population Born-again Christians * margin of error Ref.
Jesus was crucified but not physically resurrected

1997

39% 35% 3 points

3

After he was crucified an died, Jesus Christ did not return to live physically

2000

40% 30% 3 points

4

* Barna Research defines a "Born-again Christian" as an individual who has "made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who then indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior."

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Harris polls of American adults:

General population: 1994 to 2000

Item Year General American Population margin of error Ref.
Belief in the resurrection of Christ

1994

87% 2 points

5

Same

1998

88% 2 points

5

Same

2000

86% 2 points

5

Comparison of Christians and non-Christians:

Item Year General American Population Christians Non-Christians margin of error Ref.
Belief in the resurrection of Christ

1994

Unknown 85% 52% 2

6

Same

2000

87% 95% 42% 2 points

5

Same 2003 80%   26% 2 points 1

The discrepancy between the Barna and Harris polls is enormous. We are at a loss to explain why this happened.

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Beliefs of mainline Christian clergy:

Barna Research: Year 2000 poll of Christian leaders:

Item Year Church leaders Lay church leaders margin of error Ref.
Jesus was crucified but not physically resurrected

2000

33% 33% 3 points

7

Jeffrey Hadden 1998 poll:

A survey of mostly mainline Protestant clergy by a prominent American sociologist showed that many doubt Jesus' physical resurrection. 8 Percentage of doubters were found to be:

bullet American Lutherans: 13%
bullet Presbyterians: 30%
bullet American Baptist: 33%
bullet Episcopalians: 35%
bullet Methodists: 51%

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British adults:

In the 2001 census, 72% of adults in Britain said that they were Christian.

Item Year Agreed Disagreed Don't know margin of error Ref.
Jesus rose from the dead

1990

32% Unknown Unknown Unknown

9

Same 2001 33% Unknown Unknown Unknown 10
Same 2003 47% 36% 15% 3 points 11

Canon Tom Wright, a theologian, the next Bishop of Durham, and an author of a book on the Resurrection questioned what people understood by the word "resurrection." He said: "Some people confuse the Resurrection with life after death, but they are not the same thing. It would be interesting to know why many of these people will not attend a church over Easter." 14

During Easter Sunday of 2001, only 1.13 million adults (less than 3% of the population) went to church in England. 14

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Church of England clergy and laity:

The Church of England, is the official state religion in England. It forms part of the worldwide Anglican Communion along with the Episcopal and Anglican churches in the U.S. and Canada. A small number of clergy have rejected the key Christian belief in Jesus' bodily resurrection. Rt. Rev David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham, generated a controversy in the 1980s when he was wrongly reported to have compared the Resurrection with a "conjuring trick with bones." In fact, he had said that the Resurrection was "much more than a conjuring trick with bones". 12

A year 2002 survey found that:

bullet Two thirds of the liberal clergy, who represent about 12% of the total, do not believe in the physical resurrection.
bullet 35% of the membership of Affirming Catholicism believe in the Resurrection. This is a progressive group with members ranging from Anglo-Catholics to Anglican Evangelicals.
bullet 25% of the membership of the Modern Churchpeople's Union believe in the Resurrection. This is a liberal Anglican group.
bullet Just over half of female clergy believed in the bodily Resurrection. 13

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References:

  1. "Most Americans believe in ghosts: Survey shows 1/3 accept astrology, 1/4 reincarnation," WorldNetDaily, 2003-FEB-27, at: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/
  2. "American Religious Identification Survey," by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/
  3. "Angels are in; Devil & Holy Spirit are out," results of a survey conducted in 1997-JAN by Barna Research, at: http://www.barna.org/PressAngels.htm No longer online.
  4. "Americans' Bible Knowledge Is In the Ballpark, But Often Off Base," 2000-JUL-12, at:  http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/
  5. Humphrey Taylor, "No significant changes in the large majorities who believe in God, Heaven, the Resurrection, survival of soul, miracles and virgin birth," Harris Interactive, at: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/
  6. Thomas C. Reeves, "Twentieth Century America: A Brief History," Oxford University Press (2000); Page 284. Quoted in http://www.adherents.com/Na_503.html#3142
  7. "Church Lay Leaders Are Different From Followers," Barna Research, 2000-JUN-26, at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/
  8. Jeffrey Hadden, results of a survey of 7,441 Protestant ministers published in PrayerNet Newsletter, 1998-NOV-13, Page 1. Cited in Current Thoughts & Trends, 1999-MAR, Page 19.
  9. European Values study
  10. Fortean Times newspaper, cited in Ref. 11
  11. Jonathan Petre, "Half Britain believes in Resurrection," Telegraph.co.uk, 2003-APR-14 http://news.telegraph.co.uk/
  12. Ian Mayes, "Quote unquote. The Readers' Editor on... incorrect statements that keep coming back," Guardian Unlimited, 1999-SEP-4, at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/
  13. Jonathan Petre, "One third of clergy do not believe in the Resurrection," Telegraph.co.uk, 2002-JUL-31, at: http://news.telegraph.co.uk/news/
  14. We regret that we did not record the URL for these quotations.

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Copyright 2003 to 2013 by Ontario Consultant on Religious Tolerance
Essay placed online on 2003-APR-14
Essay last updated: 2013-JAN-12
Written by: B.A. Robinson
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