Many 'born again' Christians in the US hold beliefs that are at odds with traditional conservative evangelicalism, according to a new national survey which found that less than half believe the Bible contains and conveys absolute moral truths.
Politically, only four out of 10 of those surveyed described themselves as fiscally and socially conservative.
The American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) says that its survey found that only 30 per cent of born again adults have a 'biblical worldview', despite 79 per cent believing that they do.
The ACFI study is not based on people who call themselves born again. Instead, the survey 'identified born again adults as those who believe they will experience an afterlife in the presence of God only because they have confessed their sins against him and accepted Jesus Christ as the redeemer who saves them from eternal punishment'.
The research found that based on these criteria, only three out of every 10 adults in the US (30 per cent) currently qualify as born again Christians. That represents a significant drop from nearly half of the adult population meeting the same criteria two decades ago.
Less than half (46 per cent) read the Bible at least once a week. This may help explain why many of them, in the words of the ACFI, 'stray from biblical teaching'.
For example, more than three-quarters of them (77 per cent) believe that all people are basically good, despite the doctrine of original sin which originates from the Book of Genesis.
Only half of those surveyed reject the idea that because Jesus Christ was human, he sinned.
Less than four out of 10 of them dismiss the belief that a good person, or someone who does enough good deeds, can earn their way into heaven, instead of people being saved by faith alone.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, only 54 per cent describe themselves as theologically conservative. One-third (35 per cent) claims to be theologically moderate, and one out of 10 embraces the 'theologically liberal' label.
Surprisingly for a group seen as 'evangelical', fewer than four out of every 10 (38 per cent) share their faith with non-believers at least once a month.
Perhaps even more remarkably, just one-half of the nation's born again adults describe themselves as fiscal conservatives and one-half also claim to be social conservatives. Combined, only four out of 10 born again individuals (41 per cent) are conservative on both fiscal and social matters. This, despite widespread characterisation of such self-identified Christians as being Republican supporters of Donald Trump.
Further, only a slight majority of born again people (54 per cent) have conservative views about the ideal size, reach, and power of government, and a third (34 per cent) say they prefer socialism to capitalism.
'Sadly, it may be that many born again Christians – the ones who have asked Christ to forgive them and who trust him alone for their salvation – have a real mixed bag of theological beliefs,' said George Barna, who directed the survey for ACFI. 'Those beliefs have had an unfortunate impact on their political views and lifestyle choices. Granted, we are all sinners and fall way short of the perfection of God, but maybe we are so seduced by the secular culture in which we live that we have lost touch with biblical truth. The theological and behavioural profile of born again Christians painted by the survey is very disturbing and has some severe, long-term negative consequences for American culture.'
Barna also suggested that the common media portrayal of born again Christians was a further example of fake news. 'If mainstream journalists did their homework and went by the facts, we would realise that the born again population is not what we've been led to believe,' he said. 'The first problem the media have to address is their reliance on surveys in which people self-identify as born again. There are only a couple of research organizations, including ACFI, that measure 'born again' by examining a person's beliefs rather than relying on their self-identification. The difference that simple choice makes is huge.'