Survey says: Faith

2 mins read
A woman prays during a healing Mass Nov. 12 at St. Martha Church in Uniondale, N.Y. The liturgy, celebrated in observance of National Black Catholic History Month, was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Diversity of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y. Worshippers had an opportunity to venerate a first-class relic of St. Padre Pio after the Mass. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Bob LockwoodI publicly admit my faults to a fault. It comes from the Irish side of my mother’s family. It’s what we do.

This week’s admission: I watch the Game Show Network at times. GSN is a cable channel that provides exactly what it is named. It broadcasts endless game shows, reruns from five, 10, maybe 40 years ago.

Remember “Match Game”? That was on back in the ’70s. A panel of six celebrities tried to match the answer to a goofy question posed to a contestant. I was watching one of them the other day on GSN, and as they joshed and joked I realized that every celebrity — and host Gene Rayburn — were long dead, bless their souls.

I can dredge up a lot of pseudo-smart reasons for watching this stuff — interesting social history and obscure cultural flashbacks from days gone by. But mostly GSN is nonintrusive background as I read. It’s more like radio than television, supplying the noise without watching or breaking concentration.

One of GSN’s most popular shows is “Family Feud,” hosted by Steve Harvey. It’s been running since 2010 in its current incarnation, but I believe the show has been on the air since the Bronze Age. Simple concept: Two families compete to guess the answers given by random audience surveys.

“Family Feud” does have, however, a very serious social observation, though this is purely the rhetoric of my own watching experience. I am struck by the faith of the African-American families on the show. They so often are self-described as church-going believers, congregation leaders, youth ministers and pastors. Young and old, male and female, married and single, so many are rooted in faith and a local church.

Maybe it’s that old reticence, but the white families on “Family Feud” rarely seem to reflect their religious beliefs, if they have any. The African-American families wear it comfortably. It’s like breathing out and breathing in. This is a story not often told because it doesn’t fit the secular agenda and assumptions. But the facts are there.

About 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. But the African-American population remains extraordinarily faithful to their traditional African-American churches. About 3 million of the 36 million African-Americans are Catholic.

Here’s the bottom line: African-Americans live out an identity far closer to their faith and their local church in practice than you see in the general population. According to David Briggs, columnist for the Association of Religious Data Archives, studies and surveys collectively “reveal black Americans retain remarkably strong levels of religious beliefs and practices.”

Just a few examples: 7 in 10 African-Americans read the Bible outside of worship on their own. Forty-four percent of whites do so. Nearly half of African-Americans pray several times a day, compared to 27 percent of whites. Fully three-quarters of African-Americans say religion is very important in their lives, compared to 49 percent of whites. Eighty-three percent of African-Americans believe in God with absolute certainty. Roughly 61 percent of whites do so.

Nearly 60 percent of all African-Americans attend church services weekly or more. That is more than double the rate of whites. According to Briggs’ summary, “whites are significantly more likely than African-Americans to never attend services and to not have a denominational home.” While all churches have experienced erosion in recent years, the decline in traditional African-American churches has been far less.

What’s it all mean? I don’t know. But Briggs concludes that African-American faith “has a lot to offer the larger religious landscape — and the nation — if we choose to pay attention.” Rather than watching “Cash Cab” on the Game Show Network.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.