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African American Forum

Religious Affiliation and Demographics : A Religious Portrait of African-Americans

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The vast majority of African-Americans are Protestant (78%), compared with only 51% of the U.S. adult population as a whole. By a wide margin, African-Americans stand out as the most Protestant racial and ethnic group in the U.S.; far fewer whites (53%), Asians (27%) and Latinos (23%) belong to Protestant denominations.

But Protestantism in the U.S. – and in the black community – is not homogeneous. Rather, it is divided into three distinct traditions – evangelical Protestant churches, mainline Protestant churches and historically black Protestant churches. More than three-in-four African-American Protestants (and 59% of African-Americans overall) belong to historically black Protestant denominations, such as the National Baptist Convention or the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In fact, 40% of all African-Americans identify with Baptist denominations within the historically black tradition. By several measures, including importance of religion in life, attendance at religious services and frequency of prayer, the historically black Protestant group is among the most religiously observant traditions. In fact, on these and other measures of religious practices and beliefs, members of historically black Protestant churches tend to resemble members of evangelical Protestant churches, another highly religious group.

Outside of the historically black tradition, an additional 15% of African-Americans are members of evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention or Assemblies of God, and 4% are members of mainline denominations, such as the Disciples of Christ. Overall, the membership of historically black Protestant denominations is 92% black, while African-Americans make up relatively small portions of the membership of evangelical (6%) and mainline (2%) churches.

Slightly more than one-in-ten African-Americans (12%) report being unaffiliated with any particular religion. Although the unaffiliated make up a smaller proportion of the African-American community (12%) than of the adult population overall (16%), the unaffiliated still constitute the third largest “religious” tradition within the black community. However, very few African-Americans (1%) describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. Instead, most unaffiliated African-Americans (11% of African-Americans overall) simply describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Indeed, among the African-American unaffiliated population, a significant majority (72%) says religion is at least somewhat important in their lives.


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