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March 31, 2011

Polling Evangelicals: God Causes Disasters, U.S. Should Help Victims

Why are there disasters like the events in Japan? Are they "natural" disasters or "supernatural" events caused by God? A recent poll finds that evangelicals are far more likely than other Americans to believe that God causes disasters and sometimes does so as punishment.

A majority of Americans believe that God controls everything in the world, according to the poll from Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with Religion News Service, conducted the poll March 17-20, 2011. A vast majority of white evangelicals (84 percent) believe God is in control of everything, which is more than mainline Protestants (56 percent) or Catholics (52 percent).


Evangelicals are also far more likely than other religious groups to believe that God uses disasters to punish people or send signs. A majority of evangelicals (51 percent) believe that "God sometimes punishes nations for the sins of some of its citizens,” Only one-fifth of mainline Protestants or Catholics hold this believe.


More people believe that natural disasters are a “sign from God.” Just over a third of Americans believe disasters are signs from God. However, a majority of evangelicals believe this (59 percent), which is more than other religious groups.


The poll also found that 83 percent of Americans believe that is important for the U.S. to help out financially when nations like Japan suffer a natural disaster. This support is roughly the same for evangelicals (86 percent), other religious traditions, and those who are not religious.

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of The Albert Mohler Program, said that Christians should remember that Jesus warned against linking tragedies as the result of sins by specific people.

"Disasters like this often bring out the most reckless forms of theologizing," Mohler said. "We must affirm both the sovereign power and the loving character of God, and that means that we must know that disasters like this will test both our faith and our faithfulness."

BreakPoint's Chuck Colson said earthquakes are part of the natural order. Christians should not blame anyone but should instead focus on helping.

“I have no doubt that Christians -- those who follow a God whom the atheists call cruel and inhumane -- will be in the vanguard of helping the hurting in Japan because He has taught us to love one another on this beautifully created, intricately complex, and even sometimes dangerous planet on which we live, and because humans are, after all, the crown of creation,” Colson said.

Editors Note: The Public Religion Research Institute provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from the poll. However, Christianity Today is responsible for all analysis and interpretation of the results. Around one-fifth of Americans are identified as white evangelicals in the poll. The margin of error for this subsample is around seven percentage points. The results are descriptive; religious differences could be due to partisanship, ideology, income, or other factors.


Am I the only one questioning the sampling of the United States Christians? Maybe people of color only matter in the Catholic sample. Maybe christians of color do not matter at all. I am surprised that CT even allowed the article to be published with its erroneous extrapolation from Whites to all Americans.

How bias (covert racist) can the survey get. Boy I can't wait till I get to heaven and survey what percentage of White Evangelist, White Mainline and Catholics (both white and colored) are there.

I wondered the same thing Phylis! I'm also concerned with the wording:

I am a white Evangelical that believes that God is in control of everything that happens in the world, but that does not mean (to me) that God causes all disasters. The enemy can cause them to, but God allows them to happen.

There's a huge difference between God allowing the earthquake in Japan and God making it happen. And I really have a feeling that the first question really didn't do that difference justice.

I would like to add that there is an ambiguous tone in the result. People can believe that "God is in control" of all things without believing that "God determines" (think causation) all things which happen. God being "in control" is not equal to God "determining" or "causing" this or that.

God causes natural disaster? Why? To what end? Because he's mean and capricous? Or is it because of judgment? I have a problem with this, and therefore apparently disagree with 80% of my evangelical brethren. Why would God send earthquakes, floods, tsunamis to some peoples and not others? Why not all? What society or culture isn't deserving of some degree of judgment, from this rational? The way I see it, God poured out his judgment on Christ on the cross. In grace, he calls all sinners to himself because of Christ's death. An Old Testament slapdown of nations doesn't make sense this side of the cross.

I'm white, but if I took this survey at face value I cwould come away think that if you are not white then you can only be Catholic or unaffiliated. This simple fact discredits this whole survey. If you wanted to find out what different races thought then you should have had listing for black evangelicals, black mainline, Latino Evangelical, Latino mainline etc. I'm sorry but this survey is completely pointless due to this point whether unintentional or on purpose.

I'd like to to know what number of people took the survey - 80% of what number and were the people a good cross section of the entire population. Statistics can tell any story the author's bias desires.

I'm white, Evangelical, while my wife is a Singaporean of Chinese descent, and we both believe God's hand is heavy upon Japan. I mean, just when it looks like when they've got things under control, something else seems to go wrong. Yes, we need to be very careful about saying whether some natural disaster is God's judgment on a particular sin or group of people, but I think God does judge all of us.

Abraham Lincoln once said that all nations stand under God's judgment. That said, we've got to understand why God does judge nations and people. He does it to call us to repentance. Think of it this way--God loves everyone and wants to call them to repentance, but some of us are very rebellious, and refuse to listen to him. In those cases, God's judgments are actually a great mercy, for He's calling people to turn to Him before it's too late.

For those of us who have not been affected by the tragic events in Japan, we should do what we can in the name of Christ to help them. We should also examine ourselves and ask, What will it take for God to get our attention?

Interesting that the further groups get from belief in the bible as the word of God, the more likely that they don't think God causes disasters or judges. After 9/11 when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell suggested that God was judging America the outcry against them was so great they both recanted. Yet the bible is filled with examples of God judging nations and causing calamity (see Isaiah 45). the fact is, we live in a culture that accepts God's blessings but refuses to accept Him as Judge. Job had it figured out thousands of years ago, God is whom He is, so we had best accept Him for who He is. He's not changing, but the further we get from the scriptures the more we are changing.

Perhaps the matter of God's judgment so thoughtfully discussed in this forum should also shed light on Jeremiah Wright's infamous denunciation of America as revealed three years ago; a denunciation greatly misunderstood at the time. A more careful reading/viewing of the entire sermon from which his words were taken out of context actually would suggest that, contrary to conventional wisdom, he was not in fact calling down a curse on the nation but simply giving a dramatic warning of God's terrifying wrath IF the nation continued to practice the sins of racism, oppression of the poor,unnecessary militarism,and so on. Whether one agrees with this view or not, it is only fair to say that in light of its theology, Wright's condemnation was no less valid than the condemnations of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell re. 9/11 and Katrina.

Since Jesus died for.our sins, we are under God's abiding grace with Jesus who died for all of us there to intercede for us so while God created the earth, and. Therefore created the planetary set up for this event at creation, I believe that he allowed the disaster to happen as a natural consequence of His. Creative power, but not that he caused it to happen as a specific punishment for a chosen group of people. Old Testament God punished people in catastrophic ways. he vowed never to flood the earth again and along with the earthquake came what can be viewed as a flood, so God's hand was not in this disaster in a causal way. You can bet, however, that God's hand will be and already is in the people working for recovery from this disaster. Demonstrate his light with your actions in such a way that words are not necessary.

I think we have finally reached the point (considering how Hispanics are now the largest minority) where we will have to poll each minority group separately. Any Christian ethnic group as large as, say, 5% of the U.S. population needs to be surveyed. Although I did notice the absence of black Christians in this poll, I also find listing them as the only minority, as happens often in similar polls, to be questionable. Otherwise, the results here are exactly what I expected. The numbers of mainliners agreeing with evangelicals usually gets most of my attention. Finally, I do believe God is in control of everything that happens in the world. I'll let you fill in the rest of the equation.

There are soe big gaps in the numbers,I agree,as to who is represented in the polls and views.The character of God is put to question here.I believe Him when He says in His Word that "He is willing that none should perish,but that all should come to a knowledge of the truth".That seems to me to indicate that the perishing happens because of ignorance and that it could stop as a result of knowledge.That knowledge is of what He did to defeat Satan and evil,and to offer us opportunity to re-enter the place of protection that Adam and Eve had of fellowship with Him.Causative accusations don't fly with the God I know.If He "did" these things to a people or country,why would we dare to reach out and undo the effect of that judgeemnt by helping them.It defies logic.there is,I beleive,a sowing and reaping process that He has,like the law of gravity,cause and effect,that will bring down certain things on people and places,and because there is sin in the earth,stuff happens.Thanks for listening. DN

There is nothing racist about separating white evangs from blacks; it simply recognizes that there are definitive racial aspects relative to certain views - mainly voting, in which race apparently can often trump moral views among black evangelical Christians.

Many more statistics here: http://peacebyjesus.witnesstoday.org/RevealingStatistics.html

Most personal opinions are biased and thus insignificant. What really matters is the Bible's testimony. Does the bible states that God is sovereign? Yes it does. Does it says that not even a leaf falls from a tree without his order? yes it does. Does it states that he is going to desroy the world by fire? Yes it does. That means that an earthquake and a tsunamy is a walk in the park compare to destroying the earth with all unrepented people (billions). Read the book of revelation (not OT mentality)and you will find how God will end it all. Can he do it, yes he can and will, not because he is a pain freak but because they rejectd his Son.

I find this to be a very poor poll. I don't see how you can to the conclusions you have in this article based upon the results of the poll. It seems like there is some serious stretching going on.

If God beings natural disasters due to sin then why doesn't he pre-warn and state what sins are being punished as he did in the O.T.? Often the sins that people 'think' are being punished are the pet peeve sins of those interpreting the disaster (homosexuality, abortion, evolution being taught in schools, too many democrats in office ect) If God is portrayed as a personal God by Evangelicals then why doesn't he clearly communicate like a good parent would? For him to punish with no clear reason is like a parent who spanks their child out of the blue and then says nothing when the child asks 'Why'?

My comments above are not directed to all Evangelicals but those of the guilty party. I do laud the more reflective party (Those who stop and think) and those who quickly advocate helping those affected by the disaster.

The most bothersome thing about this article and some of these comments is the belief that we have God figured out and the supposition that blessings constitute favor and disasters signal judgment. Our belief that God has made XXX happen to punish YYY doesn't necessarily make it so.

And you all know this, how?