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Less Than Half of ‘Evangelical' and 'Born Again’ Christians Actually Have Evangelical Beliefs

Just how evangelical are evangelicals, really? According to a recent survey from LifeWay Research, not very. Less than half of those who self-identify as "evangelical" or as "born again" actually have evangelical beliefs. At a time when the evangelical community is wrestling amongst itself over Donald Trump and other hot-button issues, it is important to recognize that not all self-described evangelicals are true believers.

"There's a gap between who evangelicals say they are and what they believe," Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a statement.

LifeWay asked Americans whether they identified as evangelical, whether they would identify as evangelical if the word didn't have political connotations, and whether they identified as "born again." More African-Americans identified as "born again," but even that label did not predict whether or not people had evangelical beliefs.

Only 45 percent of self-identified evangelicals held those beliefs. Only 43 percent of those who identified as evangelical apart from politics did so, and only 45 percent of those who said they were "born again" had evangelical beliefs.

Among those who did have evangelical beliefs, only 69 percent considered themselves evangelical and only 68 percent said they would consider themselves evangelical apart from politics. A full 83 percent considered themselves "born again."

Overall, 24 percent of Americans considered themselves evangelical, 25 percent considered themselves evangelical sans politics, and 29 percent considered themselves "born again" Christians. Only 15 percent had evangelical beliefs, however.

The LifeWay survey revealed some other interesting facts about which Americans embrace these labels. Perhaps unsurprisingly, African-Americans were more likely to identify as "born again" than as "evangelical," a term often associated with whiteness. Almost half of black Americans in the survey (49 percent) identified as "born again," while only 27 percent of whites did so, along with 24 percent of Hispanics.

Americans holding evangelical beliefs were more racially diverse than those identifying as evangelical, with or without the political implications. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of those with such beliefs were black, while only 14 percent of those identifying as evangelical were black. White Christians looking to reach out to their black brothers and sisters could make more inroads by describing themselves as "born again," rather than evangelical.

Those with evangelical beliefs were more likely (73 percent) to attend church once a week or more, compared to self-identified evangelicals (61 percent) and those who identify as "born again" (56 percent).

While ethnicity proved to be a good predictor of whether or not someone identified as evangelical, politics had much less of an impact.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans who had evangelical beliefs were Republican or leaned Republican, while only 30 percent were Democrat or leaned in that direction. Perhaps surprisingly, fewer self-identified evangelicals were Republican (64 percent) and more were Democrat (33 percent). Those numbers barely changed when politics was taken out of the evangelical label.