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Mainline Protestants Are Losing Their Faith in Christmas

(Getty Images)

How many Christians don't believe the first Christmas actually happened? A recent survey suggested more and more believers — especially in mainline Protestant denominations — disbelieve the Bible's version of events surrounding Jesus' birth.

According to the Bible, Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-25), angels announced His birth to shepherds (Guke 2:8-12), wise men guided by a star brought gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12), and Jesus was laid in a manger (Luke 2:7). While not all of the gospel accounts recount all of these events, each of these four aspects of Christmas clearly emerge from the Bible's narrative and none of them conflict with one another.

Even so, fewer American Christians today believe these events actually happened, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. While 81 percent of Christians said they believed all four elements of the story in 2014, this year that number had dropped to 76 percent. While this is barely more than the margin of error, it still represents a surprising shift in just three years.

Among white mainline Protestants, however, the number dropped even further. In 2014, nearly three-quarters of mainliners (72 percent) said they believed in all four aspects of the story. This year, only 59 percent said they believed in the Bible's presentation of Christmas.

That's a 13 percent drop, in the span of three years! During the same period, 11 percent more mainliners said they believed "some" aspects of the Bible's account, but not "others."

Most specifically, white mainline Protestants have drifted away from believing in Jesus' Virgin Birth. In 2014, a full 83 percent said they believed this actually happened. This year, that number dropped to 71 percent.

Mainliners have also distanced themselves from the story of the wise men (from 81 percent in 2014 to 74 percent this year) and the story of Jesus being laid in a manger (87 percent in 2014 to 81 percent this year). While fewer said they believed in the angel's announcement to the shepherds (80 percent in 2014 and 77 percent this year), that difference fell roughly within the margin of error.

Mainliners are also a full 17 percent less likely than Christians overall to believe all four of these miracles actually happened.

White evangelical Protestants, by contrast, overwhelmingly believe the Bible's account, and slightly more said they did this year (91 percent) than in 2014 (90 percent). White evangelicals firmly assented to each doctrine: 95 percent to the Virgin Birth, 97 percent to the angel's announcement, 95 percent to the story of the wise men, and 98 percent to Jesus' being laid in a manger.

A full 83 percent of black Protestants said they believe all four aspects of the Bible story took place. Nearly nine-in-ten believe in the Virgin Birth (96 percent), the angel announcement (91 percent), the wise men story (90 percent) and the manger (88 percent).