NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Hispanic population, the largest ethnic group in the United States, rapidly has been adopting the mainstream beliefs and practices of all Americans, according to a study by The Barna Group.
The study, released July 6, compared the faith of Hispanics today to their faith profile of 15 years ago and found 11 faith dimensions on which there had been substantial change.
Barna found that Hispanics' alignment with the Catholic Church was down by 25 percentage points, and Hispanics who believe a good person can earn his way into heaven was down 9 percentage points.
Being a born-again Christian by Barna's definition was up 17 percentage points among Hispanics, and having made a personal commitment to Jesus that is important in their lives was up 15 percentage points.
Church attendance among Hispanics in an average week had increased 10 percentage points, Barna said, and reading the Bible during a typical week was up 5 percentage points.
Hispanics who were surveyed also were more likely to claim to have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others (up 10 percentage points), believe that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules the world today (up 8 points), and believe that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches (up 6 points) when compared to those surveyed 15 years ago.
The survey also said the number of Hispanics attending a church of 500 or more people was down 6 percentage points.
"The influence of a dominant culture and its traditions has a powerful effect on people's lives," George Barna said. "While Hispanics have indisputably influenced American culture, these figures remind us that such transformation is a two-way street."
Barna said the study reveals how significant faith is in the lives of Hispanics.
"Not only do most of them assert that importance, but the fact that so much is changing in their faith perspectives and practices underscores how much energy they devote to their spirituality," he said.
"... You cannot help but notice the changing relationship between Hispanics and the Catholic church. While many Hispanic immigrants come to the United States with ties to Catholicism, the research shows that many of them eventually connect with a Protestant church. Even more significant is the departure of many second and third generation Hispanics from their Catholic tradition," Barna said.
In the same study, The Barna Group compared the faith practices and beliefs of Hispanics with that of the total adult population and found few significant differences. Gaps were found in only a handful of areas:
• Hispanics remained somewhat more likely to believe that a good person can earn his way into heaven, researchers found.
• Americans, overall, were significantly more likely to claim that they are "absolutely committed" to Christianity.
• Hispanics were twice as likely as the total adult population to be aligned with the Catholic Church. Barna said 22 percent of the total population and 44 percent of the Hispanic population in America associate with the Catholic Church.
• Americans at large were slightly more likely to be born-again Christians based on their theological views rather than self-identification, Barna determined.
When Barna compared born-again Hispanics to the nation's born-again population at large, researchers found relatively few differences between the two groups.
Among the differences, Hispanics were more likely to believe that even though their salvation was based on accepting Christ, it was also possible for a person to earn a spot in heaven though good behavior.
Hispanics who were born again were more likely than all born-again Americans to say they had been significantly transformed by their faith, Barna said.
The study also revealed that compared to national norms, Hispanics were somewhat less likely to describe themselves as "mostly conservative" on political and social issues yet were not more likely to say they were "mostly liberal." The Hispanics surveyed gravitated toward a middle-of-the-road ideological stance on social and political issues, Barna said.
To conduct the survey, The Barna Group interviewed more than 9,200 people by phone in 2007-08 and asked if they considered themselves to be Hispanic. Nearly 1,200 adults fit in the Hispanic category, Barna said.