Putting a real face on Pew’s Latino religious identity survey

Putting a real face on Pew’s Latino religious identity survey May 8, 2014

The Pew Research Center released a report Wednesday titled “The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States,” based on a nationwide survey of 5,000 Hispanics, and it’s making headlines.

As always, it’s interesting to see the specific angles taken by major news organizations.

From The New York Times:

By all accounts, Hispanics are the future of Catholicism in America. Already, most young Roman Catholics in the United States are Hispanic, and soon that will be true of the overall Catholic population. But the Hispanicization of American Catholicism faces a big challenge: Hispanics are leaving Catholicism at a striking rate.

It has been clear for years that Catholicism, both in the United States and Latin America, has been losing adherents to evangelical Protestantism, and, in particular, to Pentecostal and other charismatic churches. But as an increasing percentage of the American Hispanic population is made up of people born in this country, a simultaneous, competing form of faith-switching is also underway: More American Hispanics are leaving Catholicism and becoming religiously unaffiliated.

The seemingly mind-bending result: Even as a rising percentage of American Catholics is Hispanic, a falling percentage of American Hispanics is Catholic.

From CNN’s Belief Blog:

(CNN) – Young Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, according to a new study, with many drifting into the country’s fastest-growing religious movement: the nones.

Nearly a third of Latino adults under 30 don’t belong to a faith group, according to a large survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.  That’s a leap of 17 percentage points in just the last three years.

While the demise of organized religion, specifically Catholicism, is most dramatic among young Latinos, the overall shifts are broad-based, according to Pew, affecting men and women; foreign-born and U.S. natives; college graduates and those with less formal education.

The trends highlighted by Pew’s Latino survey also mirror large-scale shifts in the American population as whole.

From The Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — Latinos in the United States are abandoning the Roman Catholicism of their childhood in increasing numbers to become evangelical Protestants or leave organized religion altogether, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

Only 55 percent of the nation’s Latinos consider themselves Catholic, a 12 percentage point drop since 2010. Of those who remain in the church, slightly more said they could imagine leaving than they have in previous years. At the same time, the share of Hispanic evangelicals rose from 12 percent to 16 percent, while Latinos with no religious affiliation increased from 10 percent to 18 percent.

While all three of those reports tackle the important news, I found the Wall Street Journal’s lede most compelling (tip: if you get the subscriber-only version when you click the Journal link, Google the first paragraph and the full story generally will show up):

LOS ANGELES — Both Miriam Alvarez and Gloria Muniz were raised Roman Catholic. Today, Ms. Alvarez is a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, while Ms. Muniz hasn’t been to any church in years.

The two women represent distinct religious trends among Hispanics in the U.S.: going from Catholic to evangelical Christian and from Catholic to religiously unaffiliated, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

Since the 1990s, the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. has counted on Hispanics, many of them arrivals in a massive immigration wave, to bolster its shrinking ranks. The study to be released Wednesday by Pew, a nonpartisan think tank, suggests a religious churning in the fast-growing population group, the country’s second-largest.

The share of Hispanics who are Catholics in the U.S. has dropped by 12 percentage points in just four years to 55%, the study found. Nearly one in four Hispanic adults in the U.S. is now a “former” Catholic, it found. Meanwhile, a greater share of them now identify as religiously unaffiliated or Protestant.

See the difference? The Journal put real human faces on the numbers. Maybe it’s just a personal preference, but that approach appeals to me.

Religion News Service, too, grabbed readers’ attention with an anecdotal example up high:

WASHINGTON (RNS) A new report on the “Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos” reads very much like a biography of Fernando Alcantar.

Like six in 10 Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., he was born in Mexico, where “you are Catholic as much as you are Mexican. You like jalapenos and worship the Virgin of Guadalupe,” he said.

But once he moved to California after high school, his faith journey diverged — and derailed. Today, Alcantar, 36 calls himself a humanist.

Alas, using one or two individuals to illustrate complex survey findings can present a distorted picture. But used with care and proper caveats, such examples can help readers such as myself understand the big picture in a better way.

Speaking of the big picture, by all means, feel free to weigh in on the overall reporting on the survey’s findings.

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2 responses to “Putting a real face on Pew’s Latino religious identity survey”

  1. Although people tend to think of Mexico as Catholic, they forget or don’t know about the Mexican war against the church and the many years when there were very few priests in Mexico – in the early 20th century. The people were not taught their religion for a generation or more which is still evident today. The guy who says that as a Mexican he worshiped Our Lady Guadalupe is a perfect example. They have never caught up the lost ground. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cristero_War

    I have a cousin whose daughter & husband are Presbyterian ministers/missionaries targeting Mexicans along the border to convert them to Protestantism. Most of them are easy pickings. For some reason they are not going after the Catholics in Canada.

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