Current Research July 2016

About 40 million of the 200 billion messages sent on Twitter last year consisted of Bible verses, with a high percentage of senders being either an elite group of religious leaders or “bots,” programs designed to create their own tweets, according to Christianity Today (June). The top two Bible passages are the favorites of evangelicals: Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ…”) and John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”). About a half million of these tweets came from just five pastors and celebrities, such as John Piper, Joyce Meyer, Tim Tebow, and Franklin Graham. About 20 million of the 40 million passages shared on Twitter came from “Bible spam accounts that do nothing but tweet Bible verses all day,” said Stephen Smith of, who crunched the data.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)

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The controversial case of an atheist minister fighting to stay in the United Church of Canada has caused some Canadians to suspect there are other non-theists among United Church clergy, but it seems this case is more of an isolated one, according to a survey reported in the Vancouver Sun (June 9). The atheist clergywoman Gretta Vosper has frequently said that at least 50 percent of the clergy in the United Church “don’t believe in a theistic, supernatural God.” United Church minister Richard Bott conducted an actual survey among 1,353 United Church ministry personnel who took part. “While how they believe and what they believe is wide and varied, almost 95 percent of the United Church ministers who responded to the online survey were clear—they do believe in God,” Bott says.

In addition, his survey found that “a large number, almost 80 per cent, affirm belief in a ‘supernatural, theistic God.’” What is called “panentheism” was the most common view among active United Church of Canada clergy; 51 percent of active UC clergy who responded to the survey agreed with the panentheist statement “I believe in the existence of god/God, and that God/god is greater than the universe, includes and interpenetrates it.” Thirty-four percent of active UC clergy held to the classic theistic belief in God. Only 0.7 percent, or fewer than one in 100, were atheist; just 2.1 percent of active United Church clergy agreed with the statement “God is solely a metaphor for what is good in the human condition,” and 1.2 percent were agnostic.


Throughout the world, both government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion dropped from 2013 to 2014 even though there has been a rise in religion-related terrorism, reports Pew Research Center’s study on restrictions on religion. Of the 198 countries studied, 24 percent had high or very high levels of government restrictions in 2014, down from 28 percent in 2013. There was a similar decline in the share of countries with high or very high social hostilities involving religion, which decreased from 27 percent to 23 percent. This year is the second in a row that the number of countries with this level of religious restrictions has dropped, after three years of steady growth. These declines in countries with high restrictions or hostilities, though modest, took place despite a clear increase in the number of countries where religion-related terrorist activities have taken place. Of the nearly 200 countries and territories included in the study, 82 (41%) had religion-related terrorist activities in 2014, up from 73 (37%) in 2013. Religion-based terrorism could include activities limited to recruitment or fundraising, although in 60 countries, religion-related terrorism led to injuries or deaths, including at least 50 casualties in each of 28 countries. (The Pew study can be downloaded at


A new survey conducted by St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London, shows that 48.5 percent of people in Britain follow no religion at all. Some 44 percent report themselves as Christian, and about 8 percent follow other religions, including Islam. The report, which focused on Catholics in Britain, shows that while on any given Sunday there are more Catholics in church than members of other Christian groups, the figures still do not represent more than a small proportion of those who should be there by affiliation. Among the main Christian denominations, Catholics have the strongest retention rate, with 55.8 percent of cradle Catholics identifying as Catholic. But Catholics also have the weakest conversion rate, with only 7.7 percent of current Catholics not having been brought up in the faith. The large majority of all converts to Christianity have already been raised in different Christian traditions.

(This study can be downloaded at

In one of the first studies on the relationship between religion and earned income in a developing country, it is found that religious denominational affiliation correlates with earnings in Ghana among women, with Spiritualists, Methodists, and Pentecostals in the higher ranges of earners. Sedefka Beck and Sara Gundersen of Valparaiso University, who published their study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (online version, July), analyzed the fifth round of the Ghana Living Standards Survey and found that among women, Spiritualists have a 21 percent earnings differential, Methodists 15 percent higher, and Pentecostals 12 percent compared with mainline Protestants. Traditionalists have a 31 percent earned income disadvantage. Beck and Gundersen add that for Spiritualists, the middle deciles of the earning distribution drive the advantage, while high-income earners drive it for Pentecostals and Methodists. Men did not show these distinctions. The researchers conclude that the correlation between higher earned income and charismatic religions may suggest a direct link between prosperity teachings in these groups and higher realized incomes.

(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,