Despite Christianity’s constant efforts to maintain uniformity through doctrine, creed or confession, few people view religion in exactly the same way – in my experience, Mennonites are no exception. Mennonites in the Paraguayan Chaco hold vastly different tenets than do Mennonites in Kansas. Yet Mennonites in the Paraguayan Chaco also hold vastly different tenets than do Mennonites in Asunción. Mennonites in Pennsylvania may be at odds with Mennonites in Kansas. Yet, Mennonites in Hesston, Kansas, may also be at odds with Mennonites in Newton, Kansas. Even Newton Mennonites find themselves at odds with one another. Many may ask how are we as a Mennonite church different, but perhaps the more interesting question is why we are different. What leads to these differences in religious beliefs within a denomination? Are there more than historical and religious factors at play? What influence does personal and social identity play? These are the questions that pique my interest most.

In 1972, Howard Kauffman and Leland Harder conducted a study of Mennonites nationwide—what became known as the Church Member Profile (Kauffman & Harder, 1975). The data from this survey were used specifically to look at the differences between Mennonite-affiliated denominations. In 1989, Howard Kauffman and Leo Driedger conducted a follow-up study, this time highlighting the effects of modernization on the Mennonite identity (Kauffman & Driedger, 1991). In 2006, Conrad Kanagy headed up a third Church Member Profile study in which data from the previous studies were compared over time (Kanagy, 2007).

With interest piqued, and these preceding studies in mind, I decided I could kill two birds with one stone – I would seek to answer these questions by devoting my Bethel College senior thesis to the topic. In the fall of 2017, I conducted a study of more than 500 Mennonites living in south-central Kansas. The purpose of the study was threefold. First, this study sought to provide an updated snapshot of the Mennonite community of south-central Kansas. Secondly, the study attempted to provide a basis for comparison between Kanagy’s 2006 findings and this study’s findings. Finally, this study sought to delve into the question: “How do social factors influence what Mennonites believe?’.

In reviewing the literature related to this topic, three things became abundantly clear. First, apart from the aforementioned studies by Kauffman, Harder, Driedger and Kanagy, I found no study that attempted to gather data on both social and religious factors within the Mennonite community. In fact, there seemed to be an ecumenically wide gap in the research literature when it came to describing how social factors affect specific religious beliefs. Studies have asserted that women, African Americans and people with higher socioeconomic status are likely to be more religious than men, Caucasian Americans and people with lower socioeconomic status, respectively (Francis, 1997; Chatters, Taylor, Bullard & Jackson, 2009; Mueller & Johnson, 1975). However, while these studies report on “religiosity,’ they do not go as far as to identify specifically what people believe and why. Kanagy’s Church Member Profile of 2006 likewise makes no attempt to discuss how one’s demographics (e.g., their age, gender, level of education, ethnicity, income level or political identity) correlate to what they believe. This study attempts to start filling in that void. Furthermore, this study seeks to provide updated data. Given the amount of change in social and religious perspectives that occurs over a decade, the data provided by the literature on this topic, as well as past Mennonite studies, is no longer up to date.

Design/methodology
In August of 2017, I reached out to all South Central Conference and Western District Conference churches located within Harvey, Reno, Sedgwick, Butler, Marion and McPherson counties (an area that includes 31 churches). To begin the process of coordinating survey distribution, I sent the pastor(s) of qualifying area Mennonite churches an e-mail asking for their consent to their congregation participating in the survey. I gathered contact information for pastors from conference websites. Pastors who responded affirmatively to the request were then asked to provide contact information of Sunday school class leaders in their congregations.

Using the information provided by congregational pastors, I sent an e-mail out to the Sunday school class leaders of participating congregations, asking for help in directly facilitating the completion of surveys within Sunday school classes. Class leaders who agreed to participate were provided with a link to the online survey and instructions on how to facilitate survey completion. Hard copies of surveys were then distributed to each congregation. A data collection period was set to take place between Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, 2017. To be incorporated into the study, surveys needed to be completed within this data collection period.

The survey tool itself resembled a shortened version of Kanagy’s 2006 survey. The first half of the survey was comprised of questions asking about social factors – specifically, ethnicity, gender, age, economic status, political orientation and education level. The wording of these questions was based on similar questions in Kanagy’s 2006 study. The second half of the survey consisted of questions regarding religious viewpoints. All theological questions were derived from Kanagy’s original survey.

Due to the design of the study and the resources available, participants were not selected randomly. Instead, an attempt to sample the entire population was conducted. The population sample surveyed was a non-probability sample reached through convenience sampling. One cannot confidently say, therefore, that the study's sample accurately represents the entirety of the Mennonite Church USA denomination in south-central Kansas.

Data analysis
Once surveys had been completed, all data were digitized via Google Forms. Two sets of religious questions were further analyzed. The first set of questions was those indicating whether a person believed or did not believe in a religious statement. Only questions that addressed issues connected to a literal interpretation of the Bible were used. These questions included: Jesus was born of a virgin; Jesus physically arose from the dead; Jesus will physically return to the earth someday; The miracles in the Bible are historical facts; The devil, as a personal being, is active in the world today; There is a real hell where some people are eternally punished; and there is a real heaven where some people are eternally rewarded. Believing in these statements positively correlates with a more literal interpretation of the Bible. These questions were thus coded on a scale from -1 to 1, with one indicating “Do Believe’ in the statement, -1 indicating “Do Not Believe’ in the statement, and 0 indicating “Not Sure.’ The mean of these scores was then taken to derive what was termed the “A_Mean.’ The A_Mean thus refers to how literally a respondent interprets the Bible (refer to Table 1 for a visual representation).

Table 1

 

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

Question 4

A_Mean

Participant 1

Do Believe

Do Not Believe

Not Sure

Do Believe

Mean of Participant 1’s Answers

Participant 1 (Coded)

1

-1

0

1

.25



The second set of questions was about how wrong participants considered social behaviors to be. Like the first set of questions, these questions were also coded on a scale of -1 to 1. “Always Wrong’ and “Never Wrong’ were deemed absolutist responses, as they leave no room for situational context in deciding the moral incorrectness of a behavior (e.g., Using marijuana is always wrong, regardless if it is for medical or recreational use). “Sometimes Wrong’ was deemed a conditional response, in which the respondent validated that whether an action is morally wrong or right depends on the situational context (e.g., Whether using marijuana is wrong depends on one’s intention in using it). Placed on a spectrum of conditional to absolute, the following values were given. One (1) indicated “Never Wrong’ and “Always Wrong’ (absolutist statements). “Rarely Wrong’ and “Usually Wrong’ were indicated by a 0, and “Sometimes Wrong,’ the most conditional response, was indicated by a -1. The mean score of a person’s responses to these statements on behavior was then calculated to find what was termed the “B_Mean’ of the data set. Thus, the “B_Mean’ indicates how absolutist a participant viewed the morality of engaging in certain behaviors (refer to Table 2 for a visual representation).

Table 2

 

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

Question 4

B_Mean

Participant 1

Always Wrong

Never Wrong

Sometimes Wrong

Rarely Wrong

Mean of Participant 1’s Answers

Participant 1 (Coded)

1

1

-1

0

.25


 

RESULTS  
Comparisons to Kanagy Social factors
The data was then analyzed looking for correlations between social factors and both the A_Mean and the B_Mean. Political party affiliation as it compared to the A_Mean and B_Mean was then further analyzed, looking for correlations with the additional facet of social factors. Social factors analyzed included age, income, gender, education, political ideology and one’s vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It should be noted that no test for significance was performed due to the nature of the data. The substantial number of outliers found in the data would require that it be normalized, and then multiple ANOVA tests would need to be run in order to find significance between box-plot graphs. After consideration with Bethel faculty, it was determined that this process would convolute the data too much to warrant running a test for significance. Therefore, the following graphs represent the raw data and have not been statistically normalized. Statistically speaking, no claims of significance are being made.

Respondents
The first major task that the study at hand sought to accomplish was to give an updated snapshot of the identity of the Mennonite community of south-central Kansas. The following data provides this quick snapshot of where that community may currently stand. Seventeen out of the 31 congregations responded to the survey. Fifteen out of these 17 congregations were from Western District Conference, while two were from South Central Conference. In total, there were 544 respondents to the survey, with a large majority completing the online version of the survey. Of these 544 respondents, 57.6% of the respondents identified as female, and 42.1% identified as male. Sixty- to 70-year-olds made up the largest age group at 23.1%, while only 6.2% were between the ages of 18 and 30. A large majority of respondents identified as white/Caucasian (98.2%). As far as income, those who fell in the $50,000-$74,999 annual income range were the most prevalent, at 29.0% of the population. Respondents were also highly educated, with 72.9% of respondents having received at least a degree from a four-year college. Democrats made up 45.8% of the sample, while Republicans made up 24%. Those identifying as Liberal also made up 37.6%, while those identifying as conservative made up 18.3% of the sample. A majority of respondents also voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election (64.5%).

While the first major task of this study was to provide a snapshot, a second goal was to compare data collected in Kanagy’s 2006 study with data from this study. In Kanagy’s study, scholars conducted a social science survey of three Anabaptist denominations in the United States, including Mennonite Church USA, Church of the Brethren and Brethren in Christ. This survey, known as the Church Member Profile 2006, was the third major study of Anabaptist groups in North America conducted across nearly four decades. Kanagy took a stratified, multi-random sampling from all Mennonite conferences and congregations in the United States. Congregations were randomly selected from the databases of the three denominations. The instrument was a 20-page, self-administered mail questionnaire that contained more than 300 questions related to theological beliefs, church involvement, personal devotional practices and attitudes about church leadership, worship preferences, moral behaviors, political attitudes and much more.

All of this is to say that Kanagy’s study and this study vary significantly. It should be clearly noted that the data collection process, population studied and survey in this study are much different than Kanagy’s study, and that no claim of correlation or significance can be made. Note that the following information makes no claims that the Mennonite church is changing, or that certain conferences are different, but simply highlights differences between the demographics and religious beliefs of those who responded to Kanagy’s survey as compared to those who responded to this survey. However, this is not to say that the data fails to provide a basis for conversation or even speculation. With this in mind, the following tables depict the differences between this study and Kanagy’s 2006 study.

Social Factors
In Table 3, we see that the population surveyed in this study went to Sunday school more often than those surveyed by Kanagy in 2006. While both studies show the highest percent of respondents attending Sunday school every week, the 2017 study has roughly 10% more of its participants attending Sunday school every week. Rather than a sociological change, however,

Table 3

How often do you typically attend Sunday school?

 

2006

2017

Never                                     

15.6%

3.1%

Once a year or less   

3.7%

1.5%

A few times a year

9.2%

4.4%

About once a month

4.5%

4.6%

2 or 3 times a month

13.7%

23.8%

Every week

53.3%

62.6%

this difference is likely a result of the data collection process used in each survey. While Kanagy mailed out surveys to congregational members, this study went through Sunday school classes to obtain participants.

In Table 4, we see that the questions regarding age were not the same in each survey. Kanagy asked for specific age groups, while the study at hand categorized age groups by decades. We can, however, see that the majority of participants in the 2017 study were over the age of 60, and the majority of participants in the 2006 study were over the age of 46. Surprisingly, we see that only 16.4% of participants in the 2017 study were under the age of 40.

Table 4

In which of the following age groups are you (in years)?

Age Group

2006

Age Group

2017

≤25 years old: 

7.2%

18-30

5.7%

26-35 years old:

10.4%

30-40

10.7%

36-45 years old: 

14.9%

40-50

10.7%

46-55 years old: 

20.8%

50-60

20.7%

56-65 years old: 

18.2%

60-70

23.1%

≥66 years old:

28.5%

70-80

18.9%

 

 

80-90

9.4%

 

 

90-100

.7%


In Table 5, we see that Kanagy’s 2006 study achieved a higher rate of diversity in ethnicity. While both studies have a high majority of white/Caucasian participants, the current study received a lower participation from people who identified as something other than white/Caucasian. In both studies, the second largest ethnic group was people who identified as Latino/Hispanic (those who identified as African American/black were equally as prevalent in the 2006 study). The highly mono-ethnic sample received in the 2017 study was likely due to data collection methods, and the demographics of the larger society in south-central Kansas, as compared to the national Mennonite community.

Table 5

 Which of these descriptions fit you? (check all that apply)

 

2006

2017

African American/Black

2.5%

0.4%

White/Caucasian

90.5%

98.5%

Asian or Pacific Islander

.6%

0%

Mixed racial/ethnic

1.7%

0.4%

American Indian/Native American

1.0%

0%

Latino/Hispanic

2.5%

0.9%

Other

1.6%

0.2%


In Table 6, we see a comparison of annual household incomes. In this comparison, we see that 69.4% of people in the 2017 study fall into the top six income categories ($50,000-more than $250,000), as compared to only 53.4% of people falling in those same income categories in Kanagy’s 2006 study. In 2017, 30.7% of participants fell in the lowest five income categories (under $5,000-$49,999), as compared to 46.7% of participants in the 2006 study. In fact, in all of the five lowest income categories, the 2006 percentage is higher than the 2017 percentage. In the six highest income categories, the 2017 percentages are higher in all but the top two categories. Thus, it seems that the majority of the participants in the 2017 study had higher incomes than those surveyed in 2006.

Table 6

Please indicate your household income per year.

 

2006

2017

Under $5,000

2.1%

0.4%

$5,000 to $14,999

5.3%

2.0%

$15,000 to $24,999          

9.4%

5.5%

$25,000 to $39,999

16.8%

11.6%

$40,000 to $49,999    

13.1%

11.2%

$50,000 to $74,999

24.9%

29.0%

$75,000 to $99,999    

13.0%

18.8%

$100,000 to $149,999

9.9%

16.1%

$150,000 to $199,999

2.1%

3.3%

$200,000 to $250,000

1.8%

1.4%

More than $250,000

1.7%

0.8%


The comparison of education levels between the two studies reveals that those in the 2017 study on average received a higher level of education. A higher percentage of participants in the 2017 study had earned a doctorate, a master’s degree or similar professional degree, attended some graduate school, or graduated from a four-year college. The 2006 study include a whopping 22.3% of participants who had graduated high school, as compared to only 6.0% in the 2017 study. This disparity may have to do in part with the academic nature of this study. As a thesis driven study for an undergraduate researcher, this study perhaps was more attractive to those who had also undertaken an undergraduate or graduate thesis.

The higher rate of education seen here is consistent with numbers found by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which show that there has been an increase in the number of high school graduates pursuing college in the United States, with 66.0% attending college in 2006, and 69.7% attending college in 2016 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). The percentage of college graduates in the 2017 study appears to be significantly above the national average. According to an educational attainment study by the Current Population Survey, in 2015, 33% of U.S. citizens 25 years of age and older had graduated from college, as compared to 72.9% of participants in the 2017 study who completed a four-year college degree or something beyond that.

Table 7

Please indicate the highest level of education you have completed.

 

2006

2017

Eighth grade or less

5.6%

0.0%

Some high school but did not graduate

6.2%

0.2%

High school graduate

22.3%

6.0%

Trade or technical school beyond high school

7.7%

3.4%

Some college, but not a four-year degree

19.8%

17.5%

College graduate, a four-year degree

17.1%

34.2%

Some graduate school, but not a degree

5.5%

7.7%

Master’s or similar professional degree

11.8%

26.3%

Doctorate or similar advanced degree

3.9%

4.7%


In Table 8-10, we see one of the largest disparities between the 2006 and 2017 studies. Here we see that the participants in the 2017 study are decidedly more democratic and “liberal’ than those in the 2006 study. While 50.0% of participants identified as Republican in the 2006 study, only 24.2% identified as such in the 2017. In 2017, 45.5% of participants identified as Democrats, while only 22.3% identified as Democrats in 2006. This is in comparison to all of Kansas, in which, as of October 2016, 24.8% of citizens are registered Democrats according to the Office of the Secretary of State (2016). Additionally, there was a 20.0% difference in the number of participants who identified as “conservative’ in the 2006 study, as compared to those who identified as conservative in the 2017 study (40.7% and 19.9% respectively). Likewise, 32.7% of participants in the 2017 study identified as liberal, as compared to 12.3% who identified as liberal in 2006.

Table 8

Do you generally think of yourself as a Republican, Democrat, Independent or something else?

 

2006

2017

Republican      

50.0%

24.2%

Democrat

22.3%

45.5%

Independent       

15.4%

23.2%

Some other party     

0.4%

0.2%

None of these

11.4%

6.9%


This distinction holds true when we look at voting percentage in Table 10. Although election results drastically vary from year to year, and may not follow party lines, we still note the difference we see in support for the Republican and Democrat tickets. Those who voted for the Republican candidate dropped from 50.1% in 2006 to 16.6% in 2017. This is even more telling when compared to the state voting percentages. According to the New York Times, 56.2% of Kansans voted for Donald Trump, and 35.7% voted for Hillary Clinton (NYT, 2017). Thus, we see that the participants in the 2017 study are not representative of the average Kansas citizen.

Table 9

As you think of your political views, where would you stand on a conservative to liberal scale?

 

2006

2017

Very conservative             

10.5%

2.6%

Conservative                     

40.7%

19.9%

Moderate                           

33.1%

37.3%

Liberal                               

12.3%

32.7%

Very liberal

3.3%

7.6%


Table 10

Who did you vote for in the 2004/2016 presidential elections?

 

2006

2017

George W. Bush/Donald Trump

50.1%

16.6%

John Kerry/Hillary Clinton

25.9%

64.5%

I did not vote

21.6%

9.8%

Other

2.4%

9.1%


The data on gender demographics from the 2017 study seems to show strong similarities to the data from the 2006 study, with women being represented more than men by over 10.0%.

Table 11

Gender

 

2006

2017

Female

56.4%

57.6%

Male

43.6%

42.0%

Prefer not to say

Not an Option

0.4%


Religious factors
With the above data, we can perhaps gain a better sense of where the Mennonite church of Central Kansas stands.

As is likely to be expected, with such vast differences between the studies’ participants’ social factors/demographics, differences in religious beliefs were also found. Tables 12-16 illustrate responses to religious statements concerning perspectives on God, Jesus and the Bible. In Table 12, we see that fewer people in the 2017 study feel that they know that God really exists and have no doubts about it. Instead, there was an increase in those who said that they had doubts, but feel they do believe in God. In Table 13, we see a similar pattern, with fewer people thinking that God controls most of the events in their daily lives, and thinking more in terms of God guiding them. There was also a significant rise in people who were “Not Sure’ which answer to choose for this question.

Table 12

Which statement best expresses your belief about God?

 

2006

2017

I know that God really exists and I have no doubts about it.

86.6%

72.7%

While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God.

11.6%

21.9%

I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a higher power of some kind.

1.2%

3.5%

I don’t know whether there is a God, and I don’t believe there is any way to find out.

0.6%

1.3%

I don’t believe in God.

0.0%

0.6%


Table 13

Which statement best expresses how you think God relates to the world today?

 

2006

2017

God controls most of the events in my daily life.

51.4%

21.3%

God guides me, but does not control the events of my daily life.

43.5%

63.5%

God intervenes in the big events of the world, but not in my daily life.

0.6%

0.8%

God sees things in the world but does not intervene in them.

4.5%

4.9%

Not sure

0.0%

9.6%


In Table 14, we see that more people in the 2017 study were open to an inclusivist theology, in which God is salvifically available to some degree in all religions, but one religion is the fulfillment or highest manifestation of religion (Kärkkäinen, 2003). This is in conjunction with a decrease in particularist/exclusivist/absolutist ideology, in which salvation is available only through one particular religion, and all other religions are false (Kärkkäinen, 2003). There was also an increase in people with a pluralist viewpoint, with 9.8% of 2017 participants saying there are many ways to God, as opposed to 6.1% of people in 2006.

Table 14

Which statement best expresses your view of the uniqueness of Jesus? (check one)

 

2006

2017

Jesus is the only way to God and those without faith in Jesus will not be saved.

 

69.3%

39.1%

Jesus is the clearest revelation of God, but God may save people who don’t know Jesus.

 

23.9%

48.3%

Jesus is one of many ways to God.

6.1%

9.8%

Jesus was a great teacher and a prophet, but not more than that.

0.7%

2.8%


The data in Table 15 points to a 2017 group of respondents who saw Jesus as less unique than those in the 2006 study. While 84.0% claimed that Jesus was fully divine and fully God, only 77.7% claimed the same in 2017. There was also a jump up from 0.7% to 3.2% of people who said that they don’t think of Jesus as being divine. Between the 2006 and 2017 groups, there also seems to be a difference in scriptural interpretation. In Table 15, we see these differences. While in 2006, 36.4% said that the Bible is the actual Word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word, only 10.7% of participants claimed the same thing in 2017. Additionally, we see that almost 20.0% more people now say the Bible is an ancient book of stories, history and moral guidelines recorded by human authors, as compared to 2006 (76.1% in 2017, and 57.3% in 2006).

Table 15

Which statement best expresses your view of Jesus’ divinity?

 

2006

2017

Jesus is fully divine and fully God.

84.0%

77.7%

Jesus is not divine, but he helped to reveal God to us.

2.1%

6.5%

Jesus is divine, but he is not exactly God

13.1%

12.7%

I don’t think of Jesus as being divine.

0.7%

3.2%


Table 16

 Which statement best expresses what you believe about the Bible? (check one)

 

2006

2017

The Bible is the actual Word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.

36.4%

10.7%

The Bible is the inspired Word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally.

57.3%

76.1%

The Bible is an ancient book of stories, history, and moral guidelines recorded by human authors.

6.2%

13.3%

The Bible has no relevance for today.

0.0%

0.0%


Diving into the questions that asked for belief or non-belief in theological statements, we see that people in the 2017 study believe fewer of the statements than did the participants of the 2006 study. Figure 17 shows the percentage of people that indicated that they believe in the below statements. The only statement in which a higher percentage of people believed in the 2017 study than the 2006 study was the statement that “God’s love will one day restore all souls, even non-believers, to God.’ The biggest differences between the two studies in the percentages of those who believed in a statement was found in the questions: “There is a real hell where some people are eternally punished’ (26.4% less people believed this in 2017 than did in 2006), “At the rapture, saved persons will join Jesus, while others will be left behind’ (25.5% less people believed this statement in 2017), and “Human nature is basically sinful’ (22.9% less people believed this statement in 2017). Overall, the number of people that believed the below statements in 2017 was much lower than it was in 2006.

Table 17

Please indicate if you believe or do not believe in each statement below.

 

2006

2017

Jesus was born of a virgin.

91.9%

82.0%

Jesus physically arose from the dead.

94.2%

85.3%

Jesus will physically return to earth some day.

83.3%

66.0%

Jesus will ultimately triumph over evil.

95.1%

89.0%

The miracles in the Bible are historical facts.

79.1%

60.9%

God performs the same kind of miracles today as in the Bible.

62.4%

52.5%

The Antichrist is active in the world today.

57.0%

49.1%

The devil, as a personal being, is active in the world today.

82.0%

62.3%

Angels are active in the world today.

84.1%

67.8%

The Holy Spirit is active in the world today.

97.4%

93.9%

There is life after death.

94.5%

85.8%

There is a real hell where some people are eternally punished.

78.1%

51.7%

There is a real heaven where some people are eternally rewarded.

89.9%

75.0%

At the rapture, saved persons will join Jesus, while others will be left behind.

71.6%

46.1%

God’s love will one day restore all souls, even non-believers, to God.

15.0%

28.7%

Humans are reincarnated and live again on earth.

3.5%

3.2%

Human nature is basically sinful.

75.2%

52.3% 


Table 18 depicts the percentage of people who considered the below behaviors to be “Always Wrong.’ A clear difference between the studies can be seen, as people said that the below behaviors were “Always Wrong’ less often in 2017 than they did in 2006. Only divorce and spanking children had higher percentages of people who said these behaviors were “Always Wrong’ in 2017 than they did in 2006. Using marijuana, and homosexual relations, are two of the most dramatic differences we see between these two studies. In 2006, 70.3% of people said using marijuana is “Always Wrong.’ In 2017, only 21.2% of people said it is “Always Wrong.’ Likewise, in 2006, 78.7% of peoples said that homosexual relations between consenting adults was “Always Wrong.’ In 2017, that number was down to 32.2% of people who said it was “Always Wrong.’ Premarital sexual intercourse was also down from 84.0% in 1972, to 74.4% in 2006, to 42.4% in 2017 (Kanagy, 2007; Kauffman, J. H. and Driedger, L., 1991).

Table 18

People have different views of the behaviors listed below. Please indicate how wrong you consider each behavior to be. (check one box for each behavior)

 

2006

2017

Divorce

9.2%

18.4%

Remarriage while the former spouse is living

14.3%

2.3%

Drinking alcohol

26.0%

7.2%

Marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian

23.5%

6.4%

Marriage between people of different races

4.6%

1.3%

Using marijuana

70.3%

21.2%

Smoking cigarettes

65.0%

46.2%

Premarital sexual intercourse

74.4%

42.4%

Extramarital sexual intercourse

94.3%

83.0%

Homosexual relations between consenting adults

78.7%

32.2%

Owning stock in companies that make war goods

30.3%

20.0%

Entering the armed forces

22.5%

16.7%

Working as a police officer

5.2%

2.6%

Buying government lottery tickets

37.5%

21.4%

Gambling

50.1%

30.3%

Using profanity (cursing)

62.6%

36.0%

Spanking children

7.0%

9.2%

Viewing pornographic materials

80.6%

63.8%

Abortion

56.8%

21.2%


The final table depicting differences between the collected data and data from Kanagy’s 2006 study shows that very different topics were of interest in the two studies. In 2006, “Erosion of Family Values’ (41.9%), “Child Abuse’ (30.1%) and “Poverty’ (27.0%) topped out the list as most important issues. In comparison, “War’ (33.2%), “Poverty’ (31.7%) and “Racism’ (25.4%) top out the list from 2017. Much speculation could be made on why erosion of family values was the most important issue in 2006, and why racism, war and poverty now top the charts.

Table 19

As you think about important issues in our society and around the world, which three of these issues concern you the most? (check only THREE)

 

2006

2017

Abortion

23.3%

6.7%

Hunger

20.8%

20.4%

Child abuse

30.1%

23.7%

Pornography

9.2%

3.5%

Domestic abuse        

9.2%

8.2%

Poverty

27.0%

31.7%

Environmental destruction

13.6%

20.0%

Racism

5.0%

25.4%

Erosion of family values

41.9%

22.1%

Secular humanism

4.1%

3.2%

Global warming

3.0%

13.2%

Sexual immorality

16.6%

7.4%

Gun control

1.6%

12.1%

Terrorism

15.4%

12.1%

Homelessness

6.0%

3.0%

Violence in America

18.4%

24.3%

Homosexual marriage

15.8%

4.3%

War

23.2%

33.2%


The relationship between political stance and religious views The relationship between political stance and absolutism

The third major task of this study was to compare social and religious factors: “How do social factors influence what Mennonites believe?’. Analyzing the data from the 2017 study of south-central Kansas Mennonites showed that significant differences in religious viewpoints based on political party affiliation may exist. Thus, the data was more thoroughly analyzed for correlations between religion and politics. The following is what came out of that research.

In Figures 1, 2 and 3, we see the comparison of data from three political questions with how conditionally participants viewed certain behaviors. A reminder that the higher the B_Mean, the more absolutist the participants responses were (i.e., Always Wrong or Never Wrong). Thus, we see in Figure 1 that Republicans had the highest mean score on absolutism (0.185), while Democrats had the lowest mean score on absolutism (-0.018). “Some Other Party’ had a lower mean score than Democrats at -0.053. However, “Some Other Party’ represents just one participant (n=1), thereby making it statistically insignificant.


Figure 1 **A note that the B_mean has a positive correlation with absolutism**

Figure 2, which compares political ideology with absolutism, shows that Liberals have the lowest rate of absolutism, with a mean of -0.073. Conservatives have the highest rate of absolutism, with a mean of 0.212. Interestingly, we see that those who identified as Conservative or Very Conservative still had higher mean scores on absolutism than those who identified as Very Liberal.


Figure 2

Figure 3 shows little variation in absolutism as it relates to how participants voted in the 2016 presidential elections. While those who voted for Donald Trump have the highest rate of absolutism (at 0.204, n=88), and those who voted for Hillary Clinton have the lowest mean score (-0.005, n=343), no significant difference can be seen.


Figure 3 The relationship between political stance and literal interpretation of the Bible

In Figure 5 (Figure 4 was excluded from this publication due to space constraints), we see a comparison of how literally participants read the Bible (by percentage), as it compares to political affiliation, political ideology and 2016 presidential vote. When compared to political affiliation, we see that those who identified as Republican or as None of These read the Bible most literally (0.893 and 0.867, respectively). Self-identified Democrats read the Bible the least literally, with an A_Mean score of 0.383, and Independents fall in between, with a mean of 0.570. Also significant to note is that for those who identified as Republican, Some Other Party, or None of These, the median A_Mean score was one, meaning that over half of the participants believed in each statement that represented a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Regarding biblical interpretation as it compares to political ideology, we again see distinct differences. Participants who identified as Liberal or Very Liberal interpret the Bible less literally than do participants who identified as Conservative, Moderate or Very Conservative. Those who identified as Very Liberal had the lowest mean score overall (-0.100), whereas those who identified as Conservative had the highest mean score overall (0.920). Interestingly, those who identified as Very Conservative do not read the Bible as literally as those who identified as Conservative. The overall A_Mean of those who identified as Very Conservative was 0.918.

When literal interpretation of the Bible is compared to who participants voted for in the 2016 presidential election, Figure 5 indicates that those who voted for Hillary Clinton interpret the Bible the least literally, with an A_Mean score of 0.431 overall. This is compared to an overall A_Mean of 0.906 for those who voted for Donald Trump.


Figure 5

In Figures 6-10, the connection between biblical interpretation and political orientation was further analyzed. For each of these figures, the A_Mean for participants was compared to political party affiliation. This comparison was then broken down by different social/demographic factors, including age, income, political ideology, 2016 presidential election vote and gender.

Figure 6 shows the relationship between political affiliation and biblical interpretation based on age. Overall, participants that fell into the 30- to 40-year-old age range read the Bible most literally, with a mean of 0.650 across party line. This is compared to those in the 18- to 30-year-old age range, who had a mean of 0.408 across party lines, indicating that this age group reads the Bible less literally than any other age group apart from the 90-100-year-old age category. The 90- to 100-year-old age category had a mean of .333, but also has a sample size of four (n=4), and thus is potentially skewed). We see that in every age group, Democrats are less likely than Republicans to read the Bible literally.


Figure 6

Figure 7 compares political affiliation and biblical interpretation based on income. Those with an annual income between $5,000-$14,999, on average and across party lines, had the most literal interpretation of the Bible, with a mean of 0.843 (noted that n=10 for this sub-group). This is compared to a cross-party mean score of 0.475 for those who make $75,000-$99,999 annually (n=97). We also see that those at the poles of incomes (Under $5,000, and More than $250,000) are the most likely to read the Bible literally, regardless of political party affiliation.


Figure 7

Figure 8 compares political affiliation and biblical interpretation based on political ideology. Here we see that those who identify as Very Liberal and identify as Independent or Democrat are the least likely to read the Bible literally. Very Liberal Democrats had a mean of -0.179, and Very Liberal Independents has a mean of -0.020. In comparison, Conservative Democrats had a mean of 0.800 (n=5), and Liberal Republicans had a mean of 0.929 (n=4). Regardless of political affiliation, Conservatives had a mean of 0.920 (n=106), and Liberals had a mean of 0.346 (n=177). Thus, the data seems to show that Republicans and Conservatives interpret the Bible more literally than do Democrats and Liberals.


Figure 8

Figure 9 compares political affiliation and biblical interpretation based on participants’ 2016 presidential election vote. Through this comparison, we see that Republicans who voted for Donald Trump are more likely to read the Bible literally (mean=0.923, n=74) than are Republicans who voted for an “Other’ candidate (mean=0.810), or Republicans that voted for Hillary Clinton (mean=0.865, n=19). Likewise, Independents who voted for Donald Trump are more likely to interpret the Bible literally (mean=0.948, n=11) than are Independents who voted for an “Other’ candidate (mean=0.696, n=16), or Independents who voted for Hillary Clinton (mean=0.424, n=76). This suggests that those who voted for Donald Trump more often interpret the Bible literally than do those who voted for Hillary Clinton, or for an “Other’ candidate.


Figure 9

Figure 10 depicts the final comparison of political affiliation and biblical interpretation, this time based on gender. As there were only two respondents who preferred not to state their gender, this data set will not be analyzed in this segment. Overall, regardless of political affiliation, females tended to read the Bible more literally than males. Females had an A_Mean score of 0.619 (n=310) overall, while males had an A_Mean of 0.543 (n=228) overall. Female Democrats (mean=0.428, n=163) were more likely than male Democrats (mean=0.312, n=82) to read the Bible literally. Female Independents (mean=0.708, n=47) were also more likely to read the Bible literally than were male Independents (mean=0.470, n=75). Female Republicans (mean=0.900, n=72) were also more likely to read the Bible more literally than were male Republicans (mean=0.881, n=55).


Figure 10

Conclusion
Although it must again be noted that no test for significance was conducted, the data provides cause for conversation. Indeed, this study seems to raise more questions than it provides answers. Large differences are present in the political views between Kanagy’s sample and the sample taken in this study. In comparing this study’s sample with Kanagy’s sample, we also see a trend in which people in this study believed in theological statements less often, and fewer people said that certain behaviors are always wrong. The data suggests that those who identify as republican, conservative, or those who voted for Donald Trump read the Bible more literally than do those who identify as democrats, liberals, or those who voted for Hillary Clinton. Likewise, we find that those who identify as Republican or “conservative’ or those who voted for Donald Trump are more absolutist than are those who identify as Democrats, self-identified liberals or those who voted for Hillary Clinton.

Yet, the question of why we see these trends remains unanswered. Why do people in this study believe in theological statements less often compared to those in Kanagy’s study? Why are people in this study more tolerant of certain behaviors compared to those in Kanagy’s study? Why do we see such differences between Mennonite populations, whether globally or within Newton, Kansas? How and why might politics and religion be connected? Are the theological questions used in this study accurate and relevant to how modern society perceives and uses religion? What does this mean for Mennonites? For Christianity? For religion? The conversation has only begun.