Which people describe themselves as "born again"?

March 20, 2017

Leaving politics aside, another key divide among Protestants is on the question of whether a person considers himself or herself to be “born again.” The idea that a spiritual rebirth is a prerequisite for salvation can be found in the Bible (“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3). Yet the use of the term born again to describe a religious conversion and the moment at which an individual began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a comparatively recent development, and the so-called Born Again Movement can be traced no farther than the mid-19th century – though its theological roots can be traced at least as far as the writings of John Wesley.

 

Today, born again is typically associated with evangelical Protestants. In fact, the two sometimes appear to be interchangeable. Is this true? Are evangelical Protestants uniformly likely to describe themselves as born again? Do mainline Protestants and Catholics generally eschew the term? Once again, this question can be answered fairly easily. According to the 2014 CCES, approximately 33 percent of all Americans described themselves as born again. Not surprisingly, this varies a great deal according to religious tradition. Although Catholic teachings tend to downplay the phrase born again, a minority of Roman Catholics nonetheless uses the term to describe themselves (about 13 percent). A little over 20 percent of Mormons use this term, as do a little more than one-quarter of orthodox Christians (about 27 percent).


Unsurprisingly, we see the largest number of self-described born-again Christians among Protestants. A majority of Protestants (about 61 percent), described themselves as born again. Within Protestantism, however, we see a great deal of variation. We also see that, on this question at least, there is a real divide between the mainline and the Evangelical denominations.

 

Non-denominational evangelicals are overwhelmingly likely to describe themselves as born again – almost 93 percent use this description. They are followed by Pentecostals (about 89 percent), Southern Baptists (about 81 percent), and independent Baptists (about 79 percent). Not all denominations that are classified as evangelical are dominated by self-described born agains, however. Only a minority of LCMS members (about 42 percent) describe themselves as such. We also see a great deal of variation within the mainline denominations. Very few Episcopalians (about 15 percent) use this term, but they are somewhat unusual in that regard. The next smallest percent can be found in the United Church of Christ (about 27 percent). Larger minorities of ELCA members (about 31 percent), PCUSA members (about 34 percent), and UMC members (about 39 percent). A significant majority of American Baptists (about 57 percent) use this term; this makes them less likely to be born again than other Baptists, but closer the evangelical norm than the mainline norm. 

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